I’ve returned a number of times to that wonderful clip you posted on your blog. The more I think about it the clearer it seems to me that Sir Ian is completely correct but not entirely complete. By that I mean acting is as simple as joining craft to imagination and then “pretending” to be the character. But there is a critical additional element – freedom. The actor has to give himself the freedom to fully pretend. He can’t think about pretending, he can’t prepare to pretend, he must give himself the freedom to simply completely do so. Indeed this is the essence of all creativity from Jazz, to poetry, to particle physics; the creative act is the ultimate assertion of personal freedom. The creative act, by definition opens new ground, expands frontiers, and in ways large and small redefines the universe. To do so requires freedom. A kind of freedom that comes from within. A clarity and openness the both allows and demands the creative response. It is as simple as “Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian. Action this wizard shall not pass! Cut. Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian” and as complex.I fear I may come off a little flip about what we call “method acting.” This is sort of on purpose, but people who know me know that my real problem isn’t flippancy but a surplus of sobriety over almost anything. My real opposition stems from my belief that “method acting” as such is a broken system and I suppose my sloppy reasoning thinks what might start with teasing will grow into a substantive rumination toward an alternative. This is not what I’ve seen so far, unfortunately, and I think while a lot of people recognize the limitations of sense memory and American Stanislavskian approaches, few have had the drive to come up with another system. This is the foundation, though not the limit, of my respect for Viewpoints.
I also have a theoretical quibble with “the method,” which is the way in which it emphasizes the actor’s experience (feelings) over the task in hand. Conversely, take a look at Peter Brook’s dissection of the work of acting in The Open Door:
Daily life consists of being “any-old-how”. Let us take three examples. For instance, if one is taking an exam, or when one speaks with an intellectual, one will endeavour not to be “any-old-how” in thought or in speech, but without realizing it, “any-old-how” will be in our body, which will be ignored and limp. However, if we are with someone who is in distress, we will not be “any-old-how” in our feelings, we will certainly be kind and attentive, but our thoughts may be adrift or confused, and the same with our bodies. And in the third case, when one is driving a car, the entire body may well be mobilized, but the head, left to itself, can drift into “any-old-how” thoughts.The method appeals to the totality of this work and the difficulty of it. Too often the alternative to the method is to pretend as though acting isn’t work, that it is easy, and this is part of the fun of Sir Ian’s explanation. But Brook’s discussion, like my loyal reader’s, neither erases acting as work, nor makes it into pure magic.
For an actor’s intentions to be perfectly clear, with intellectual alertness, true feeling and a balanced and tuned body, the three elements—thought, emotion, body, must be in perfect harmony. Only then can he fulfil the requirement to be more intense within a short space of time than when he is at home.