Method has been around since the first actors performed on those cold raining nights through the embers of the burning fire in caves but it found structure through the great acting coach Lee Strasberg in the 1930’s. It has been the approach of favor for such renowned actors as Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, just to name of view of the great ones.
The style, also used by teachers like Stella Adler and the Actor Studio’s Robert Lewis, allows the actor to try and become one with their character, accessing within their own psyche the mental, emotional and psychological essence of their part, and, in the extreme, the actual physical characteristics of their character. During performances this style often creeps into the actor's off-camera or off-stage lives during the time they are “in character.” This was proven to be the case in two particular individuals, Robert De Niro and Tom Hanks, who had changed their physical appearance to the point of losing and gaining a tremendous amount of body fat for their roles in such films as “Raging Bull” and “Castaway.” Tom Hanks has done this kind of extreme makeover on more than one occasion for his award winning performances in “Forrest Gump” and “Philadelphia Story.”
While the application of Method may have proven award winning for actors like Hanks, De Niro and Brando, it also has come with a price. For Orson Welles and Marlon Brando it led to an inability to control their weight in latter years of their lives because of the extremes they put their physical makeup through over the course of their careers. Their excesses with Method led to a condition resembling insulin resistance and symptoms of hair loss, muscle weakness, joint pain and long periods of depressive behavior which they both experienced over the course of their lifetimes.
For Tom Hanks, his taking on roles that Method, his acting choice, required him to vary his weight from obese to extreme thinness has paid its price for the three-time Academy Award winner with the recent news that he has acquired Type II Diabetes most likely as a result of those pendulum swings. While this is the most common form of diabetic disease it can be brought on by extremes in damage done to the body which are preventable.
Without any doubt the Strasberg/Stanislavski Method System of acting has produced some of the greatest performers of the theatrical and film arts in the history of mankind. However, to those just entering this time-honored profession be cautious and don’t feel it is necessary to utilize it for each and every single role that will come your way.