Robert De Niro is famous for it, Marlon Brando swore by it and some believe that Heath Ledger’s commitment to it may have started a descent into madness that led to his untimely demise.
We’re talking, of course, about the gritty world of method acting.
Since the days of Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood has been filled with stars turning themselves inside-out to embody a character, but now, for the first time in its 70-year history, the method’s teachings have arrived in the steel city.
The Stand-By Method Acting Studio – the only studio of its kind outside of London – has opened its doors to an entirely new northern branch of students. For Sheffield actress Louise O’Leary, the mastermind behind the studio space, on Eyre Street, its arrival is well-overdue.
“As an actress myself, I was always coming across people who expressed an interest in studying method acting more thoroughly,” said the artistic director, of Ecclesfield.
“But there just aren’t that many places outside of London, LA or New York that train actors in the Method and I decided I wanted to be the one to bring it to Sheffield and help put this city, and its pool of incredibly talented actors, on the map.”
So just what exactly is method acting?
“Method acting, quite simply, is a means of finding your motivation,” explains the 30-year-old actress.
“It makes you understand yourself on a deeper level; the experiences you’ve been through and who you are – and therefore who your character might be – as a result. It allows you to marinate your imagination with your own experiences and use all that to enrich a role you’re playing.
“In its simplest context, imagine a scene that might require you to cry and how difficult it may be to spontaneously produce tears. Method acting would teach you to draw on your own experiences and take you back to a time when the tears came easily, and then teach you to channel that into your performance.”
And it seems our screens are filled with big names who rely on method acting as the backbone of their craft.
While playing the 16th president in Lincoln, British actor Daniel Day Lewis was rumoured to have kept his higher-pitched American accent going for the entire shoot and even went as far as signing his text messages ‘Yours, A.’ For Last of the Mohicans, he spent six months living in the wild, teaching himself to build a canoe and trap and skin animals. His efforts have won him three Oscars.
Robert DeNiro famously got a taxi licence during filming for 1970s hit Taxi Driver and would go round collecting fares on breaks from filming. Heath Ledger was rumoured to have completely lost himself in his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight – his last before his death from an overdose of prescription drugs. The actor locked himself in his apartment for a month prior to filming and slept only two hours a night to realistically play a man on the edge, refusing to speak to crew members out of character throughout the entire filming process.
“I make it a point to stay away from issues that people haven’t dealt with yet – this isn’t therapy, said Louise, who has already welcomed hundreds of actors through the doors of her studio since it opened 12 months ago.
“My classes focus on relaxation, to open up the imagination, then we move into sense memory or scene work. We spend time talking about and psychoanalysing characters. I always encourage my actors to really study their scripts as I believe that’s where the clues are. I’m taking a leaf out of the great Sir Anthony Hopkins’ book with this, as he is famous for reading his scripts 250 times before filming begins.
“Our classes are each three hours long, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and I run 12-week courses in method acting that should give you a really good foundation.”
Louise began her own training in Manchester at the Arden School of Theatre, where she eventually went on to work as a supply teacher, before delving more deeply into method acting. And next month Louise plans to continue her own training, travelling to New York to The Actors Studio – the home of method acting – to take part in an intensive masterclass.
But as well as pursuing her own career as an actor, Louise is committed to providing opportunities to actors in the north.
She said: “I work with people as young as 12 or 13, up to around 45, so there’s a nice range.
“Every month I get a casting director in to do a masterclass at the studio and give them the opportunity to see the work my students are doing. A number of them have already gained acting work through this.
“We also have a nice relationship with a Sheffield film company called Let There Be Light and they’ve called on my actors a number of times.