11 Times Method Acting Nearly Destroyed Actors’ Lives –


Method acting, which was born within the philosophy of the Stanislavski system and popularized by the Strasberg Institute, has many famous adherents: from Marlon Brando to Marilyn Monroe. The past 40 years, though, have ushered in a rise of brilliant actors who took method acting way too far. While some of the best overall acting can come from the practice, these stories will leave you wondering if it was really worth the risk.

“Too far,” of course, is a subjective term. For many, the insane commitment simply comes with the territory. But as is the case with almost any experiment, things can backfire. Heath Ledger – who may have actually sacrificed his life for his unforgettable turn as the Joker – tops the list of actors whose lives were destroyed by method acting. Or so the legend goes, anyway.

The business abounds with method acting consequences that were as extreme as they were short-lived. Consider Christian Bale, who almost starved himself to death for his role in The Machinist. Or Divine, who famously upstaged everyone by actually eating a piece of real dog sh*t for the sake of art.

While consuming dog sh*t may not be one of the worst manifestations of method acting, it’s surely the most repulsive (even though Nicolas Cage did eat a live cockroach for Vampire’s Kiss). But there’s a lot more where that came from, so read on to inquire further – and vote up the actors who went above and beyond for their craft.


Photo: Studio Canal

Christian Bale, who made his feature debut in 1987’s Mio in the Land of Faraway, has always been known as an actor unafraid to take his craft to the extreme. But in 2004’s The Machinist, he went way beyond the pale – and almost beyond mortality, itself.

According to sources, Bale dined on just a can of tuna and an apple each day for weeks leading up to the beginning of production. As Bale’s co-star Michael Ironside remembers it:

I came to work one day… and I heard ‘pssst…Michael!’ from behind one of the cabanas. And I went over, and it was Chris. And he said, ‘Can you look at this?’ And he turned and dropped his overalls, which he was naked under… and the muscles in his ass had literally dropped out of the sockets of his hips… I said, ‘You’ve gone beyond body fat, and now you’re into actual muscle tissue and things are being affected.

Nevertheless, Bale persevered, and garnered widespread critical acclaim for his performance.

Malcolm McDowell Temporarily Blinded Himself For ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Photo: Warner Brothers

Actor Malcolm McDowell was almost as much of a perfectionist as director Stanley Kubrick. When it came to doing multiple takes of potentially physically damaging scenes, though, said dedication sometimes backfired.

During the famous “forced viewing” sequence in A Clockwork Orange, real eye doctors were used. But McDowell still suffered harrowing damage in the form of a scratched cornea and, worse yet, temporary blindness – all as a result of having his “eyes propped open for too long.”

Shia LaBeouf Yanked His Teeth Out And Stabbed Himself In The Face For ‘Fury’

Photo: Sony Pictures

Since his beginnings as a Disney kid, Shia LaBeouf has evolved into something of a spectacularly dedicated Method actor. He may have had real, onscreen sex for Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, but that pales in comparison to what he did for 2014’s Fury.

As LaBeouf told Dazed Digital, “I pulled my tooth out, knifed my face up and spent days watching horses die. I didn’t bathe for four months.”

Divine Literally Ate Sh*t For ‘Pink Flamingos’

Photo: New Line Cinema

In 1975, Pier Paolo Pasolini shook the cinematic world with Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, which featured a banquet of sh*t. However, said feast was just chocolate. And that’s why the scene doesn’t have anything on what Divine did in 1972’s Pink Flamingos: literally eat dog poop… fresh from the canine’s bowels… right off the street.

As Divine, the stage name of Harris Glenn Milstead, once revealed, “I followed that dog around for three hours just zooming in on its assh*le.” After the act, however, Milstead became paranoid, and apparently called a Baltimore emergency room to ask about the potentially “harmful effects” of ingesting dog waste. A shocking stroke of method acting, but not one likely to ever be repeated.

Klaus Kinski Went To Extremes In Pretty Much Everything

Photo: BFI

Relegating Klaus Kinski to the ranks of “mere” Method acting seems almost quaint. Kinski – whose onscreen insanity is legendary – drove himself to extremes for veritably every part he played. He was so crazed in his Fitzcarraldo role that a couple of the Peruvian natives (and extras) on the set allegedly offered to kill him for director Werner Herzog. According to Herzog, he declined, but only because he needed Kinski in order to finish the movie.

And during the filming of Crawlspace, he got so far into his role as a deranged former Nazi he started multiple fights on set, and almost got fired outright.

Adrien Brody Starved Himself For ‘The Pianist’

Photo: Universal Pictures

Christian Bale isn’t the only actor to have nearly starved himself to oblivion for a role. He had a notable inspiration and predecessor: the 6’1″ Adrien Brody, who dropped down to a dangerous 130 pounds for Roman Polanski’s award-winning 2002 film The Pianist.

The movie, which chronicles the concentration camp days of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, was a personal and a professional commitment for Brody. As he told the SF Gate:

[Szpilman] survived this and made (his experiences) available to the world… playing a real person, you have the obligation to do it the right way. During the time I was starving myself, the thing I was most comforted by was playing the music. It calmed me and allowed me to some degree to distract myself from my own loneliness at that time.

Billy Bob Thornton Walked Around With Glass In His Shoes For ‘Sling Blade’

Photo: Miramax Films

Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade has become a beloved cult classic. And Thornton was deeply committed to his role as the mentally disabled Karl Childers – right down to the last detail. Legend has it Thornton even put crushed glass in his shoes to make Karl’s walk “more awkward and consistent.”

Heath Ledger May Have Lost His Life To His Joker Role

Photo: Warner Brothers

The extent to which Heath Ledger’s final role in The Dark Knight might have contributed to his untimely end remains controversial. As the actor told The New York Times:

Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.

As a result, Ledger started taking Ambien as a sleep aid – and the rest is history. Many who know him insist there was no relationship, though, between the role and his fatal overdose.

Daniel Day-Lewis Caught Pneumonia Because He Refused To Wear A Modern Coat While Filming ‘Gangs Of New York’

Photo: Miramax Films

Like Klaus Kinski, Daniel Day-Lewis is known for pulling out all the stops to embody his characters. For his role as Christy Brown, an artist with cerebral palsy, in 1989’s My Left Foot, Day-Lewis never left his wheelchair.

Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was no exception. Supposedly, Day-Lewis refused to break character on or off set. According to sources, though it was storming outside, Day-Lewis refused to wear a proper coat as it wouldn’t be period-accurate. He subsequently got pneumonia.

Nicolas Cage Ate A Live Cockroach For ‘Vampire’s Kiss’

Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Two years before he played Sailor Ripley in 1990’s Wild at Heart, Nicolas Cage starred in Vampire’s Kiss, which has since become a cult classic. Cage played Peter Loew, an unstable literary agent who believes he’s been bitten by a vampire.

Cage took the role seriously, insisting on not staging the scene in which Peter eats a live cockroach. As Cage admitted, “Every muscle in my body didn’t want to do it, but I did it anyway.”

Chloë Sevigny Performed A Real Sex Act In ‘The Brown Bunny’

Photo: Sony Pictures

When Chloë Sevigny performed “un-simulated fellatio” on her The Brown Bunny co-star (and former flame) Vincent Gallo – who also wrote and directed the film – a veritable scandal ensued. Sevigny claims that she doesn’t regret anything, but the scene’s fallout was difficult to endure for the actor.

According to an interview with W Magazine, Sevigny admits the scene had an adverse affect on her personal life. “It hurt me, in a lot of ways… some relationships have had trouble with it. Of course, my mom and I don’t talk about it.”

On the other hand, part of the reason Sevigny agreed the scene was to “push back against her growing fame at the time,” which is the admirable mark of a true indie pioneer.

Please wait...

And Now... A Few Links From Our Sponsors