Method acting can be damaging

By Hanna Kim

Released to the public on May 3, the documentary “I Am: Heath Ledger” revolves around the life of Oscar-winner Heath Ledger, an actor known for his phenomenal performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight Rises” and his application of method acting to immerse himself into his characters. His death on January 22, 2008, which was caused by an overdose, sparked controversy as the causes of his death were debated. While most blamed the deadly combination of his prescription drugs and sleeping tablets, it became difficult to overlook Ledger’s obsessive dedication to not only play the Joker, but to become him.

Method acting, a technique often vilified for its damaging effects, as much as it is praised for its rewards, demands an almost complete emotional transformation into a particular role.

That is why actors and actresses often put their bodies and reputations at risk when they attempt to imitate their character. According to Movie Pilot, Christian Bale lost nearly 60 lbs for his role in “American Psycho,” weighing only 120 lbs for his six foot tall figure. While he did not seem to suffer any long term effects from this drastic physical change, the act itself and his willingness to carry it out kept the actor on the edge of self-harm and sacrificingfor art. In another case, “Vanity Fair” reports that Shia LaBeouf prepared for his role in “Fury,” where he played a U.S. soldier living in the trenches, by refusing to shower for weeks at a time and pulling his own tooth out to experience similar pains as a World War II soldier would.

Yet, the benefits from choosing to participate in such a dangerous approach do seem rather tempting. Leonardo Dicaprio’s performance in “The Revenant,” one he waded through ice cold water for, won him a Best Actor Oscar in the 2016. Similarly, Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker earned him a posthumous Oscar for one of the best portrayals of the Joker, a worthy reward for shutting himself in a hotel and adopting an unsettling attitude for months.

A successful actor knows how to make the audience forget that they are merely observing a fictitious situation for an extended period of time. For those who are effortlessly charming and captivating, such as Brad Pitt or George Clooney, incorporating their natural personality is enough to shape their character. However, for those who are certainly as charismatic but not so easily satisfied, there are extreme methods for which fame is balanced with loss of one’s self.
Despite the self-destructive tendencies in method acting, it is talent and commitment that will, and should, be remembered. It is up to each actor to decide how much he/she wants to bargain for his/her role, and method actors, especially Heath Ledger, have simply made the conscious decision to put more at stake.
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