What Filmmakers Need to Know about “Method” Acting


“The camera, I concluded, is not a recording device, it’s a microscope which reveals what the eye does not see. It also penetrates into a person, under the surface display, and records thoughts and feelings- whatever is going on. I would never forget this.”

- Elia Kazan

You’ve got a film to cast and the head shots and resumes start to come in. You turn-over the head shot and look over the resume for film credits, television, commercials, theatre, and finally training. Training, okay- you see schools, workshops and then you read- trained in “The Method.” The Method? Is that a cult or psychological deprogramming thing that some actors put themselves through? Yes it does sounds like that, and that’s why it’s so misunderstood and sometimes made fun of.

A Little History

“The Method” is based on the “Stanislavsky System”; a technique developed at the Moscow Art Theatre (around 1900) by Konstantin Stanislavsky. The technique taught the actor how to develop a personal bond with the character inwardly, naturally, honestly, virtually becoming their characters, by developing an empathetic identity. This approach was the opposite of what had been taught for ages, but in the 1930’s became an American institution when Broadway’s Group Theatre, led by Lee Strasberg, rejected the classic repertory for this more contemporary and natural presentation.

Over the years there have been several variations to “The Method,” and it’s my opinion that there isn’t any guaranteed success studying one style of the “Method” of over another, because it’s not a right or wrong thing; it’s always personal.

What is this Method?

There isn’t any magic, set formula for acting and teaching. Many teachers utilize bits and pieces of these techniques, exercises, and systems within the “Method” but even the master himself- Stanislavsky, admitted that he forever found his techniques continuing to evolve over the years. It’s not a one size fits all education, it’s forever evolving. The reality is- good acting requires flexibility and adaptability. And good actors must know how to listen, be able to accept feedback, and react to direction (unless you’re open to improvisation and collaboration). Here’s a red flag- anytime you find an actor defending their performance, not listening to the feedback, struggling with your changes in direction- you will have a problem.

I’ve audited acting classes, and sometimes it came down to: it just didn’t feel right. I’ve been turned-off by the teacher, sometimes even by the other students in the class- the attitude, the vibe that’s brought into the room. Like I said, it’s personal. I’ve had the good fortune to attend different acting schools, and learned from some great coaches and teachers, but if I had to narrow it down; this is what I’ve learned and borrowed from Carey Scott of The Rehearsal Room, and endeavor to use as a Method actor/student:

The Process

  1. Character Analysis:  Know your character by discovering him or her…create their history, their profession, home, why they behave as they do…imagine what they like or hate, what they eat, what they fear, what are they fighting for, and the why’s?  How do they feel about religion, politics, sex, music, art, books, food, etc.?
  2. Listening:  Listening is so key to the truth in acting that it’s often the first point made in acting class.  Listening is how we learn what is happening with the other person, it keeps you involved, propels you forward.   The audience can see the truth- when one character is talking and the other is thinking of their own lines instead of listening and responding truthfully.
  3. Script Analysis:  Example- What is the character’s point of view of the world?  Scene by scene, what are the given circumstances…where does this take place, who’s in the scene, what do I know about the characters in the scene, what are the relationships-emotionally, what do the characters say about each other, per the script- is it true, is what I know about each characters background and is it relevant to the scene, what happens-literally, and how do they treat each other.
  4. Scene Study:  Identify your character’s given circumstances, objectives, obstacles, and choose active intentions, and at least get a sense of your character’s stakes.  For instance- what happens to my character in the scene, why am I in this scene, what would be missing if I wasn’t in it, what does my character actually do, who am I with, and what’s my emotional relationship to them and theirs to me.
  5. Stakes (how high?):  What’s the significance to my character getting what they want?  To what extent is my character willing to go to get it?  Willing to lie, cheat, steal, kill, die, sacrifice family and pride at any cost?  And what if I don’t get it?   What do they do, not say, in the script?
  6. Inner Life/Inner Imagery:  When we peer into the eyes of actors that are giving a complete and amazing performance, we can see them thinking.  We wonder what’s going on inside, but not spoken- their internal life-  which helps us believe and care about them as that character.  Internal pictures, specific not abstract, that you can see, smell, hear, taste, touch; that play through your mind as you speak.
  7. Emotion and Demand:  Finding triggers that cause emotional “as if” that provokes the emotion needed to make the script work.  Going to an emotional place that no one else wants to go.  It can be as simple as a photograph that brings back the feelings of loss of a loved one and connecting so much to it that you invite (not demand) at a moments notice- an honest, deep, personal emotional state.
  8. Given Circumstances:  The facts, where you begin: who, what, when, where, why’s of the script.  What’s happening in this scene?  Where and when is this taking place?  Even that which the script tells you from the past, leading up to this place in time.
  9. Superobjective and Objective:  As Stanislavski said, “The superobjective, the dream which comes from a deep yearning within the character, is the spine of the actors performance and that the objective in each individual scene are the ribs connected to that spine.”  The superobjective is the deep driving passion within the character, and the objectives are the wants that conflict with the other character(s).
  10. The Triad of All Acting:  Objective, Obstacle, & Intention- are in every scene, and every movie.   Objectives are wants that are blocked by obstacles but overcome by the character’s actions, that create a new want that produces a new obstacle which furthers the development of the story.  It’s what you want (objective), why you want it (emotional validation), and how you’ll go about getting it (intention) to overcome every obstacle.

If someone says they are “Method” trained, try asking them a few questions:

  • What’s their interpretation of “The Method,” as it was taught to them?
  • How do they get to the truth of the work?  or How did they prepare for this scene?
  • Can they describe something about their character:  a short biography- education, religion, the character’s relationship with parents, kids, co-workers, roommates, were there any troubling past events, dreams- good or bad, or did they create a little back story, etc.?
  • How do they feel about the character, have they judged them?  (hint: they’ll empathize with the character if they understand the character, and the given circumstances)

For Further Reading

I keep a little library of books at my finger tips, here’s what I suggest to everyone:

Written by Guest Blogger Thurman Dalrymple: Thurman is an actor in Los Angeles and San Diego, Ca.  Over the past 30+ years Thurman has appeared in over 50 different TV shows, Films, commercials, industrials, plays, and short films.  He has studied acting for TV and Film at the Rehearsal Room with actor/teacher Carey Scott, improvisation at The Groundlings School in Los Angeles, voice-over and on-camera commercial acting with Dru Scott, on-camera techniques with Casting Director Candis Paule and voice and movement for theatre with Adeline Hershfeld-Medalia.  Thurman is a member of SAG-AFTRA.