Method acting is a style of performance that encourages getting in touch with a character's physical and psychological being and making a personal connection between actor and character. Studying spiders as a way to get in touch with the spider DNA that is a part of Spider-Man is clearly method acting. This technique has been a popular way for actors to truly become their characters for decades.
John Wayne was no fan of method acting but younger actors Marlon Brando and James Dean embraced the technique, bringing great emotion and depth to the characters they played. Dean has been quoted as saying that he also studied animals for his roles, learning a lot from studying cows, chickens, and pigs to help develop his characters.
"There are a lot of things I learned from animals," Dean once said. "One was that they couldn't hiss or boo me."
Andy Serkis is one of today's biggest and yet least known stars, and probably one of the best students of animal movement and emotion on the planet. He has starred in all of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, and will be returning again to his role as Gollum in "The Hobbit" later this year. Serkis also starred as Caesar in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a role for which costar James Franco said he should have been nominated for an Academy Award.
Much of the work Serkis has done is virtually anonymous because he is suited in motion-capture costumes; his performance is computer-generated in post, rendering him unrecognizable. But Serkis brings movement, emotion, and life to the characters he plays. Serkis breaks your heart and inspires you, all through his careful study of other creatures like the chimpanzees he almost became in his portrayal of Caesar.
Lee J. Cobb, who gave an amazing performance as Willy Loman in the first, Tony-winning Broadway production of "Death of a Salesman," studied animals for his role, too. In order to find the emotion and gravity needed to play a man with the weight of the world bearing down on him, Cobb went to the heaviest source he knew: He studied elephants. The slow, heavy, tired movement of the pachyderms inspired his worn and weary character on stage.
Interestingly, Andrew Garfield played Biff Loman in the most recent revival of the same Broadway play. Maybe that's where he got some of his ideas for character development.
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