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What is Method Acting?

The term “method acting” comes up frequently in conversations among actors. Many of you have probably heard of method acting, and some of you may have even read about it or trained in some of the techniques. And others may be wondering: What is method acting?

At 3-2-1 Acting School in Los Angeles for kids, teens and young adults, we feel it’s important to expose our students to as many acting techniques and approaches as possible. As part of our series of posts on acting techniques (we’ve already written about the Meisner Acting Method and Stanislavski’s system), we are going to dive into the basics of Method Acting in order to give you a broad picture of what it is.



Who developed Method Acting?

Lee Strasberg is the primary force behind method acting in America; he drew some of the method’s foundational techniques from Stanislavski’s system. As a young actor, he discovered Stanislavski’s system when the Moscow Art Theatre came to the US in the 1920s.  Strasberg then studied with Stanislavski’s students at the American Laboratory Theatre before co-founding the Group Theatre in 1931.

What does Method Acting entail?

Method actors draw upon experiences from their own personal lives in order to build characters.  Strasberg believed that, in order to fully embody their roles physically, emotionally, and mentally, that actors must work from their own life experiences and identify personally with their characters.

Actors practicing method acting will use tools such as substitution, which prompts actors to drawn upon experiences from their own lives. For example, if an actor is playing a character whose grandfather passes away, and needs to experience loss and convey sadness, that actor might recall a similar experience from his or her own life, in which a relative passed away. If, however, the actor has never lost a family member, perhaps the actor could recall the experience of losing a pet, or of “losing” a best friend who moved away.

Since Method Acting relies on the personal experiences, actors practicing the method will often replicate scenarios and behaviors of their characters in their own personal lives.   Sometimes, method actors will stay “in character” throughout the duration of an entire project — living, walking, and talking as their characters would, even when they are not on set or on stage.  Contemporary method actors have been known to isolate themselves from social interactions between performances in order to fully immerse themselves in the lives of their characters.

Is Method Acting the same as Stanislavski’s system for actors?

No. Strasberg was influenced by Stanislavski — particularly his use of emotional recall — but Strasberg’s method is entirely different from Stanislavski’s system.  Stanislavski actually discovered that the work of drawing from personal life experiences could be, in some cases, psychologically dangerous, so he developed alternative tools and exercises for actors, including imagination-based exercises.

Criticisms of Method Acting

Method Acting is one of the more “controversial” acting methods in that entertainment industry professionals have reported method actors as particularly difficult to work with.  Method actors can often be so immersed in their roles that they overlook the practical aspects of film and theatre production — staging, blocking, directions, logistics, etc.

Sanford Meisner felt that method acting placed too much emphasis on the “inside” workings of an actor — rather than accounting for outside stimuli.

Where is Method Acting taught?

The most well-known home for method acting is the Actors Studio in New York City, which was founded by Strasberg in 1951.  The Actors Studio Drama School has a prestigious, competitive 3-year MFA program at Pace University in NYC (this is where Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio” is filmed).



Who practices Method Acting?

There are many famous practitioners of Method Acting, including Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, Marisa Tomei, Reese Witherspoon, and Anne Hathaway.

Is Method Acting the right method for me?

Acting is an extremely personal profession; what works for you likely won’t work for your peers, and vice versa.  We always tell our students at 3-2-1- Acting Studios in Los Angeles to familiarize themselves with multiple techniques and approaches to acting. This is one of many.  Stay tuned for more posts on acting methods!


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