'We didn't talk on set.' 9 actors who 'stayed in character' long after the cameras stopped.

You know the saying 'method to the madness'?

Yeah well, legend has it that idiom comes from an underpaid intern who one day found themselves minding Daniel Day-Lewis on a movie set. 

I'm kidding. It's Shakespeare. But... maybe Hamlet was based on Day-Lewis?

There's something really fascinating about method acting: a form of acting where actors get so wrapped up in their roles that they act like their character even when the cameras aren't rolling. It requires so much discipline and dedication, and yes, a little bit of madness.

Here are nine actors with notorious method experiences.

Christian Bale, American Psycho.

In a new interview, Chloë Sevigny opened up about Christian Bale's method acting while filming the 2000 psychological thriller, American Psycho, and it didn't sound like the most pleasant experience. 

"I was trying to respect his process, which I found challenging because I’m very gregarious and silly and goofy, unbeknownst to the general public," she told Vanity Fair. "When people take themselves so seriously, I kind of shut down, even though I take my work very seriously and I love acting and whatnot."

Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. Image: Lions Gate. 


The Boys Don't Cry actress admitted to growing uncomfortable about his presence on set. 

"I was really intimidated by his process and intimidated by him," she said. "And I wanted a little more generosity to make myself feel more at ease, which is my own ego. It was a really challenging dynamic for me, but I don’t think that I thought he was bad. I was just kind of confused, like, 'Why aren’t you being social?'"

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Power of the Dog.

Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch didn't talk to his co-star, Kirsten Dunst, on the set of their new western The Power of the Dog to help with their character's uncomfortable dynamic on-screen. 


"When it came to filming, we kept very separate and didn’t talk on set and things like that, which I think is great," Dunst, who played Cumberbatch's sister-in-law in the film, told news.com.au.

"Whatever helps anyone do the best job they do. I’m down for anything. So I thought it was great that we didn’t talk. It immediately put the energy right where it was supposed to be."

Explaining his method-acting choice, Cumberbatch told NME he "didn't want to be really mean to Kirsten" but he "needed to stay in character". 


"We were the negative to each other's positive. [We were] repelled by each other."

But that doesn't mean the actors never spoke. Outside of the set, their families would hang out on the weekends. 

"We hung out a little bit, not every weekend but we hung out on a weekend here and there," Dunst told news.com.au. 

"Before rehearsals started, we had dinners and things like that, so we got to know each other a little bit."

Lady Gaga, House of Gucci.

Lady Gaga plays Patrizia Reggiani, the ex-wife of the former head of Gucci, Maurizio Gucci, in House of Gucci, which required a very thick Italian accent.

In an interview with British Vogue, Gaga said she put on the accent and then just... didn't stop. FOR NINE WHOLE MONTHS.

"It is three years since I started working on it," she told the publication. "And I will be fully honest and transparent: I lived as her [Reggiani] for a year and a half. And I spoke with an accent for nine months of that."


Gaga said she "never broke" character or dropped the Italian accent during that time, even when she was off-camera.

She dyed her hair darker because it was "nearly impossible for me to speak in the accent as a blonde," and started reacting to things the way she believes Reggiani might have.

"I instantly had to dye my hair, and I started to live in a way whereby anything that I looked at, anything that I touched, I started to take notice of where and when I could see money. I started to take photographs as well. I have no evidence that Patrizia was a photographer, but I thought as an exercise, and finding her interests in life, that I would become a photographer, so I took my point-and-shoot camera everywhere that I went. I noticed that Patrizia loved beautiful things. If something wasn't beautiful, I deleted it."


Sounds... exhausting.

Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada.

In June 2021, Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci reunited for Entertainment Weekly to commemorate The Devil Wears Prada's 15-year anniversary.

Streep said for her role as intimidating boss Priestly, she attempted method acting which sometimes meant being cold in interactions with her cast mates on set.

"It was horrible! I was [miserable] in my trailer. I could hear them all rocking and laughing," Streep said. "I was so depressed! I said, 'Well, it's the price you pay for being boss!'

"That's the last time I ever attempted a method thing!"

Image: 20th Century Fox. 


Blunt said Streep's method technique didn't mean she was rude or intimidating, but it did mean Streep was not her usual self.

"Meryl is so gregarious and fun as hell, in some ways it wasn't the most fun for her having to remove herself," said Blunt. 

"It wasn't like she was unapproachable; you could go up to her and say, 'Oh my God, the funniest thing just happened' and she'd listen, but I don't know if it was the most fun for her to be on set being that way."

Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.

Forest Whitaker played former Ugandan president and violent dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, and in 2018 told People TV the role was hard to let go of.

"That was an all-encompassing experience for me. I started working on it months and months before I even came to Africa, just trying to learn Kiswahili and understand the history."

Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures. 


He stayed in character on and off set, lived on mashed bananas and beans, and spent months learning the languages of Swahili and Kakwa.

Director Kevin MacDonald described it as "method acting taken to extremes" and said he "watched with astonishment".

Whitaker said the immersion made for a strange experience after filming ended.

"I remember the first day when I knew we were done I was taking a shower, and I was just trying to get the voice, [I was] screaming it out of myself to let myself feel free. Certain things stayed with me for a long time. Some characters stay with you longer."


Nicole Kidman, Nine Perfect Strangers.

Nicole Kidman played Russian wellness resort director Masha in the television adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling book, Nine Perfect Strangers, and it turns out she went so deep into the character she no longer responded to her... own name.

 Nicole Kidman as Masha in Nine Perfect Strangers. Image: Amazon Prime Video. 

Speaking during a Television Critics Association panel, Kidman said: "I'd only respond as Masha. I wanted a very calm healing energy to emanate all the time so I remember going over to people and sort of putting my hand on their heart, holding their hand, they would talk to me or use my name Nicole when I would completely ignore them.


"The only way I could actually relate to people was that way because I felt like otherwise I would be doing a performance and I didn't want to feel that way."

Kate Winslet, Ammonite.

Kate Winslet loves to dabble in method acting. 

She was so dedicated to her character in The Reader that she refused to break character, meaning she even read her children bedtime stories in a German accent.

But Winslet admitted to getting a bit too method while preparing to play palaeontologist Mary Anning in 2020's historical romantic drama Ammonite.

Image: Transmission Films. 


"I had to live a strange isolated life when I was playing her because when you are an actor they put you up in hotels and make it comfortable for you," she told Stephen Colbert on The Late Show.

"I just knew I could not do really do that, because I had to do everything to be Mary and I got a bit method."

So... Winslet found herself in a dingy cottage while the rest of the cast and crew were in a cushy hotel.

"It was so isolated, cold and rattly that when there was a big storm the waves would hit the windows of the house and the power would go down and I would lie there thinking, 'Kate what are you doing?' Just go to the hotel with everybody else.

"I would eat this weird soup, and walk around sketching things... it was ridiculous, actually."

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln.

Daniel Day-Lewis is probably the king of method acting. There are many examples to choose from, but perhaps the most infamous is his decision to completely immerse himself in the life of Abraham Lincoln for his role as the titular character in Lincoln.


Image: 20th Century Fox. 

He asked everyone to call him "Mr President" and signed off text messages with "Abe".

"He'd sign it 'Yours, A.'" co-star Sally Field confirmed. "I would text back as Mary, criticising him for the waste of his time when he might have been pursuing something more productive."

He spoke in a higher-pitched voice like Lincoln's between takes and even after the filming was over. 


Director Steven Spielberg told the New York Times: "I just came to see him as the character. I assume he didn't change the voice. Why would he?"

Day-Lewis, who himself is English, also asked his fellow cast members to maintain American accents on set.

"It was sort of an extended improvisation," (English) co-star Jared Harris told the Times.

"At the end of the day sometimes we'd ride back in the car, and he'd stay in character but talk about Mad Men."

Sounds wild, doesn't it? Day-Lewis is aware of that.

"Without sounding unhinged, I know I'm not Abraham Lincoln," he explained to the Times. "I'm aware of that. But the truth is the entire game is about creating an illusion, and for whatever reason, and mad as it may sound, some part of me can allow myself to believe for a period for time without questioning, and that's the trick. Maybe it's a terrible revelation about myself that one does feel able to do that."

But hey, it worked: he won his third Academy Award for Best Actor for the film, making him the first and only actor to have three wins in that category. No biggie.

Jeremy Strong, Succession.

Succession seems like it would be a really fun show to film. I mean, lines as brilliant as "you look like a dildo dipped in beard trimmings," and "you don’t hear much about syphilis these days, very much the MySpace of STDs."


But Jeremy Strong, who plays the Very Tormented Kendall Roy, is huge on method acting. And when you're acting as a terrible person with addiction and daddy issues, that is... not so fun.

Image: HBO. 

It turns out, Strong was once Daniel Day-Lewis' assistant, which explains SO MUCH.

In 2020, Strong's on-screen brother Kieran Culkin told the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron that Strong was "complex", but Culkin regularly took the piss - just like his own character Roman would.


"The thing is, he doesn't want to know if the actor [opposite him] is going to do [blank], because that would mess him up. Sometimes, he doesn't want you to say certain words. Like, don't call it a 'scene' or things like that. It can be pretty particular sometimes.

"Usually, my job is to sort of poke fun at him and try to break down that little wall," Culkin said.

"Like, 'Oh, I'm sorry, this SCENE? In this SCENE that we're going to rehearse because it's a F***ING TV SHOW?' I like to do that to him, sometimes.

“If Kendall is in a really good place, then Jeremy is in a much better mood. If Kendall is in a dark place, then it's very much don't talk to him. So, that has its own challenges, too."

Sounds... pleasant.

Image: Foxtel. 


Brian Cox, who plays patriarch Logan Roy, shared a similar sentiment to GQ, describing Strong's acting style as "complicated".

"He's very sweet, Jeremy, but he's complicated, you know? And he does think there's an element of religious experience about doing our work. I don't agree... he lets it affect him, to such an extent that I sometimes worry about him, because it's intense to live at that level."

Cox explained to the New York Times

"Sometimes you say: "Jeremy, for f***'s sake. Stop it now. And Jeremy genuinely suffers because he really puts himself through it."

This article was originally published on November 8, 2021, and was updated on December 4, 2021.

Feature image: Getty.

Love to snack? Complete this survey to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.