Actors' techniques draw from rival sources

Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:23am EST
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By Ben Walters

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When Peter Sarsgaard looks back on his training, he philosophically says, "I really swallowed that pill."

Sarsgaard studied at the Actors Studio, where he learned about method acting, a technique were actors immerse themselves in the thoughts and emotions of their characters.

Today, he acknowledges a far broader range of influences. As a supporting actor in "An Education," the low-budget British film about a young girl's relationship with an older man, he says he drew on a host of other sources to create his morally ambivalent character.

For one thing, he analyzed fellow actors -- something he has done ever since working with Sean Penn on "Dead Man Walking."

"Just watching him go through different takes, seeing the way he found things, disregarded things, held onto things -- there's some fantasy about a certain type of actor that might do it completely differently every time. Well, he still sat on the chair, he still took a drag on his cigarette at the end. I learned a lot about letting something evolve, pacing yourself, allowing yourself to look however you look."

Other influences play their part on him, too, he says: "Now, I work with the other people around me in determining the way I'm going to do it. I really try to let wardrobe people have a say, the hair and makeup people. Collaboration is really the only way."

Sarsgaard's words mark a shift away from his own education and also from the school of acting that has dominated American theater and movies for so many years, whose influence has been felt from Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro on. In part, that's inevitable given that it has been 27 years since the death of Actors Studio principal Lee Strasberg, and given that some of the directors most associated with the Actors Studio -- men like Elia Kazan, Sydney Pollack and Martin Ritt -- are no longer with us.

Speak to many working actors today and they'll cite a host of different approaches, often cobbled together from previously rival methodologies, rather than any single ideological approach -- and that includes several Actors Studio veterans.   Continued...