Lady Gaga and 5 Other Actors Who Have Used Method Acting to Get Into Character

method actors

Lady Gaga will soon be seen in Ridley Scott’s super-hyped film House of Gucci as Patrizia Reggiani — the woman who would have her husband Maurizio killed to ascend to the throne of high fashion in the Gucci family.

Based on a true story, the film takes place over three decades and explores the themes of love, betrayal, decadence, revenge, and murder while examining what a name means, what it’s worth, and how far a family will go for control.

While House of Gucci doesn’t land in Aussie cinemas until December 26, 2021, when audiences do get to experience the high fashion film, they should have a deep appreciation for the lengths Gaga went to in order to inhabit her character.

Speaking to Vogue, the singer and actress revealed that she took method acting to the extreme and decided to live as Reggiani for a year and a half. “I spoke with an accent for nine months of that. Off-camera, [too]. I never broke. I stayed with her,” she said.

The dedication to creating an impeccable performance may well be one that pays off with yet another Oscar nomination, but it did not come without its cost to the actress’s psyche.

“I was either in my hotel room, living and speaking as Reggiani, or I was on set, living and speaking as her,” Gaga says. “I remember I went out into Italy one day with a hat on to take a walk. I hadn’t taken a walk in about two months and I panicked. I thought I was on a movie set.”

It should be noted, however, that Gaga’s approach to the character did not involve her meeting with Reggiani herself, despite the fact that she lives in Milan having served 18 years in prison for her role in her ex’s murder.

“I only felt that I could truly do this story justice if I approached it with the eye of a curious woman who was interested in possessing a journalistic spirit so that I could read between the lines of what was happening in the film’s scenes,” explains Gaga.

“Meaning that nobody was going to tell me who Patrizia Gucci was. Not even Patrizia Gucci.”

Gaga is hardly the first actor to employ the method acting technique for a film part, so let’s take a look at some other performers who have done the same.

But First, What Exactly Is Method Acting?

Method acting is a technique or type of acting in which an actor strives to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances by fully inhabiting the role of the character. It was first developed by Russian actor Konstantin Stanislavski in the 1900s, with the pioneer taking the approach of encouraging actors to draw from personal experiences and memories in order to elicit real emotions and to connect with the characters.

The technique was then evolved by legendary actors and teachers such as Lee Strasberg, Sanford Meisner, and Stella Adler in New York in the 1930s and 40s. This resulted in the actor being encouraged to stimulate emotional experience by imagining the scene’s “given circumstances”, rather than recalling experiences from their own lives.

Marlon Brando, James Dean and Dustin Hoffman are some of the most well-known adherents to “The Method” but modern actors use the technique too, sometimes with dire effects.

Heath Ledger

For his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger pushed himself to extremes, isolating himself to get into the deranged psyche of the character.

His Dad, Kim, spoke of Ledger’s commitment to the role in a 2012 documentary called Too Young to Die, saying:  “He pretty well locked himself up in a hotel room for weeks. He galvanised the upcoming character. That was typical of Heath. He would do that. He liked to dive into his characters, but this time he really took it up a notch.”

The actor also apparently immersed himself in the world of the Joker by, reading comics, training his voice and working with the makeup and costume departments on the look of his character.

Some have suggested that the mental toll of playing such a psychotic character contributed to the actor’s untimely death at the age of 28 from accidental drug intoxication.

Ledger won a posthumously received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight. 

Jared Leto

Another actor who famously “went method” for a role, was Jared Leto who also employed the technique for his turn as the Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad.

It was famously reported that in order to get into character for the film, Leto sent his co-stars condoms and anal beads and even sent Margot Robbie a dead rat, in addition to speaking like Joker for the entirety of the production.

Recently, Leto suggested that the dead rat rumour might not be true after all and instead claimed that he sent Robbie “vegan cinnamon buns” as well as telling Variety that he’s not entirely comfortable with the “method actor” label he has been given. “I appreciate the term, I think it’s a little cloudy, the definition. And it, it could also be really pretentious as well,” he said.

“I was thinking of it as my job to show up and do the best work that I can,” he continued. “It’s my job to show up, do whatever I can, to be overprepared. And to deliver. It’s also my job to show up and, you know, be a pleasure to work with. And to be collaborative, and to have a good experience on set.”

However, it wasn’t just Suicide Squad that prompted the actor to dig deep — he gained 60 pounds to play John Lennon murderer Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27 and even lived on the streets of New York with heroin addicts in order to get into character for Requiem for a Dream. 

Meryl Streep

As Miranda Priestley in The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep was icy, demanding and often unnecessarily unkind, but she was also a total boss who was always dressed to the nines — she was playing a heightened version of Vogue editor Anna Wintour, after all.

Unfortunately for the celebrated actress, the experience of filming one of the most fashionable films of the past two decades was not the most enjoyable experience.

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in honour of the film’s 15th anniversary, Streep reminisced about staying in character for the duration of the shoot, which often meant giving her co-stars the cold shoulder, saying, “It was horrible! I was [miserable] in my trailer. I could hear them all rocking and laughing. I was so depressed! I said, ‘Well, it’s the price you pay for being boss!’ “That’s the last time I ever attempted a Method thing!”

Robert DeNiro

DeNiro is known for being one of the greatest actors of all time and has certainly demonstrated the benefits of “The Method.”

In Taxi Driver, he played Travis Bickle, a war veteran who has insomnia which leads to him getting a job driving a cab around New York.  To understand his character and to get into the role, De Niro actually worked as a taxi driver for a few weekends before the filming of the movie started. He also lost 30 pounds for the part.

For Raging Bull, he took boxing lessons Jake LaMotta himself, had his teeth ground down to make him look more menacing for Cape Fear (mission: accomplished) and travelled around the United States, learning about steel mills and their workers in different places for The Deer Hunter. 

Daniel Day Lewis

Perhaps the most extreme case of method acting has been demonstrated by Daniel Day-Lewis who has really committed to his craft over the years.

While filming The Crucible, Day-Lewis chose to live on the set, which was a replica of a colonial village —meaning there was no electricity or running water and even went so far as to build his own 17th-century house, using only the tools America’s settlers would have had available to them at the time.

During Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, he refused to wear a winter coat on set during filming and caught pneumonia as a result and for Lincoln, he refused to break character, even when texting his co-star Sally Field.

He went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for Lincoln but has since retired from acting.

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