ACTING OR BEING THE PART
‘I am spontaneous and not a method actor.’ Rishi Kapoor
Stella Adler teaching her Method of acting in the 60s
What does acting mean for an actor, and what does an actor do to step in a character and step out at the end of a working day?
To step in a character, you need to identify with, understand and experience an inner motivation and emotion. You then have to refer to a technique to create a character or can you spontaneously become the character.
To step out of a character and go home to your normal life, an actor has to switch off all different aspects of the technique: psychological, sociological, behavioural.
Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski developed the Method of acting in 1898 and it spread to other countries such as the United States in 1910. Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner improved it and standardized it to the modern times. The Method was developed at the birth of cinema and helped budding actors to understand and develop the roles they were asked to play, a technique not necessarily needed nowadays.
Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Robert de Niro used a version of the Method, away from the traditional Strasberg lines: don’t recall personal experiences, instead they imagine the scene’s given circumstances and make it theirs.
Diagram of Stanislavski's 'system', based on his "Plan of Experiencing"
(1935), showing the inner (left) and outer (right) aspects of a role uniting
in the pursuit of a character's overall "supertask" (top) in the drama.
Alfred Hitchcock did not like to work with Paul Newman or Montgomery Clift, because he thought the Method was robbing them from their own spontaneity, making the whole process of acting a fraud.
The instinctive acting Method is what we can call the fine line between acting and being the part for an actor (acting spontaneously versus acting technique). Although you study to be an actor, you can also base your technique only on instinct, therefore allowing you to leave the character you play at the end of the day to become yourself again. The risk of this free-will technique is when you stay in the part and continue “acting” when you are at home after shooting a scene. You train yourself according to your degree of adaptability and become the reflection of yourself in situations dealing with the outcome as it would be in your daily life.
Jessica Lange and Frances Farmer, doppelgänger or mimetism?
Romy Schneider, the German-French actress famous for her younger days impersonation of Sissi in the 50’s, very often chose later to remain in character with her roles off camera for the duration of a project. Jessica Lange used this instinct factor rather than the Method for her portrayal of ‘Frances Farmer’. She claimed that she found the truth in the inner emotions towards her subject rather than creating a realistic representation of Farmer. She did not want to become her, but Frances Farmer rather lives through Jessica Lange’s justification of the character’s truths within themselves.
To conclude, another question: should an actor behave in a real manner, really performing an action of feeling an emotion rather than pretending to do so? That’s actually the real question about acting! Does an actor who plays a murderer have to kill a fellow actor who plays the victim to be considered a Method actor? Or does he make the audience believe he is a murderer? It makes great story indeed.
Romy Schneider in Le vieux Fusil (Robert Enrico) L’important c’est d’aimer (Andzrej Zulawski): my name is Clara Dandieu, Nadine Chevalier or Rosemary Magdalena Albach-Retty (real name of Romy Schneider).
Lillian Gish has the last word: “It is ridiculous. How would you portray death if you had to experience it first” And she knew what she was talking about having played so many parts with no happy ending during the silent movies.
Lillian Gish in 'The Wind' (1928)