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Character Actor Vs Method Actor Comparison

Actors who take their work seriously spend tremendous amounts of time researching and preparing for a role. This article discusses the work of character actors and method actors, both of whom create roles but with different approaches and outcomes.

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Comparing Character Actors to Method Actors

Character actors and method actors are similar in that they both play roles on stage, in film, or on television. However, method actors utilize a specific preparation technique known as the Method to create realistic, emotion-based portrayals, while character actors use a variety of techniques to create original and imaginative supporting characters. Below you will find some job information and important comparisons of both acting styles.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Character Actor Bachelor's Degree $18.70 (hourly all actors) 10%
Method Actor Bachelor's Degree $18.70 (hourly all actors) 10%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Character Actor v. Method Actor

Character acting refers to certain types of eccentric roles or stylized approaches to roles, while method acting is a more realism-based preparation style applicable to all roles. Character actors create memorable, often unusual supporting roles. Their responsibilities include designing unique movement and voice patterns and layering idiosyncratic behavior into otherwise believable characters in order to surprise and delight audiences. Method actors, on the other hand, use a very specific and somewhat intense preparation program to create a character that is not only realistic, but actually based in the reality of the actor's personal emotional landscape. Their preparation starts with deep study of individual roles and ends with drawing on their own emotions and memories to bring a character to life. They will literally 'become' the character, living the part rather than using externalization and portrayal. Character actors may use the Method as part of their preparation, though it's more associated with realistic, dramatic lead performances.

Character Actors

Character actors are those artists who typically play eccentric supporting roles in a given production. Through formal acting training and observation of people in different positions of life, they can portray a variety of characters in a manner fascinating and compelling. Most character actors get their start doing plays in school and then build a resume of study and practice in college. Classical acting training can be very beneficial for this type of actor. They create characters that are original, unusual and offbeat in support of the play or film.

Job responsibilities of a character actor include:

  • Memorize lines and blocking
  • Be available for and attend all rehearsals
  • Collaborate with makeup artists and costume designers
  • Create unique movement styles for a given role
  • Craft a unique voice or dialect for a character
  • Perform a role for film or stage

Method Actors

Method acting got its start in Russia with the work of theater director Konstantin Stanislavski in the early 20th century. Decades later, Lee Strasberg (using psychological techniques) and Stella Adler (using sociological techniques) re-visioned Stanislavski's original work through their classes at the Actor's Studio and the Actor's Group. They developed the Method, a specific preparation style for actors where they 'become' the roles they play rather than simply putting on makeup and clothing and acting. Basically, method actors learn to imbue a role from the inside, creating a character using their own real memories and emotions. In the 50s and 60s, stars like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman became well-known method actors. Today, the Method is ruled by actors like Dustin Huffman, Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. College students in a four year acting or theater program will likely be taught the Method as envisioned by Strasberg and Adler, and it can also be studied at the original studios and other special conservatories.

Job responsibilities of a method actor include:

  • Follow the direction of the director
  • Create a backstory for a role to draw inference
  • Utilize emotions of past experiences to create a character portrayal
  • Design a realistic psychological profile for a given character
  • Perform a role on stage or screen

Related Careers

Actors, whether they are character or method actors, may find an interest in other related fields such as direction or production. Many actors want more control of their projects. Film directors work behind the camera with production crews and the actors themselves. Production assistants learn the ropes of production, making sure a production runs smoothly and things get done properly and on time.

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