It's time to stop glorifying method acting

Charlotte Woodard 8 April 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media

Image courtesy of Niko Tavernise/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Down the Youtube rabbit hole, I have found myself captivated by an endless stream of Top 10 videos: Top 10 celebrity arguments!, Top 10 British TV moments! and 10 Child actors who went rogue!, but what really caught my eye was Top 10 body transformations for acting roles. I couldn’t help but wonder: why do we glorify actors putting themselves through extreme physical and mental challenges just to play a character? Like athletes, actors train their minds and bodies for peak performance but how far should we allow the art of method acting to go? And should it be an art form as exulted as it is by our Hollywood-obsessed culture?

Such drastic measures such as gaining weight are glamorised in the media and the actors are admired for throwing themselves into these roles. This clearly takes a lot of commitment, but it doesn’t leave enough room for aspiring actors who naturally have that body type. It takes away opportunities and sets a double standard for how we treat celebrities compared to the everyday person.

There are sacrifices to any profession. For example, if you’re currently an NHS worker, you risk your health to heal others. And if you’re a politician, you sacrifice NHS workers for a lovely weekend in Durham. A big part of acting is to make yourself physically feel and look like the part you are going to play but I doubt Jared Leto gaining sixty-seven pounds for Chapter 27 was worth contracting gout. It’s not always for one part, either. The weight of iconic actors like Tom Hanks fluctuates from role to role; from gaining thirty pounds for A League of their Own to playing a severely underweight character in Castaway. Hanks now claims that his dramatic weight change for movie roles contributed to his type 2 diabetes. It is strange that such injurious commitment is glamorised and admired in a cultural climate that is trying to move away from toxic diet culture and impossible body standards. In any other profession, it would be a case for HR, so why do actors put themselves through mental and physical turmoil in the name of art, and why do film industries and movie audiences alike indulge the practice?

The idolisation of this catastrophic process poses a risk to those who are easily led and influenced by toxic diet culture. Natalie Portman, who lost a dangerous amount of weight to portray a ballerina for Black Swan stated that there were “some nights [she] thought [she] was literally going to die”. This was due to her extremely punitive diet that was published online, most likely due to shock value, without consideration to those it could affect. To some, this restrictive diet could serve as an instruction manual for a potential eating disorder when interpreted in the wrong hands.

There is a clear double standard that accompanies gaining or losing weight for a role. The praise that actors are showered in for gaining fat would not be given to people who naturally have that body type. A good case for this is Charlize Theron in The Monster, who gained thirty pounds for the role. Charlize received a lot of commendation for being brave enough to make the ultimate dreaded Hollywood sacrifice of gaining weight but what is wrong with casting somebody else with that physique if they wanted that specific look? Charlize was celebrated like she cured cancer when all she did was gain weight to have an average body type that most people are familiar with.

Most disappointing is the lack of representation this form of method acting creates. The same actors are cast nepotistically over and over by the same directors, being physically moulded to suit any character when there is a surplus of talented actors to fill those shoes.

Auditioning as a plus-size actor is like entering a shark tank with a bloody cut. You are going in knowing you will be judged and criticised based on not having the right “look”. Yet big-name celebrities are chosen for roles for which they’d have to undergo gruelling bodily change to create the right look for a character, when plus-size actors, who already occupy a marginalised position in the film industry, are denied the chance.

Method acting is a useful technique that can create some truly moving performances, and while I can appreciate the dedication it takes to lose or gain weight for a role, it’s time for Hollywood to overcome this almost religious obsession with extreme transformations as the ultimate artistic sacrifice. I am not against method acting or the industry itself. However, a line must be placed for the safety of the actors themselves and the very impressionable audiences that watch with eager eyes ready to glorify.

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