Chapter 07: To Method Act or Not to Method Act, That is the Question Regarding Method Acting

Every actor will, at some point, reach a crossroads in their career in which they must decide whether or not to adopt the acting style of Sir Lee “Jaw Bags” Straussberg and become a method actor.

In method acting, actors draw upon their emotions and memories to aid in the portrayal of a character they will inhabit. This is why I respectfully ask that any persons with short term memory loss or amnesia give up acting and become a waiter or court reporter – any occupation that requires the writing down of information.

If you find yourself asking:

• Why would my character do this or that?
• What are the psychological or emotional reasons for my character’s actions?

…then method acting may be for you.

I can practically hear you standing up and screaming, “Benedict, are you asking me to believe that, much like the character of Sherlock Holmes for which you scandalously did not win the BAFTA, you are an arrogant, genius sleuth driven by a desire to prove yourself cleverer than everyone else? I find that difficult to believe.” I respond: thank you and yes.

When I was a child, my parents (the character actor Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch and veteran television actress Wanda Ventham) so wanted me to succeed at acting that they cruelly forced me to undertake every occupation under the sun. So it was that for one summer I did in fact work as a detective with several character flaws. When the time came to breathe life into the modern Sherlock Holmes, I knew exactly in which direction to point my sleuth.

This past year, I had the pleasure of working with Sir Steven Spielberg on the film adaptation of War Horse (in American theatres 28 December and across the United Kingdom on 13 January). In such an epic production, one will work with hundreds of actors, and those based in the method knew where their characters had been and where they were headed. When my director, Sir Steven Spielberg, called ‘action’, they knew, as I did, what to do, whereas those who subscribed to any other method were often lost, causing my director (Sir Steven Spielberg) a great deal of consternation to the point that he had an entire village re-cast on the spot. It didn’t matter to him that they were not in the film but in reality an actual village several miles from the filming location, they simply were not believable.

I cannot tell you that what has worked for me will work for you. You must look within yourself and find the style that best moves you forward as an actor.

As I write this, War Horse has not yet been rated.