Michael Ironside Is The Furthest Thing From A Fan Of Method Acting

Michael Ironside has been the face of some of cinema's great villains and antiheroes. Whether playing a ruthless armed henchman in Paul Verhoeven's "Total Recall," an evil telepath in David Cronenberg's "Scanners," or the one-armed leader and namesake of Rasczak's Roughnecks in Verhoeven's sci-fi satire "Starship Troopers," the actor's husky baritone and intense presence commands every frame he's in.

Call him a method actor, though, and he will gently correct you. "Method I am," he told Screen Anarchy in a 2016 interview, "and not the misunderstood idea of method." The Canadian multi-hyphenate defined his practice of the method –- that is, finding the framework of identification with the character –- as more in-depth, beyond simply finding an emotion and replicating it:

 "I know how to find an emotion, find the behavior with that emotion and recreate the behavior. A lot of people never went that far with the method. They only know how to find the emotion. And if you don't get it, you have to wait and get it because they can't recreate."

For Ironside, the recreation process is known by a simple name, dubbed by his oldest daughter: Binkie. According to the "Top Gun" star, Binkie is "a raincoat I throw over the characters" that allows him to find the emotional center while avoiding the sort of extreme behavior that's given the method a rotten name these days. This, he explained, diverges from the "misunderstood" perception of method, "because if I walk around in character, it's not going to be very useful." 

'They're all derivatives of me'

Many of cinema's most beloved actors practice some systematic approach to finding their character. In New York City, theater director and acting coach Lee Strasberg trained the likes of Anne Bancroft, Jane Fonda, Dustin Hoffman, Ellen Burstyn, and Paul Newman at his Actor's Studio. There they would learn, as laid out by filmmaker Elia Kazan in his autobiography, "to launch their work on every scene by taking a minute to remember the details surrounding the emotional experience in their lives that would correspond to the emotion of the scene they were about to play."

Sometimes, as Newman would come to find out after eating 50 boiled eggs on the set of "Cool Hand Luke," method acting can only take you so far. Other times, as "American Gigolo" star Jon Bernthal has observed, "making everybody call you by your character name and not showering for eight months was not what [Russian theater practitioner Konstantin] Stanislavski had in mind with the Method." Michael Ironside leans more toward the latter sentiment:

"Never make your character the responsibility of somebody else to have to deal with. Your job is to go in there and be a professional, find some way, whatever horrific thing you're working on, not to let it spill over. It shouldn't be the cameraman's responsibility to have to deal with you or the directors or something like that. That's hysteria, that's not f***ing acting, that's not craft. So I throw this raincoat over the misogynistic character or over the bloodthirsty, and they're all derivatives of me. You take the checks and balances out."

If that's how we get the iconic bug-killer Jean Rasczak on the big screen, then perhaps more actors should embrace the Binkie.