HEATH LEDGER – THE DARK KNIGHT
“It’s a combination of reading all the comic books I could that were relevant to the script and then just closing my eyes and meditating on it. I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices—it was important to try and find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. He’s just an absolute sociopath, a cold-blooded, mass-murdering clown.”
While Ledger’s accidental overdose on sleep medication was pegged as the culprit for his death, it’s difficult not to imagine that a piece of the Joker might’ve stuck around after the movie wrapped. And some sources from the production of The Dark Knight have since said that Ledger’s performance wouldn’t stop even when the cameras had. Sometimes when you go too deep into a dark place, it can be tough to find your way back out.
ANNE HATHAWAY – LES MISERABLES
That, combined with her research into women’s lives in 19th century France, brought Hathaway to a pretty rough spot mentally. She explained on an episode of Chelsea Lately, “I was dealing with a lot of darkness [… and] I needed to go further in to that negative place to play my character.”
JOAQUIN PHOENIX – I’M STILL HERE
While the film itself ultimately turned out to be forgettable, it was Phoenix’s in-character appearance onThe Late Show with David Letterman in early 2009 that’s still burned in people’s memories. During the interview, Phoenix appeared to be half-asleep, mumbling answers to Letterman’s questions, and eventually sticking a wad of gum under the host’s desk. At the end of the interview, Letterman delivered the ultimate one-liner: “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.” Staying in character throughout a film shoot is impressive enough. Doing so whenever you’re out in public for almost a whole year is pretty much crazy.
JIM CARREY – MAN ON THE MOON
DANIEL DAY LEWIS – EVERYTHING
Probably the most famous performer to take method acting to its furthest extremes is Daniel Day Lewis. The actor spent a year reading up on the titular character for his starring role in 2012’s Lincoln, then refused to break character while on the set. He reportedly sent messages to cast mates signed “The Commander in Chief” or “A.” You know, for “Abe.”
And that wasn’t even close to all Lewis has done in the name of getting the character right. In My Left Foot, in which Lewis portrayed a man with cerebral palsy, the actor wouldn’t get out of his wheelchair, needing grumbling crewmembers to lift him all over the set. For Last of the Mohicans, Lewis went all Bear Grylls, learning to live off the land. For his role as a wrongfully imprisoned man in In the Name of the Father, he spent time in an actual prison cell. To play Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, he became an apprentice butcher—and he refused to wear a coat to keep warm during shoots, eventually leading him to contract pneumonia.
Outlandish as all that seems, the commitment to method acting has provided the actor with monumental success. Lewis is one of the most respected and lauded actors alive, having won three Academy Awards for Best Actor at the time of this writing.
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