Most actors are afraid to admit that they don’t really know what Method Acting is. They don’t want to look stupid so they don’t ask.
But they should.
Method Acting is the search to find a moment of actual experience in your acting – a moment of living – as opposed to the outward appearance of living. An actor who does our work actually experiences something when they act, rather than looking like they are experiencing something.
Stanislavsky committed his life to this pursuit of truth in acting, what he called “Perezhivanie.” Lee Strasberg, my father, picked up the baton and devoted his life to the same quest.
The russian word used by Stanislavsky, strictly meaning “experience,” is usually translated as ‘living through,” meaning the desire for actors to, as my father said, “live truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Instead of an actor indicating what he or she wants the audience to understand, the actor should experience those things that he or she wishes to convey.
That is why we talk about truth. It is more than reality. It is more than being natural. Those are issues of style rather than content. Truth is about the undeniable experience of really living something. It is powerful and magnetic, and it is an ability that all of our greatest actors have mastered.
This answer is not just a matter of theory. It is the explicit goal of our training, and it is the measuring stick that each actor should look to in order to evaluate their work. Are they experiencing a truth, according to their own senses, while they work or are they just faking it? If you can experience something with great conviction, then you are already probably in the top echelon. You can move on to the more stylistic issues of character, genre, and storytelling.
If you are faking it, it’s back to the drawing board.
That is what every actor should be asking themselves. Am I just acting the lines? Am I telling you what I think I should be saying in a manner that conveys the way I think the character should be feeling? That is what most actors settle for.
Method Actors want more. We want to contribute something creative to the process. We have the guts to share our unique response to moment rather than being boxed in by cliche or convention. We are determined to give some of ourselves to the role and to the story in that very instant of “living through.” That, after all, is what Perezhivanie is all about. All the other wrangling aside, that is what Stanislavsky sought. That is what Lee Strasberg insisted on without compromise. Its what makes us special, and it is why our actors are the best.