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Putting on the pounds and the persona

I was never good at acting. When asked to perform a monologue in my high school drama class, I felt like my acting was as stupendous as a local business’s commercial on daytime television. Acting seems so incredibly personal to me. It is the interpretation and embodiment of an individual who exists within words of a piece of writing. To completely embody another human being in all of their quirks, habits, speech, and thought – literally placing yourself within the boundaries of their mind – is impossible for me to do. Yet, this is the daily job for many in Hollywood.

Method acting is “a dramatic technique in which actors identify as closely as possible with the character played by correlating experiences from their personal lives to the character.” While this concept is nothing new, recent actors have been exploring new frontiers in their film roles. Charlize Therone put on over 30 lbs to play an ugly prostitute turned serial killer in Monster (2003). Christian Bale (from “The Dark Knight”) pushed the limits to the other extreme by losing 63 pounds for his main role in “The Machinist” (2004). Tom Hanks wreaked havoc with the scales on both ends when he initially put on weight for the first half of Castaway (2000), but then had to lose 50 lbs in order to finish the movie as an emaciated plane crash survivor.

While this type of dedication to one’s job is, indeed, respectable, I sometimes wonder: when does it stop? When should an actor know to draw the line between their real life and that of their character’s they are working so hard to portray?

Joaquin Phoenix meltdown a hoax for documentary

As most of the world knows by now, Joaquin Phoenix’s supposed “melt down” that was heavily exploited over a year ago was revealed to be a hoax perpetrated for Casey Affleck’s new documentary “I’m Still Here.” The bogus documentary, which was released earlier this month, chronicles the bearded Phoenix’s past two years as an aspiring rapper. Affleck called it “the performance of his career,” ironic considering that Phoenix's Feb. 2009 appearance on The David Letterman Show was widely considered to signal the end of his acting career. The cameras were rolling, and he had the whole world fooled by his performance.

Regardless of his motivations, for this stunt Phoenix put his reputation, integrity, and health on the line. He allowed his role to deeply penetrate his life for well over a year. Possibly even change his life forever. And for what?

Have stars taken their method acting too far?

I personally believe that there should be a limit on method acting. Our actions have consequences that affect others and have a profound impact on who we become. Actors are understandably passionate about their jobs, but they can go to dangerous lengths to look the part physically and psychologically. Are they sacrificing too much for what, in the end, is simply a job and nothing more?

What was your reaction to Phoenix’s hoax? Do you think he and other actors go too far for their roles?

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