10 Extreme Method Acting Performances

In preparation for his lead role in Stephen Frears’ gripping Lance Armstrong biopic, The Program, Ben Foster controversially admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs in order to gain a better understanding of their effects.  To celebrate the film’s release on Digital HD from 8th February and on Blu-ray & DVD from 15th February, 2016, here’s a  a look at actors who went to famously extreme lengths to portray a character…

Ben Foster – The Program (2015)

Ben Foster stars as Lance Armstrong in this suspenseful adaptation that depicts the true story of how the cyclist fell from grace after partaking in the most sophisticated doping program the sport had ever seen. In order to get inside the head of the former hero and truly understand the effects of doping Foster admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs. This is not the first time Foster has gone all out for a role as he previously ate handfuls of dirt to comprehend the hardships endured by Navy Seals for Lone Survivor and spent time living on the streets of LA for his small part in Rampart.

Adrian Brody – The Pianist (2002)

Losing 30 pounds and spending hours learning to play the piano for his role as Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman wasn’t enough for Adrian Brody. He took method acting to a new level by giving up his apartment, selling his car, disconnecting his phone, and ultimately leaving his life behind in order to feel the same loss Szpilman felt. His actions cost him his girlfriend of the time but subsequently secured him an Oscar for best actor in 2003.

Robert de Niro – Taxi Driver (1976)

Robert de Niro’s portrayal of Travis Bickle, the disturbed insomniac taxi driver, in Martin Scorsese’s remarkable crime drama was nothing short of amazing. His strong performance can be linked to the fact that while prepping for the role De Niro actually got his cab driver’s licence. He worked 12-hour shifts for a month prior to shooting and claims that, despite his Academy recognition for The Godfather: Part Two, he was only ever recognised once.

Heath Ledger/ Jared Leto – The Dark Knight (2008) & Suicide Squad (2016)

Heath Ledger went to great lengths to prepare for the part of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster smash. His incredible representation was a product of locking himself in his apartment for a month prior to filming, sleeping two hours each night, and never breaking character. Crew members worried for the actor and warned him that he had taken things too far. Jared Leto appeared to take a similar approach with his highly anticipated depiction of the character by sending his co-stars strange gifts including a live rat, bullets, and a dead hog.

Joaquin Phoenix – Walk the Line (2005)

While starring as Jonny Cash in James Mangold’s award winning biopic Joaquin Phoenix spent months learning to sing and play the guitar. He then went the extra mile by only responding to people if they called him JR, Johnny Cash’s real name. He claims to be embarrassed about the situation in hindsight but maintains that being called Joaquin on the set felt wrong. He continued down the method route while preparing for Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here by convincing the world he had quit acting and gone a little bit crazy.

Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis is renowned for his method approach to his roles. He spent two months in a cerebral palsy clinic for My Left Foot, learnt to track and skin animals for The Last of the Mohicans, and spared no exceptions for Spielberg’s Lincoln. During production Day-Lewis spoke with a Kentucky accent on and off set, insisted on being addressed as ‘Mr President’, and signed messages to his co-stars as ‘Abe’.

Christian Bale – The Machinist

The producers of the film claim that Christian Bale dropped from about 173 pounds in weight down to about 110 pounds in weight to make this film. They also claim that Bale actually wanted to drop down to 100 pounds, but that they would not let him go below 120 out of fear that his health could be in too much danger if he did. His diet consisted of one can of tuna and an apple per day. His 63-pound weight loss is said to be a record for any actor for a movie role. He regained the weight in time for his role in Batman Begins

Hilary Swank – Boys Don’t Cry

Hilary Swank won an Oscar for her portrayal of real life female to male transexual Brandon Teena. Swank auditioned for the role by pretending to be from a small town in Nebraska and having won over hr director then apprently lived publicly as Brandon for a month prior to filming starting. Speaking about the extreme decision Swank said ”I told everyone that I’m not going to call anyone and I’m just totally unreachable for this amount of time because you just have to totally immerse.”

Joaquin Phoenix – I’m Still Here

In 2009 Joaquin Phoenix announced he was retiring form acting to launch an unlikely new career as a rapper. Initially dismissed as a silly prank the Oscar nominee then appeared to actually be having a real breakdown as he abandoned acting and attended TV talk shows in character to promote his strange new alter-ego. His erratic behavior and increasingly disheveled appearance had many fans and critics worrying for his mental heath. Until it was all revealed to be an elaborate performance piece for his Casey Affleck collaboration I’m Still Here.

Dustin Hoffman – Marathon Man

Dustin Hoffman has collected two academy awards and seven nominations due to his astonishing method acting work in films like Rain Man. However it was on the set of intense thriller Marathon Man that his dedicated  approach drew an amused reaction from his iconic co-star Laurence Olivier. Hoffman is widely acknowledged to have suffered sever self- inflicted sleep deprivation to better portray his characters increasingly delirious and distressed condition. When Hoffman questions Olivier on how he was ale to deliver such a convincingly realistic performance without any similar preparation Olivier infamously replied “Try actng, dear boy.. It’s much easier.”

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