An article in The Atlantic contends that Jared Leto’s turn in Suicide Squad is just the latest reminder that “Method Acting” has become more about ego and marketing than good performances. In the lead up to the movie’s release, the media reported that Leto was so committed to the part of the Joker that he gifted the cast and crew with used condoms, a dead pig, a live rat. And to get into the character’s twisted mindset, he also watched footage of brutal crimes online.
“The Joker is incredibly comfortable with acts of violence,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was watching real violence, consuming that. There’s a lot you can learn from seeing it.”
The Atlantic rolls its eyes at this.
Traditionally, Method acting is the way in which actors “draw on their own experiences and emotions as a way to strip their performances of artifice.”
Going to great lengths to inhabit a character is now as much a marketing tool as it is an actual technique—one used to lend an air of legitimacy, verisimilitude, and importance to a performance no matter its quality. Leto’s Joker is the latest evidence that the prestige of method acting has dimmed—thanks to the technique’s overuse by those seeking award-season glory or a reputation boost, as well as its history of being shaped by destructive ideas of masculinity.
The article goes on to blame stars like De Niro, DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Christian Bale for foisting this annoying trend upon the movie-going public.
Method acting of this sort couldn’t exist without the culture of permissiveness and indulgence Hollywood has fostered over the years. For the last few decades, particularly after Robert De Niro’s infamous body transformation for1980’s Raging Bull, which netted him an Oscar, method acting has become a critical factor in the campaigns of actors seeking trophies. Actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christian Bale, and particularly Leonardo DiCaprio have spoken about how they lose themselves in roles—gaining weight, whittling themselves down, never breaking character, taking on accents and hobbies that affect their personal life. The underpinning of this strategy is the belief that to create great art one must suffer. But method acting has also become wrapped up in a brand of identity politics that tries to make the art form resemble more traditional forms of male labor, and by extension limiting the kinds of actors who receive praise.
DiCaprio, no surprise, is singled out as perhaps the worst offender.
In his post-Titanic career, DiCaprio has been outspoken about wanting to be viewed as a real artist rather than as just an object of female desire. As of late he has embodied, more than anyone else, the idea of acting as an endurance test (as David Sims has written for The Atlantic). This often leads to performances that feel far too studied, in which every choice seems obvious. But it finally got DiCaprio his first Academy Award for Best Actor earlier this year.
The Oscar campaign for The Revenant made a huge deal about DiCaprio’s punishing approach to his role as a hardened frontiersman. He ate wild bison liver despite being vegetarian, put his life on the line wading into freezing rivers, and even slept in an animal carcass. “I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” DiCaprio said of his performance. DiCaprio’s career ascension and Oscar win enforces some of the most wrongheaded ideas about modern acting, as the critic Matt Zoller Seitz noted:
[D]uring the last 15 years […] he’s bought into the idea that if you’re not losing or gaining weight, changing your appearance, spending long periods of time in extreme weather conditions and otherwise proving your mettle, then it’s not really acting—or, maybe just as bad, that it’s a sissy version of acting, all about clothes and makeup and hitting your marks.
But back to Leto and his Suicide Squad antics:
Leto was, of course, following Heath Ledger’s towering, Oscar-winning performance as the Joker in 2007’s The Dark Knight, so he had to differentiate himself not just stylistically and on screen, but also in the press. There’s a lot riding on Suicide Squad, given that this spring’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice met neither critical nor box-office expectations (so far, the new film has succeeded at the latter, if not the former).
So it isn’t surprising that Leto and his castmates used shocking stories to help build a mythology around the movie. The director David Ayer, who went so far as to have his actors punch each other as preparation for their roles, gushed about Leto’s devotion. “He constantly has to give birth to himself, he goes away, he comes back, he shoots, he goes away,” Ayer told Yahoo UK. “The Joker is something you have to be, and you can see how exhausting and painful it is for him to be this character.”
Leto’s approach proved divisive among the cast and crew, and it didn’t exactly translate to a good performance (the Joker plays a surprisingly small role in Suicide Squad).
Read the whole article here.