When some people think of the “method,” as far as acting they think of actors going to the extreme, doing things that would normally not be done in order to bring some authenticity to their performance. Method acting as it is known today involves an actor going out and actually doing something that their character does, or did do, in order to draw from that experience during the actual performance.
An example of this is going out and being homeless for a week to experience what it it like to be homeless if you are going to play a character that is homeless. Being a theatre major I have learned a lot about different techniques in acting and the brains behind them. I learned that the “method” that actually includes a lot more than you think. A long time ago there was a group of actors called the Group Theatre. Some of the methods they used for acting are the methods that most acting is based in today and where the method acting technique came from. Sanford Meisner, an acting teacher, taught Group Theatre in the art of acting. He talked a lot about the “the reality of doing”, which focuses more on the imagination that an actor can use in order to make the performance feel real.
Meisner’s acting approach helps the actor develop how to make a character by investing in them emotionally and physically. Meisner was against the memory approach that involves a person having to draw from the memory of an experience they had in order to evoke emotion, which is what encompasses a lot of the method today. When Lee Strasberg became apart of Group Theatre he created something called ‘affective memory’, which is the name of this popular memory technique that the method is associated with today.
There is a pretty big controversy on which acting technique is the most effective, especially when method acting causes actors to take it a little too far and get injured or killed. I personally think it up to the actor and do what works best for them and it is their responsibility to make the performance as real as they can. Both techniques have proven to be effective in many ways.
When it comes to the method I think a lot of people can mistake it for the crazy stuff that actors do on set in character so that they can improve their performance. For example, in the shooting of Suicide Squad, Jared Leto, who was playing the Joker sent his cast mates dead rats and such because it was something crazy that the Joker would do. I am not Jared Leto, so I can only assume but I am going to assume that he thought this was a part of his acting work which is not true. Every pretentious theatre professor in the nation is going to hate me for saying this, but acting at it’s core is still pretending. Yes, it is pretending in a very realistic way and the emotions that happen on stage are real, but there are some things that go too far. If you do something crazy just because you think it will improve your acting you may do more harm than good.
Now that I’m off the soapbox, you can see how the method can be controversial. A lot of people attribute the death of Heath Ledger to the method. That being said, most roles are not as extreme as the Joker, so the consequences of indulging in method acting is often not so severe. Using affective memory can be useful because if you have a personal connection with something that the character you play does as well, then the performance can come a lot more easily or a lot more natural.
So, whether you prefer the more affective memory or the imaginative process approach to acting it doesn’t matter because it is up to you and your preferences.