The Method Brand

Daniel_day_lewis_2People have such a misconception about what it is I do.  They think the character comes from staying in the wheelchair or being locked in the jail or whatever extravagant thing they choose to focus their fantasies on…  But that’s just the superficial stuff.  Most of the movies I do ae leading me toward a life this is utterly mysterious to me.  My chief goal is to find a way to make that life meaningful to other people. 

Hear that?  This is Daniel Day-Lewis talking about acting.  Unless I’m mistaken, he is talking about artifice. 

I had always assumed that Daniel Day-Lewis was a method man, a man who committed himself to his part, living and breathing it for the duration of filming. 

Method acting, as I understand it (and I may not), is not really acting at all.  It’s an act of revelation.

Method actors feel their character with great depth.  They enter an emotional condition in which the portrayer is indistinguishable from the portrayed.  Committed to someone else’s selfhood means that the actor must necessary throw off signals that describe the emotional condition within. The actor isn’t so much acting as he or she is giving an account of how he or she feels in this moment before camera.  In the method approach, acting is kind of serial sincerity. 

Not so the crafty European.  No, the old world actor engages in calculation!  In artifice!  This actor is making stuff up.  No sincerity here.  He actually stops to think how he might "make that life meaningful to other people."  Ladies and gentlemen, the guy’s a faker. 

We North Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of artifice.  We want our actors to live and breathe their roles, in the manner of a Robert De Niro.  It’s as if we are saying that we will not commit to a performance unless we know the actor has done the same.  And if this should cost some actor his self possession, in the manner of a Heath Ledger, well, this troubles us not at all.  In the art markets of our democracy, we are little monarchs.  We will have our due. 

And this brings us to what I think we mean by authenticity in the world of branding.  We don’t mean brands that are never otherwise.  We don’t mean brands that are true to themselves.  We mean brands that practice serial sincerity.  We want the brand, as we want the actor, to be what it is the moment it is with perfect and thoroughgoing commitment.  The brand might have been something before, and it may be something after, but in this moment the brand must be what it is and not another thing.  It must be in this regard actorly, a method brand. 

References

Jensen, Jeff.  2008.  Daniel Day-Lewis.  Entertainment Weekly.  Issue 978, February 1, 2008, p. 33.   

9 thoughts on “The Method Brand”

  1. This is an interesting one. Olivier said something very similar, if I’m not mistaken (which I may be). What does it mean, then, that great actors can approach roles in either of these ways and still mesmerize us? Dinner conversation!

  2. Very nice Grant.

    IMHO, for a brand to be a method brand, the actors (employees) should “draw on their own emotions, memories, and experiences to influence their portrayals of” the brand. Authentic, to me, means the people believe in what they are doing and creating; e.g. Starbucks’ baristas.

    This is in clear contrast to inauthentic brands, where the acting is a “more abstracted, less involved style of acting in which the actor himself or herself remains an outside observer of the character he or she is portraying.” (Source: Wikipedia) Thoughts?

  3. Reminds me of the story of Lawrence Oliver when he was working with Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. Dustin was way into Method, agonizing away. He asked Olivier something like, “how come you don’t do that? (the whole method immersion). Olivier’s reply: “It’s call ‘acting’ dear boy. Try it sometime.”

    Presenting a story (artifice) doesn’t have to mean the story itself isn’t genuine.

    (And I’d say Day-Lewis sounds like he’s pretty grounded. He isn’t, after all performing brain surgery.)

  4. Reminds me of the story of Lawrence Oliver when he was working with Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man. Dustin was way into Method, agonizing away. He asked Olivier something like, “how come you don’t do that? (the whole method immersion). Olivier’s reply: “It’s call ‘acting’ dear boy. Try it sometime.”

    Presenting a story (artifice) doesn’t have to mean the story itself isn’t genuine.

    (And I’d say Day-Lewis sounds like he’s pretty grounded. He isn’t, after all performing brain surgery.)

  5. Hmmm . . . so where do you draw the line Mary. Do you want your brands of financial adviser and medical professional to be good “actors” too? Heaven knows that’s what we finally have with our politicians.

  6. Tom – I’ve heard the Olivier story myself. Supposedly, him suggesting to the Method-trained Dustin Hoffman that he “try acting, my boy” on the set of Marathon Man. I wonder if it’s true; I doubt it matters, since the story makes its point pretty well.

    In my own experience (I’ve trained in the Method and other acting modalities), *good* Method acting is a way in, just like technically-focused acting–the kind the Brits are trained in. And whether you are aware of it or not (and you’d think all actors would be aware of it, but I’m here to tell you that it ain’t so), if you’re a good actor, you are using both to some degree. You can’t authentically play a character other than you without the “outside-in” stuff. And the Method, used properly, is a way to check in and stay truthful to the moment, not to lose yourself in something else.

    As an old acting teacher used to say, you are always aware you are working, that you are on a stage or in front of a camera, but you are also letting yourself live this emotion as it’s happening. Again, in my experience, this is the case no matter what acting technique you are using. Even if an actor isn’t using the Method, I would imagine it’s hard to come down from a scene like the one at the climax of There Will Be Blood.

    Of course, I never got close to the level of a Day-Lewis or Olivier. A lot about acting is like any high-level sport: you get so good at switching on the fly, you don’t even realize the myriad steps you’re going through.

    I’ll have to think more about this branding-as-Method thing. Something about it feels a bit off to me, but I can’t put my finger on it yet.

  7. One of the actors who apparently used The Method was Montgomery Clift, who was the leading male actor of the New York stage for a decade before moving to films in the late 40s. Something immediately noticeable about his film acting are the pauses — he gives the impression that he is thinking what to say before speaking, just as people do in real life. But few actors do this in films or on stage, perhaps because pausing when you know the words requires self-discipline and skill. These pauses are the best example I know of the power of Method Acting.

  8. Tom,

    Here’s how I “draw the line” – whatever the profession, they should be educated, experienced, responsible and capable. If they’re in a profession such as financial management or medicine (or politics) I’d add ethical and smarter than me.

    It’s the actors jobs to “act.” The Method is just one way they do it. But no matter how immersed they are in their characters, they’re still doing make-believe. Sadly, our politicians all too often forget (or don’t care) that what they do is reality.

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