An Insight Into the Methods of Oscar-winning Actors
The Oscars, formally known as the Academy Awards, are known to be one of the most prestigious and anticipated events in the entertainment industry. This is partly because of its long ‘A’ guest-list of talented and legendary thespians who have had an everlasting impact on the film industry.
Over the past few decades, they have acknowledged and recognized some of the finest actors the world has ever seen. These actors have ranged from personality to method actors. While both approaches to acting are equally rewarding, it is no secret that method actors can sometimes go to great lengths to give a raw, bone-chilling performance to appease their audiences. We all know Christian Bale lost about 60 pounds for the movie American Psycho and Shia LeBeouf cut his own face with a knife for the movie Fury. These methods can sometimes be fun stories to tell, however, they can have an adverse impact on the actors emotionally and physically.
Here is an insight into the methods of some of the most sought after Oscar-winning actors:
Leto’s method to get into the character of the famous Joker is not unknown. The media especially turned their attention to his preparation process after Heath Ledger’s Joker caused such hype. For those who don’t know, Joker is one of the most popular supervillains to appear in comic books and that is mostly due to his psychological instability and dark humor. So naturally, actors playing the Joker need to put immense work into portraying a charismatic but mentally disturbed villain.
Jared Leto may or may not have gone to a new extreme while getting into Joker’s “twisted” mind. He clicked pictures of himself with a pig’s head, sent his co-star Margot Robbie a dead rat and a love letter (as Robbie played Joker’s love interest Harley Quinn), and shipped bullets to co-star Will Smith. It is safe to say that even though he “disrespected his co-stars’ personal space because that’s what Joker would do,” his performance reflected poor results. His Joker was not charismatic or dark and scary. When Leto delivered his performance in Suicide Squad (2016), it seemed he was still in the exploration and preparation phase of the Joker based on Leto’s carefully planned out movement and gestures while he was acting.
Portman’s portrayal of the black swan in 2010 earned her an Oscar, but there was some controversy surrounding her dance double who claimed that the film director gave Portman credit for the scenes performed by the dance double. Nevertheless, Portman still followed an exhaustive method to give a convincing, ground-breaking performance as a ballerina. She didn’t only lose 20 pounds for the role but also endured 8-hour dance rehearsals every day. This resulted in her breaking a rib while filming. However, the director wasn’t very supportive and when Portman asked for a medic, he took away her trailer. Though Natalie Portman described her rehearsal saying "There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die," her performance as the black swan is known to be one of the best of the century.
Phoenix was Jared Leto’s successor in taking on the role of Joker. He left all DC and film fanatics stunned with his breath-taking performance that not only earned him an Oscar win, but also a Golden Globe and a SAG award. Though there’s no account of him practically preparing for the role, Phoenix did prepare himself mentally and emotionally, a likely exhausting approach to the psychological, dark origin story of Joker. As a child, Phoenix was part of a cult where he had some of his worst experiences. Similarly, The Joker himself gets a cult-like following at the end of the film. Phoenix refers to himself as socially-inept, much like his character. These experiences helped Phoenix deliver a raw, naturalistic performance. He was especially praised for, “conveying the pained and disturbed persona of Arthur Fleck (Joker) with his eyes,” specifically during the talk-show scene with ‘Murray.’ One of the most iconic moments in the film is also Joker’s “dance.” This dance was actually not part of the original script and was an improvisation done by Phoenix when he’d forgotten his lines while filming.
Phoenix is an acclaimed method actor and many fans who have followed his career know the great lengths he’s taken for films like I’m Still Here (2010): he pretended to have a public breakdown and told the press he was going to quit acting and start a rap career, only for them to realize this was an 18-month ruse to get into his character.
Daniel Day-Lewis, now a retired English actor, has been called one of the most respectful and greatest actors in cinematic history. He is known for losing himself in every role, but he took commitment to the next level when filming The Crucible (1996). He decided to live on the village set of the film and survived without running water and modern bathrooms for the entirety of filming.
However, the most adverse outcome of his method has been on the set of the film Gangs of New York (2002). This film is set in the 19th century, apparently when there weren’t many warm coats available. However, Lewis refused to wear a modern coat even though it was freezing cold and ended up catching pneumonia. This halted filming for a couple of days. But when he wasn’t sick with pneumonia, Lewis listened to Eminem daily as it helped him get into character. The actor has received 6 Oscars in his career, the most anyone has ever won.
Meryl Streep has been called the “best actress of her generation” and is known for her versatile roles and accents. For that very reason, she is categorized as a “chameleon actress.” Streep puts a lot of effort into her roles, and, much like Joaquin Phoenix, uses her eyes more than her face to convey emotions. But one part of her method that really brings out her great performance is her voice modulation. Streep has perfected the art of imitating accents and learning completely new languages for her roles. For the film Sophie’s Choice (1982), she was required to deliver her lines in a Polish accent. While many actors would only learn how to say their own lines in Polish and use a Polish accent, Meryl Streep went on to perfect every aspect of Polish and even learned German (because only a slacker would only learn one language). Sophie’s Choice earned Streep an Oscar and the actress now has 4 Oscars in her bag.
Heath Ledger joined DC to play Joker in Christopher Nolan’s film The Dark Knight (2008). To say that he completely changed the comic book genre is an understatement. Ledger delivered the most eccentric, thrilling performance anybody had ever seen and transformed himself into Joker. It redefined DC movies and set bars very high for Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix. However, his method caused many to wonder if his preparation for the role was healthy.
It was reported that Ledger locked himself in a hotel room for two full months to prepare for the role. He refused to meet anybody during that time and maintained a “Joker’s diary” where he jotted down his performance ideas. Part of the process also involved him doing his own makeup and trying out different walks and voices. He asked co-star Christian Bale to punch him in real life during the iconic interrogation scene to make it as realistic as possible. He also paid close attention to his body language and improvised during filming. Much of his spontaneous actions made it to the final cut. For example, in the iconic scene where Joker blows up a hospital, an actual building was going to get blown up for the scene. Therefore, only one take would be possible. This meant that messing up the scene was not an option. Ledger successfully got through the scene with improvisation when the building did not blow up when it intended to; when you watch The Dark Knight again, you will see that Ledger taps the “blowing-up device” several times as if it isn’t working - that was improvisation as the building had not yet blown up by the crew as it was supposed to.
Ledger was the first actor to ever get nominated for a role in a comic book film and received a posthumous award for his chaotic, chilling portrayal of Joker. Though he could not see the success of his acting himself as he passed away much before the film was released, his performance is known as the best of the century and known to overshadow some of the performances of the biggest actors in Hollywood like Jack Nicholson and Robert Downey Junior.