Jeremy Strong and Hollywood’s Most Extreme Actors
Yet with Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman training with the Actors’ Studio in the ’70s, a new generation of stars renewed Hollywood’s commitment to the acting method. Hoffman, for example, lost 15 pounds and ran up to four miles a day to get in shape to play doctoral student and future marathon runner Babe in the acclaimed Nazi spy thriller Marathon Man (1976). When a scene called for his character to be out of breath, Hoffman would run half a mile before shooting to make his exhaustion sound realistic. In the film, Babe finds herself on the wrong side of Nazi war criminal Dr. Christian Szell, played by classically trained comedian Laurence Olivier. The legendary story goes that when Olivier learned that Hoffman had stayed up all night for two days before shooting scenes where his character hadn’t slept for 72 hours, he allegedly told his co-star, “My dear boy, why don’t you just try acting?” Hoffman claims his insomnia was due to excessive partying following his divorce, but, whatever the truth, the story has since come to symbolize the friction between conventional and methodical acting styles.
For Clint Dyer, actor and deputy artistic director of the National Theater in London, who considers himself “an actor who has developed a practice based on Stanislavski”, whatever method Hoffman used, it was worth it. “No one can say that this performance doesn’t excite you as an actor,” he told BBC Culture. “What Dustin Hoffman was going through [in character] was very different from what Laurence Olivier had to go through, so for Hoffman to run miles and want to feel out of breath, feel his heartbeat race, or stay up all night so he doesn’t have to act right, that’s up to To [him]. We all have different abilities, so give people the space to do what they need to get there.”
The fetishization of “work” in action
While it didn’t earn Hoffman a Best Actor Oscar nomination (ironically, Olivier got a Best Supporting Actor nod), he was rewarded with seven nominations and two wins over the course of his career. his career, and more generally method performances have often been recognized during awards seasons because of the obvious work involved. This can include recreating experiences from the character’s backstory, such as De Niro did when he played Martin Scorsese’s eponymous taxi driver, Travis Bickle. In the 1976 film, he drove as a taxi driver in New York for sleepless nights. He was nominated for Best Actor for the role. The actor can also stay in character throughout filming, maintaining their accent and body language, to ensure authenticity is never lost. “Whether I’m doing Norma Rae or something seemingly light and silly, I’m basically a method actor,” said Sally Field, who won Best Actress for her titular performance in Norma Rae (1979), and is part of a long line of female method actresses including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn and Shelley Winters.
“I totally prepare myself with the methods that I learned with,” explains Field. “So I would never lose the accent, I would wear the clothes she would wear, I would go to work in the factory. I would walk around and use any exercise to find her walk and find her rhythm and be so , so that you were no longer acting, you were acting.
As film scholar Kevin Esch Remarks of Hollywood’s last 50 years, “opportunity arose for an approach to acting that evoked the extreme behaviors of the Method at the same time as it fetishized the discipline”. This discipline has primarily manifested through what he describes as an actor transformation, whereby an actor physically alters their body by gaining or losing weight. De Niro won Best Actor for Raging Bull (1980) for which he not only spent months training as a boxer with the real Jake LaMotta, but then, once the fight scenes were shot, he gained 60 pounds over four more months so he could look like the retired Bronx boxing champion in his senior years. “What De Niro is doing in this photo is not playing exactly”, criticizes Pauline Kael wrote in his review. “De Niro seems to have emptied himself into becoming the role he’s playing and then not having enough material to fill in what I found myself thinking was not LaMotta or the movie but the metamorphosis by DeNiro.”
The likes of Christian Bale (The Fighter, American Hustle, Vice), Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Castaway) and Adrien Brody (The Pianist) were also Oscar winners for their loss of extreme weight. and payoff for the roles, with much of the marketing and press focusing on their dangerous commitment to aesthetic authenticity. For Oscar-winning women who similarly transformed their bodies, like Charlize Theron (Monster) and Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry), the focus was less on the work they had to do as actors. actors and more about the non-stereotypical femininity these beautiful women are poised to become. “The worst thing that can happen to Charlize Theron is that she doesn’t look like Charlize Theron,” says Bastin, who criticizes the industry misconception that transformation is a sign of award-winning performance . “In the wake of De Niro and Christian Bale, [physical transformation] was grafted onto the game of method, even if it is not intrinsic to it.”
In general, says Bastin, acting has been mythologized by predominantly white cis male actors in order to portray their profession as something that demands to be enjoyed with solemn reverence. “There is perhaps the fear and the insecurity of being an actor and of the seriousness of their work”, notes Bastin, “so they have to graft a legible form of work to it so that they can be praised”. That certainly seems to be the case for Strong. “If I had to be halfway there and at the same time aware of the artifice of what we’re doing,” he told GQ. “I just think it’s all ridiculous.”
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