8 times method actors went to extremes, from Leonardo DiCaprio to Jeremy Strong

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 (20th Century Fox)
(20th Century Fox)

Method acting has given us some of the most iconic performances of all time.

Whether or not Leonardo DiCaprio sleeping in an animal carcass for his role in The Revenant actually played a part in his Oscar – he did it in the name of artistic authenticity.

Rooted in the Stanislavski practice, method acting techniques were developed in Russia in the early 20th century.

Method actors attempt to put themselves through the life experiences of their character, and regularly go to enormous lengths in order to fully immerse themselves in the role.

In most cases, a method actor will keep an accent going when the cameras aren’t rolling, read the novel the film is based on and maybe meet their character's real-life counterparts.

Daniel Day-Lewis took this to new heights while filming The Crucible: he didn’t bathe throughout the filming period.

While playing Natty Bumppo in Last of the Mohicans, Day-Lewis only ate food he could catch or kill himself.

But when your castmates are affected, and your lifestyle is drastically altered for a singular role –how far is too far?

Here are eight times actors took the method technique to new extremes:

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci (2021)

Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in ‘House of Gucci’ (2021) (MGM)
Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani in ‘House of Gucci’ (2021) (MGM)

Lady Gaga’s portrayal of Patrizia Reggiani – socialite and ex-wife of Maurizio Gucci – in the fashion-drama biopic House of Gucci was a process of “becoming” rather than “imitation”, she said. The actor and pop star claimed to have lived as Reggiani for nine months, on and off camera.

“I never broke. I stayed with her,” she said in interviews.

Gaga depicted Reggiani – who was convicted of hiring the hitman who shot and killed her ex-husband in 1995 – as innocent but cunning. She dyed her hair brown and started to live her life differently: “I started to live in a way whereby anything that I looked at, anything that I touched, I started to take notice of where and when I could see money,” she told Vogue.

Unfortunately for Gaga, the Gucci family issued a statement condemning the depictions in the movie, in particular her portrayal of Reggiani. The family said Reggiani “is portrayed not just in the film, but also in statements from cast members, as a victim trying to survive in a male and male chauvinist corporate culture”.

“This couldn't be further from the truth,” the statement said.

Jeremy Strong as Logan Roy in Succession (HBO, 2018 - Present)

Jeremy Strong in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)
Jeremy Strong in ‘Succession' (Graeme Hunter/HBO)

Playing the painfully flawed and troubled son of the media-mogul bully Logan Roy, Jeremy Strong’s performance of Kendall Roy in HBO’s Succession involved emotional fatigue, painstaking intensity, and suffering.

In the process of becoming the disturbed character, Strong’s castmates reportedly became concerned for his wellbeing.

Brian Cox, who plays Roy, told The New Yorkerin a viral profile of Strong: “The result that Jeremy gets is always pretty tremendous. I just worry about what he does to himself. I worry about the crises he puts himself through in order to prepare.”

But for Strong, having embodying the character is part of the job. “I think it’s very important with acting work, that you have a personal experience,” he toldGQ. “That it is not just an imaginary experience, that you go through something and that it costs you”.

He added: “Maybe I hug the cactus a little.”

Strong won an Emmy for his performance in 2020.

Jared Leto as the Joker in Suicide Squad (2016)

Jared Leto in ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Jared Leto in ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) (Warner Bros. Pictures)

In 2016’s Suicide Squad, Jared Leto allegedly sent used condoms, sticky Playboy magazines, anal beads and dead rats to his castmates to shift the mood among the actors.

“I did a lot of things to create a dynamic, to create an element of surprise and spontaneity,” he told E! “The joker is somebody who doesn’t really expect things like personal space of boundaries.”

But how did this behaviour impact his castmates? “There were many instances where I didn’t know what to expect with Jared,” said co-star Margo Robbie.

For Leto’s role in House of Gucci, he told i-D magazine: “I was snorting lines of arrabbiata sauce by the middle of this movie. I had olive oil for blood. This was a deep dive I did.”

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass in The Revenant (2015)

Leonardo DiCaprio as 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass (20th Century Fox)
Leonardo DiCaprio as 19th century fur trapper Hugh Glass (20th Century Fox)

To prepare for the role of Hugh Glass in The Revenant, DiCaprio not only camped out in the wilderness – he slept in an animal carcass, ate raw bison and went for regular swims in frozen rivers.

“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” he told Yahoo Movies.

“Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

When the actor won what many felt was a long-deserved Oscar for Best Actor, no one could accuse him of slacking off.

Daniel Day-Lewis, President Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln (2012)

 (Getty)
(Getty)

For Steven Spielberg’s American Civil War epic, Day-Lewis notoriously insisted on being addressed on set as “Mr President” on set. He also claimed to have spent approximately a year thinking about Lincoln and kept up his Kentucky accent for the duration of filming.

To embody Lilcon’s mannerisms, Day-Lewis studied Alexander Gardner’s American Civil War photos, telling the New York Times: I looked at them the way you sometimes look at your own reflection in a mirror and wonder who that person is looking back at you.”

He won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance in 2013.

Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry (2000)

Hilary Swank in early 2020, and in 'Boys Don't Cry' (Robyn Beck/Getty/Fox)
Hilary Swank in early 2020, and in 'Boys Don't Cry' (Robyn Beck/Getty/Fox)

In Boys Don’t Cry, Hillary Swank played Brandon Teena, a transgender man. By today’s standards, casting a cis-gender woman to play a transgender person would have stirred considerable debate. But back in 2000, Swank tried her best to embody the emotions of the character throughout the filming process and got very attached.

“Your heart never completely mends the same,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “You always carry these people and their beautiful spirits within your heart. They are all a piece of me. I think I am a better person because of it.”

Dustin Hoffman as Thomas Bibington in Marathon Man (1976)

Dustin Hoffman in ‘Marathon Man’ (Paramount Pictures)
Dustin Hoffman in ‘Marathon Man’ (Paramount Pictures)

On the set of Marathon Man in 1976, Hoffman stayed up for three days straight in preparation for a scene in which his character hadn’t slept for 72 hours.

“So what did you do?” asked classically trained co-star Laurence Olivier. “Well, I stayed up for three days and three nights,” replied Hoffman.

Laurence Olivier then uttered the rather scathing response: “Why don’t you just try acting?”

Olivier’s classical Shakespeare experience versus Hoffman’s method is symbolic of the two worlds of actor training: method and not-method.

Hoffman won Best Actor at the Oscars for ​​Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man, using his immersive method techniques for both roles.

Robert De Niro in… everything

Robert De Dino in ‘Taxi Driver’ (Ronald Grant Archive)
Robert De Dino in ‘Taxi Driver’ (Ronald Grant Archive)

Robert De Niro learnt Italian and lived in Sicily to prepare for The Godfather Part II. He also got a New York cab licence for Taxi Driver, put on 60lbs to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, and learnt how to play the saxophone for his role as Jimmy Doyle in New York, New York.

In a 2018 interview, De Niro told The Guardian: “I am a perfectionist. I always try to do as much research as possible for a role.

“For Taxi Driver, I did actually drive a cab for a few weeks. It probably wasn’t really necessary, but it was something I wanted to do.”

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