17 times stars took method acting way too far

Jamie Foxx in ‘Ray’, Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, Jim Carrey in ‘Man on the Moon’ and Jared Leto in ‘Suicide Squad' (Universal, 20th Century Studios, Warner Bros)
Jamie Foxx in ‘Ray’, Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’, Jim Carrey in ‘Man on the Moon’ and Jared Leto in ‘Suicide Squad' (Universal, 20th Century Studios, Warner Bros)

Few thespian techniques are more controversial than method acting – when an actor goes the extra mile by totally immersing themselves in their character for the whole of production, and sometimes even long after shooting has finished. Some of the most celebrated actors swear by the technique, including Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

However, the strategy is not without its criticisms. Robert Pattinson told Conan O’Brien: “You only ever see people do the method when they’re playing a**holes. You never see someone being lovely to everyone while they’re really deep in character.” Jennifer Lawrence joked on Hot Ones: “I would be nervous to work with somebody who is method. I would have no idea how to talk to them.”

Natalie Portman, meanwhile, criticised the technique in The Wall Street Journal Magazine“I think it’s honestly a luxury that women can’t afford. I don’t think that children or partners would be very understanding of, you know, me making everyone call me ‘Jackie Kennedy’ all the time.”

Here are 17 times when stars took method acting to the extreme, resulting in temporary blindness, microwaving ice cream and psychiatric treatment.

Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016)

Jared Leto is infamous for his commitment to method acting. He gained 67 pounds to portray John Lennon’s murderer in Chapter 27 (2007)For the vampire film Morbius (2022), he refused to break character and stop limping along in crutches. His 45-minute-long bathroom breaks cost the whole crew time and money. Eventually, the producers got so fed up that they struck a deal with him that he could use a wheelchair to get to the toilet.

Jared Leto as the Joker in ‘Suicide Squad' (Warner Bros.)
Jared Leto as the Joker in ‘Suicide Squad' (Warner Bros.)

Leto took his strange acting skills to a whole new level for his role as the Joker in Suicide Squad. He insisted on being addressed as “Mister J” and told E! that he tried to “create an element of spontaneity” on the set by sending strange presents such as “used condoms” and “anal beads” to the cast, which included Cara Delavigne and Margot Robbie.

Viola Davis also claimed that he hired a henchman to drop a dead pig onto the table in their rehearsal room.

Viola Davis, Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto at the premiere of ‘Suicide Squad’ in 2016 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
Viola Davis, Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto at the premiere of ‘Suicide Squad’ in 2016 (Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

Robbie also told Elle that Leto gave her a live rat. The crew wanted to kill it, but Robbie felt sorry for it and kept it as a pet. She named it Rat Rat and fed it on organic berries from Whole Foods.

It is unclear whether Leto’s method acting actually enhances the films. Morbius has a 15 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes and bombed at the box office. Leto’s take on the Joker failed to convince many fans and critics. Vanity Fair wrote that “Leto’s Joker is barely in the damn movie, and when he is, he’s entirely underwhelming”.

Austin Butler in Elvis (2022)

Austin Butler went to extreme lengths to play the superstar Elvis Presley in the biopic Elvis.

Butler told Variety: “During Elvis, I didn’t see my family for about three years. I was prepping with Baz [the director], and then I went to Australia.”

He added: “I had months where I wouldn’t talk to anybody. And when I did, the only thing I was ever thinking about was Elvis. I was speaking in his voice the whole time.”

Austin Butler in ‘Elvis
Austin Butler in ‘Elvis" (Warner Bros.)

Although the crew provided Butler with bodysuits to portray older versions of Elvis, Butler wanted to be more authentic and gain weight. He told Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast that he started microwaving Häagen-Dazs ice cream and drinking it, because he heard a rumour that Ryan Gosling did that to gain weight for The Lovely Bones (2007) before the director fired him.

“I would go get two dozen doughnuts and eat them all. I really started to pack on some pounds. It’s fun for a week or so, and then you feel awful with yourself.”

Butler continued to speak in an Elvis-like voice during the film’s press tour in 2022.

The actor’s approach may have won him critical acclaim, but it wasn’t good for his body. He told GQ: “My body just started shutting down the day after I finished Elvis. The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to hospital.” He was bedridden for a week with a virus.

Lady Gaga in House of Gucci (2022)

Lady Gaga used method acting for her role as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci (2021). The singer-turned-actress told Vogue in 2021 that she never broke character during the whole year and a half that she worked on the film. She claimed that dying her hair black enabled her to speak exclusively in an Italian accent for nine months. Gaga also watched videos of panthers as inspiration for Reggiani’s movements.

Although Gaga has no evidence that Reggiani was interested in photography, Gaga decided to get into her mindset by taking a camera everywhere with her so she could photograph beautiful things.

Lady Gaga in ‘House of Gucci' (Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)
Lady Gaga in ‘House of Gucci' (Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.)

Gaga never actually met the woman she was portraying. Reggiani told an Italian journalist: “I am quite annoyed by the fact that Lady Gaga is playing me in the new Ridley Scott film without even having the foresight and sensitivity to come and meet me.”

In 2022, Gaga told W Magazine that she only stopped living in character when she became convinced that the real Reggiani sent a swarm of flies after her.

Lady Gaga stuck with method acting for her role as Harley Quinn in Joker: Foile à Deux. The sequel to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker (2019) is set to be released on 4 October. Lady Gaga insisted the crew call her “Lee”, short for Harley.

Aaron Eckhart in Rabbit Hole (2010)

Rabbit Hole is 2010 drama film starring Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman as a couple whose son is killed. Eckhart thought it was sensible to prepare for this role by going along to an actual support group. He stayed in character, crying and trying to convince 20 real bereaved parents that he had also lost a child.

Eckhart said on The Howard Stern Show in 2014 that “one person goes, then two, three, then it gets to me. And by that point, you’re just so flushed that you just start going and giving the details of the story”.

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in ‘Rabbit Hole’ (David Geisbrecht/Lionsgate)
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in ‘Rabbit Hole’ (David Geisbrecht/Lionsgate)

He added: “You really believe that you just lost a child. You are as close to reality in that sense as possible. I don’t want to be rude to people who have lost a child, but yeah, you feel right there, you feel like your character.”

Eckhart explained that Kidman did not join him at the real support group as “she was in the Bahamas or somewhere”.

Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman (1992)

Lee Strassberg, who taught Al Pacino, was famous for teaching his acting students to use “The Method”.

Al Pacino won the Academy Award for Best Actor for ‘Scent Of A Woman’ in 1993 (Getty Images)
Al Pacino won the Academy Award for Best Actor for ‘Scent Of A Woman’ in 1993 (Getty Images)

In Scent of a Woman, Pacino played a blind veteran called Frank Slade. He met with about a dozen people from New York’s Associated Blind organisation who had lost their sight due to trauma. Pacino went along to classes organised by the Lighthouse Guild, a charity which supports blind people. He learned how people with vision impairments perform everyday tasks, so he could pretend to be blind for the whole time the film was being made. He even asked the crew to treat him as if he couldn’t see.

While pretending to be blind, Pacino fell into a bush, scratched his cornea, and actually suffered from temporary blindness.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis has never failed to commit to a role. For Last of the Mohicans (1992), he learned to build canoes. He exclusively ate animals he hunted, and carried a massive gun everywhere, including to Christmas dinner with all his family.

Day-Lewis took his role in the biopic My Left Foot (1989) very seriously. He portrayed Christy Brown, a writer and artist with cerebral palsy who could only use his left foot. Day-Lewis stayed in character for the whole of production. He insisted that he couldn’t walk and had to go everywhere in a wheelchair. Crew members had to carry him out of cars and feed him.

For Steven Spielberg’s political thriller Lincoln (2012) Day-Lewis swept up other cast members in his method acting. He spoke in a squeaky American accent all the time and Spielberg said he lost track of what Day-Lewis’s real voice was like.

Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln' (David James/SM PSP/DreamWorks)
Daniel Day-Lewis in ‘Lincoln' (David James/SM PSP/DreamWorks)

Jared Harris, who co-starred as Ulysses S Grant, said that Day-Lewis insisted that all the British cast and crew spoke in American accents too, so that they wouldn’t throw Day-Lewis off his voice.

Day-Lewis confessed that he may have started blurring the lines between reality and his role. “I know I’m not Abraham Lincoln. I’m aware of that. But the truth is the entire game is about creating an illusion, and for whatever reason, and mad as it may sound, some part of me can allow myself to believe for a period for time without questioning, and that’s the trick.”

Ashton Kutcher in Jobs (2013)

Kutcher used the method approach to star as the founder of Apple in the 2013 biopic. He started practising Buddhism. He also tried to get into Jobs’s mindset by following his unusual fruitarian diet. However, this strategy had disastrous consequences.

According to E!Kutcher had to go to hospital after consuming too much carrot juice. “Two weeks before we started shooting, all of a sudden I had this pain in my back and through the night it got worse and worse and worse and worse. I ended up in the hospital on the maximum dose of Dilaudid because my pancreas was crazy out of whack.

Ashton Kutcher in ‘Jobs' (AP)
Ashton Kutcher in ‘Jobs' (AP)

“And then I’m getting freaked out, like, ‘This is the ghost of Steve Jobs taking over my pancreas,’ and I’m freaking out and it turns out it was the carrot juice causing this crazy pancreatitis.”

His wife, Mila Kunis, said on Hot Ones in October 2021 that she considered this method acting “so stupid” and “really dumb”.

Robert De Niro in The Untouchables (1987)

De Niro is a strong believer in method acting. He prepared for The Godfather Part II (1974) by living in Sicily for four months. And he got a real New York cab driver’s licence and worked 12-hour shifts in order to get in the head of Travis Bickle in the Taxi Driver (1976).

However, De Niro took method acting to a new level for The Untouchables. De Niro was cast as Al Capone only five weeks before filming began. In that time, he shaved part of his head and gained 30 pounds. He even tracked down Al Capone’s tailors and requested they recreate the clothes he bought from them right down to exact replicas of Capone’s silk underwear. De Niro’s attention to detail was quite meticulous considering that he’s in the film for less than 10 minutes.

Leonardo di Caprio in The Revenant (2016)

The role that finally won di Caprio his Oscar was of a 19th century frontiersman called Hugh Glass who had to survive in the icy wilderness along the Missouri River. To make his performance more authentic, di Caprio decided to live like a frontiersman during the shoot. He ate raw livers from bison and slept inside animal carcasses.

Several of the crew struggled to work in cold conditions in remote regions of Argentina and Canada, and quit during production.

Leonardo di Caprio in ‘The Revenant’ (Twentieth Century Fox)
Leonardo di Caprio in ‘The Revenant’ (Twentieth Century Fox)

Di Caprio told Yahoo Movies that production was difficult. “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada

Streep tried to intimidate Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt around the set, so that their characters would come across on camera as genuinely scared of their boss Miranda Priestley. Streep withdrew from the other cast members between takes and refused to joke around with them.

Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada' (Barry Wetcher / Twentieth Century Fox)
Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada' (Barry Wetcher / Twentieth Century Fox)

Method acting may have benefited The Devil Wears Prada – the film was nominated for two Oscars and grossed $326m (£258m) – but it was a lonely time for Streep. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2021: “It was horrible! I was [miserable] in my trailer. I could hear them all rocking and laughing. I was so depressed! I said, ‘Well, it’s the price you pay for being boss!’ That’s the last time I ever attempted a method thing!

Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon (1999)

The 2017 documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond chronicles Carrey’s method acting for his role as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon.

Carrey believes that Andy Kaufman telepathically influenced his performance. In the opening of the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey said: “It was absurd but somehow it worked. That’s the moment when Andy Kaufman showed up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Sit down, I’ll be doing my movie.’ What happened afterwards was out of my control.”

Jim Carrey in 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton’ (Francois Duhamel / Netflix)
Jim Carrey in 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton’ (Francois Duhamel / Netflix)

Carrey apparently didn’t break character for four months. He made his friends and family call him “Andy”.

Martin Freeman criticised Carrey’s approach during an episode of the Off Menu podcast, calling it “self-aggrandising, selfish and narcissistic”.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker

The Napoleon star may not have gone to the same lengths as Jared Leto, but he still used method acting during his stint as the Joker. He told The Associated Press that he lost 52 pounds of weight for the role to get into the Joker’s mindset. “But I think the interesting thing for me is what I had expected and anticipated with the weight loss was these feelings of dissatisfaction, hunger, a certain kind of vulnerability and a weakness. But what I didn’t anticipate was this feeling of kind of fluidity that I felt physically.”

Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker’ (AP)
Joaquin Phoenix in 'Joker’ (AP)

He added that losing so much weight was not enjoyable. “Once you reach the target weight, everything changes. Like so much of what’s difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop like a disorder. I mean, it’s wild.”

Jamie Foxx in Ray (2004)

Jamie Foxx was pushed into method acting for his role as Ray Charles in the biopic Ray. The director, Taylor Hackford, is a strong believer in the technique and insisted that Foxx’s eyes were glued shut and covered with prosthetics that resembled Charles’s real eyelids.

Jamie Foxx won the Best Actor Academy Award for ‘Ray’ (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
Jamie Foxx won the Best Actor Academy Award for ‘Ray’ (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

According to The New York TimesFoxx felt so claustrophobic during the first two weeks of filming that he suffered from panic attacks. The cast and crew constantly forgot that Foxx couldn’t see. They once left him stranded at a lunch table, and Foxx couldn’t find his way back to the set they were shooting on.

“Imagine having your eyes glued shut for 14 hours a day,” Foxx said, “that’s your jail sentence.”

Val Kilmer in The Doors (1991)

According to Far Out Magazine, Kilmer was exceptionally dedicated to his role as the rock star Jim Morrison in the 1991 biopic The Doors.

The Top Gun star wasn’t familiar with the band’s music before the role. However, he attempted to memorise most of the singer’s repertoire. Kilmer left a memo on the set requesting that his team only call him “Jim Morrison”. Kilmer apparently became so obsessed with Morrison that he couldn’t move on after filming wrapped and needed to go to therapy.

Val Kilmer in ‘The Doors' (Tristar)
Val Kilmer in ‘The Doors' (Tristar)

The surviving members of the Doors were all critical of the film. The keyboardist Ray Manzarek said in an interview with Gary James: “It was not about Jim Morrison. It was about Jimbo Morrison, the drunk. God, where was the sensitive poet and the funny guy? The guy I knew was not on that screen. That was not my friend.”

Andrew Garfield in Silence (2016)

Andrew Garfield defended method acting in 2022 on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He said: “It’s not about being an a**hole to everyone on set. It’s actually just about living truthfully under imagined circumstances, and being really nice to the crew simultaneously, and being a normal human being, and being able to drop it when you need to and staying in it when you want to stay in it.”

He believes that method acting enhanced his performance in Silence, a Martin Scorsese film about 17thcentury priests. Garfield claims to have lived like his character by abstaining from sex.

Andrew Garfield in ‘Silence’ (Paramount)
Andrew Garfield in ‘Silence’ (Paramount)

He explained: “I had an incredibly spiritual experience. I did a bunch of spiritual practices every day, I created new rituals for myself. I was celibate for six months, and fasting a lot, because me and Adam [Driver] had to lose a bunch of weight anyway. It was very cool, man. I had some pretty wild, trippy experiences from starving myself of sex and food at that time.”

Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Nicolas Cage has coined his own special acting technique. “Nouveau Shamanic” apparently combines method acting with techniques from German expressionism. This seems to be his reason for doing as many weird and horrible things on sets as he can. For his role in the 1988 psychological thriller Vampire’s Kiss, he offered to eat a live bat on camera, but the director negotiated with him to only eat live cockroaches instead. He pulled out his teeth without any anaesthetic for the 1984 war drama Birdy.

Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Sony Pictures)
Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Sony Pictures)

A particularly bizarre use of his “Nouveau Shamanic” technique is for the 2011 film Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Cage told On Demand Entertainment that he would sew “Egyptian artefacts that were thousands of years old” into the folds of his clothes, and paint an “Afro-Caribbean voodoo icon” onto his face each day before work. He also refused to speak to anybody on set so that the cast members would be more frightened of his character.

Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)

Ledger is the third actor on this list to look through Batman comics of the Joker and decide to live like him for several months.

The star, who played him in The Dark Knight, prepared for the role by locking himself in a hotel room for months so he could study clowns and practice the Joker’s movements.

Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight' (Rex Features)
Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight' (Rex Features)

Ledger stayed in character for the whole time that he was wearing the iconic clown make up and green wig. He also asked Christian Bale to punch him for real during a scene in which Batman interrogates the Joker.

Bale said: “He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total.”