Jon Bernthal Has Thoughts About Method Acting, And He's Right

Acting is a pretty unique career, with a variety of ways to approach any given role. One tactic for getting into character is called "method acting," developed by Russian actor and theater founder Konstantin Stanislavski around the turn of the 20th century. Stanislavski's "method" was based in authenticity and understanding, demanding that the performer put themselves in the mindset of their character as much as possible. Unfortunately, a century later, method acting has become something else, with performers staying "in character" the entire time they're on set, or worse, the entire time they're working on a production. While some of these method performances have been recognized as great works of art, like Robert DeNiro in "Cape Fear" or Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight," they have also led to problems for performers in their personal lives and caused issues on set. Just look at the repeat offenses of Jared Leto, who uses method acting as an excuse to be the world's biggest pain in the rear

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter looking back on the history of "The Wire," actor Jon Bernthal — who actually studied in Moscow at the very theater that Stanislavski founded — had some choice words about method acting and its use in Hollywood. Bernthal gives it all in every performance, but even he thinks that the idea of staying in character off-camera for long stretches is, well, indulgent and kind of silly.  

'Every actor has a process.'

In the interview, THR asked Bernthal if he felt that the idea of method acting had been abused, and the actor was extremely candid, referencing his time playing Detective Wayne Jenkins on "The Wire":

"Absolutely. And that's why these conversations are difficult for me, honestly, because every actor has a process. Having studied in Moscow at the Moscow Art Theater, I guarantee you that making everybody call you by your character name and not showering for eight months was not what Stanislavski had in mind with the Method. But at the end of the day, these sacred seconds between action and cut, that's all we got. So that means that I got to stay in proximity to that role, close to those sacred seconds, that I'm not on a cellphone or eating Chinese food or making plans for the evening. But if I'm talking like Wayne and I'm acting like Wayne, because it's going to help those seconds, I think you got to do that. And sometimes that's a day, sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's five minutes. But I think this idea of Method acting where George [Pelecanos, who wrote much of 'The Wire'] was only allowed to call me Wayne, I don't roll like that. I don't see any benefit in that."

Bernthal always gives his roles 100%, but that doesn't mean that he forces the people around him to endure bad behavior, even when he's playing terrifying, angry men. He's not the only one to speak up about the abuse of method acting, either, as "The Batman" star Robert Pattinson (also deeply committed to his roles) pointed out in 2019 that, "you only ever see people do the method when they're playing an a–holes. You never see someone being lovely to everyone while they're really deep in character." "The Hobbit" star Martin Freeman has also spoken up against it, calling it a "pain in the a**."

Maybe Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, and the rest of the "method" folks can take a lesson from Bernthal. Look, if the entire cast of "The Northman" can get into the mindsets of their Viking characters without acting like berzerkers off-set, I'm sure these guys can learn how to act and still be decent people to be around, too.