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In Which It's All About The Performance, Man


The Method of Method

by Sean Fennessey

In the October 27, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, critic-at-large Claudia Roth Pierpoint wrote a searching profile of iconic actor Marlon Brando, who has been dead for more than four years. What it was searching for is beyond me. The piece, which was recap-tastic, detailed a bedeviled Brando young and old, unable to get a handle on his gifts, ultimately rejecting acting mid-career in favor of civil and international service.


no new taxes

This week, in an Entertainment Weekly cover story, Twilight star Robert Pattinson talked about his craft. Karen Valby writes:

Pattinson was 17 years old, and attending a prestigious private school in London, when he booked the part of doomed bloke Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After the film wrapped in 2005, his English agent pushed him to pursue similarly earnest roles, but they no longer interested him.

Instead, he landed a lead as a troubled young man in the London stage production of the German play The Woman Before. ''At the time I really thought, 'Wow, I must be great, I'm like fucking Brando!''' he says. ''I had this specific idea where 'I'm going to be a weirdo, this is how I'm going to promote myself.' And then of course I ended up getting fired.''


sweet dye job, bruh

A flip Brando reference from a tortured heartthrob-in-training digging for credibility? Not news. Brando is still the go-to signifier for young actors with more on their mind than making flicks for Fox Atomic. But what Pattinson (and Pierpoint) never ask themselves is Does The Brando Model Still Matter?


Brando's Method acting style, originally created by Russian genius Constantin Sanislavski, developed by Lee Strasberg and taught to him by Stella Adler, basically makes no sense today.


The Method asks that an actor "replicate real life emotional conditions under which the character operates, in an effort to create a life-like, realistic performance." But so much has changed in modern culture that the approximation of reality, something that feels elemental, is bunk.


Constantin Stanislavsky: jewelry tight, swagger right

Montgomery Clift is dead. James Dean is dead. Paul Newman is dead. Al Pacino made two movies with Jon Avnet this year. Daniel Day-Lewis will soon costar in a film with Fergie. Nic Cage has hair plugs. Johnny Depp is in the bag for a fourth doff of Captain Jack Sparrow's fey bandana. And Heath Ledger is dead and might win an Oscar.

america's greatest method actor Spencer Pratt

In hyper-reality, where critics compare The Hills to Antonioni and all jobs are fake, there is no real to reel. Anything we want to happen can happen. Should there be a show about men who drive trucks on ice for a living? There is! What about professional car-jackers forced to outrun the cops every week? Done! What would people want with recreated scorched earth emotion when they can get REAL Housewives in Atlanta?



And still Pattinson, who seems like a decent enough guy, has got the Method brood going heavy. The symptoms: bedraggled hair, sullen eyes, eye-gouging self-seriousness, time spent in "a band." He's got it all, with the faux-self-deprecating Brando namedrop to spare.


another great american method actor; Rick Ross

In the E.W. story there's talk of understanding his character—which is a fucking vampire—and making decisions based on WWVD (What Would Vampires Do). To my knowledge, vampires are not real. But for a trained method actor the real is deeper and more dire than whether anyone needs to suck blood from flesh and swallow it to survive.

Bite me

So Pattinson and co-star Kristen Stewart (she of the Panic Room debut and disaffected middle-distance stare) altered their characters' dialogue, the same words written by Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer that inspires mad dashes through mall parking lots, to make a reality that isn't even possible more real.


went to sleep real, woke up realer

But changes haven't offended Meyer too much. She says Pattinson's portrayal of Edward Cullen is "Oscar-worthy." Pattinson, for his part, seems pretty shook up and recalls how unsure himself he was throughout most of the shoot and reveals some weak sauce intellectual hedging. It's all reminiscent of Brando's creation of Mark Antony in 1953's Julius Caesar. Of the shoot Pattinson says:


I didn't speak for about two months so I would seem really intense. I would only ever talk about the movie. And I kept recommending all these books. It didn't really work, though. Then I started falling apart and my character started breaking down. I felt like an idiot just following [Stewart] around, saying, 'You really should read some Zola — and there's this amazing Truffaut movie.' And she started calling me on things: 'Have you actually watched this movie? Yeah? What's it about?' 'It's about a guy on a train.' 'Did you just look at the photo on the cover of the DVD?

So that's sort of a douche move. But we've all been there, recommending something because we know it's good and right, even if we've never seen/read/heard/understood it. Still something about Pattinson smacks false. Ledger, who reportedly pushed himself to the brink portraying the Joker—another fantasy character—in The Dark Knight, was likely the last of a dying breed: actors who dove headlong into roles to their own personal detriment.

When he killed himself last year some chalked it up fatigue after the grueling shoot. In all likelihood, he's actually going to win an Oscar, which could go two ways: The tragedy might put the kibosh on young Methods with fire in their loins. Then again, Pattinson is playing Salvador Dali (cred-grab!) in 2009's Little Ashes (mustache not included!). Which sounds, you know, "Oscar-worthy.


Sean Fennessey is a first time contributor to This Recording.
He blogs at brokedownpalace.tumblr.com

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Reader Comments (2)

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