The end of the intense actor: why the public no longer loves stars capable of everything for a role | Culture | ICON

No one knew much about Jeremy Strong, the actor who plays Kendall Roy in Succession, until a few days ago, when an explosive profile about him was posted on The New Yorker. Journalist Michael Schulman spent six months following the actor across three different countries, speaking to dozens of people who know him well – including Matthew McConaughey – and drew a portrait that some have deemed too harsh. Several friends of the actor, such as Jessica Chastain, Aaron Sorkin and Anne Hathaway have mobilized in his defense, something that may have had the opposite effect. You just have to see the memes that have been made with Sorkin’s note.

Some especially juicy snippets of the text have been running in the form of screenshots: that Strong took his own coffee grinder on a trip to Italy, that when it was ruined he only had clothes from Prada and Costume National, that on the set of The Chicago 7 trial asked Aaron Sorkin to spray him with real tear gas – there were 120 extras at the scene, so Sorkin said no – who lived three years without paying rent in the basement of Michelle Williams, who has suffered at least two injuries playing Kendall because of his commitment to taking the performance to the end, quoting Dante and TS Eliot frequently, that his peers can’t stand him, especially Brian Cox (Logan) and Kieran Culkin (Roman) and that, in short , Strong is a guy who takes his job and himself very seriously.

“Somewhere between Daniel Day-Lewis winning the Oscar for My left Foot and Jared Leto sending my teammates Suicide squad condoms and dead rats, the public lost their enthusiasm for the interpretation of the Method, a term that is already so divorced from its original meaning that it has basically come to mean ‘asshole on the set’. An article in The A.V. Club This is how he summed up what happened with Jeremy Strong and it seems like a reasonable explanation.

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Actor Paul Newman (1925-2008) during a class at the Actor's Studio in Manhattan, while still a student, in 1955.
Actor Paul Newman (1925-2008) during a class at the Actor’s Studio in Manhattan, while still a student, in 1955.Michael Ochs Archives (Getty Images)

On the one hand, when you say that someone is an actor of the Method, you no longer think of Stanislavski, or Paul Newman attending Lee Strasberg’s classes in New York, but of Jim Carrey driving Milos Forman crazy on the set of Man on the Moon, as collected in the documentary Jim & Andy, when the actor got so into the character of Charlie Kaufman that he thought he had to spend months talking about Jim Carrey in the third person and treating everyone who came across him like a rude jerk.

In the seventies, eighties and surely well into the nineties, the idea of ​​the prestigious actor was necessarily linked to those legends, to the extremes to which they were said to have gone to inhabit a character. Jeremy Strong himself, who doesn’t exactly consider himself a Method actor but a practitioner of what he calls identity diffusion, seems to have grown up with it. In the piece of The New Yorker explains that as a child he had three posters in his room: the one of Daniel Day-Lewis in My left Foot, Al Pacino’s in Dog afternoon and Dustin Hoffman’s in Rain Man. As Schulman points out, those weren’t just his idols, it was also the map of how he wanted his career to be. Day-Lewis spent 20 weeks in a wheelchair, behaving as if he were suffering from quadriplegia, and responding only to the name of “Christy”, his character. Pacino ended up hospitalized on that shoot. To give life to the robber Manny, who is gradually unhinged, the actor stopped eating and sleeping and took only cold showers. As it came from rolling The Godfather II and he was already exhausted, he ended up collapsing. Hoffman’s career is also full of anecdotes that prove his commitment to the Method, from the real slap he apparently gave to Meryl Streep before filming the scene in which she abandons him in Kramer vs. Kramer (so that she could feel “the raw pain”) at the same time that she spent three days without sleeping in Marathon Man to shoot a scene in which the character had spent three days without sleep. Laurence Olivier, his co-star in the film, a representative of the traditional British acting school, apparently replied: “Why not try acting?” And if it is not true, so it has remained for the legend.

Actor Daniel Day Lewis shows his Oscar for best leading actor for 'My Left Foot', which he collected in 1990.
Actor Daniel Day Lewis shows his Oscar for best leading actor for ‘My Left Foot’, which he collected in 1990.Bettmann (Bettmann Archive)

Probably Strong, who has been trained with these references, believed that providing this type of information to a journalist as meticulous as Schulman would make him look like his idols, as an actor-author hyper-dedicated to his art. Instead, and with some help from the journalist, many have understood Strong’s portrait as that of a pretentious and selfish person who does not cooperate with his peers. Perhaps the actor was so absorbed in his idolatry of the actors of another time that he did not realize that the current ecosystem rewards interpreters like his sister in fiction, Sarah Snook, who always appears dancing between takes and as grateful to have this recognition (that is key in modern stardom, that it seems that success has fallen from the sky and not that you deserve it), or as Chris Evans, his theatrical classmate in youth, epitome of the nice guy and quintessential Hollywood standard (it’s also true that in order to succeed as Chris Evans, the industry still demands to have Chris Evans’s physique and face).

As was somewhat predictable, there are two debates that have derived from Jeremy Strong’s profile: one of class and the other of gender. The text explains that the actor comes from a working-class family, that when he was ten years old his parents moved from a predominantly African-American low-income neighborhood in Boston to a middle-class one and that there he suffered the first culture shock of his life, an experience that would be amplified when he landed a scholarship to study at Yale and went on to rub shoulders with students sometimes as wealthy and connected as the Roys of Succession. The elite poorly tolerate upstarts who try too hard and don’t have the mischief to hide it, some have understood, arguing that Strong has simply worked to get to a place where he did not belong at first.

Christian Bale in a scene from 'The Machinist' (2004) that shows how far he took his physical transformation.
Christian Bale in a scene from ‘The Machinist’ (2004) that shows how far he took his physical

The second reading has even more crumb Why do we never hear those feats and those extremes carried out by women? We know Leonardo DiCaprio ate raw bison liver to prepare for The reborn, that Robert de Niro filed his teeth to give more fright in Cape of fear, that Christian Bale ate for months on a diet consisting of water, coffee and an apple a day to lose 30 kilos before riding The Machinist –Bale and his reputation for being insufferable, cemented among other things by the famous video in which he yelled at a technician for taking him out of character, probably has a lot to do with the declining popularity of this actor model–. But we never hear similar stories about, for example, Kate Winslet.

The British actress retired to live in her own cabin, separated from her family, to shoot Ammonite –He called it his “emotional bunker” – exactly like Daniel Day-Lewis did when he was filming The last MohicanBut those are not the prevailing data when writing or talking about Kate Winslet, who has cultivated her entire career the image of a sympathetic British girl with whom anyone would go to the pub for a few pints. Meryl Streep, the actress who is herself a paradigm of what is considered “quality performance”, probably would not have risen to stardom had she had a reputation equivalent to that of her generationmates, the De Niro and Pacinos. She had to combine her excellence as an actress with an image of a close person and a good companion. And indeed, as a young man, when he was studying at the Yale School of Drama (which some nicknamed the School of Trauma because of the psychological terrorism inflicted on students) he revealed himself to that style of interpretation then so in vogue that It consisted of resorting to one’s own pain in order to give it to the character.

Dustin Hoffman kisses Meryl Streep in a scene from 'Kramer Vs. Kramer' (1979), a film in which he also slapped her in an impromptu way without her being warned.
Dustin Hoffman kisses Meryl Streep in a scene from ‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’ (1979), a film in which he also slapped her in an impromptu way without her being warned.Columbia Pictures (Getty Images)

It is true that in the past there were famous actresses attached to the Method, beginning with Marilyn Monroe herself, who took classes with Lee Strasberg, as well as Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft, but the idea of ​​the intense actor, the difficult type that He sacrifices everything for his art, it is necessarily linked to a certain conception of masculinity.

There is perhaps only one exception. A single actress of the 20 or 30 who are distributed the stellar roles and the nominations, who is allowed to be surly and not smile at the camera or do all the game of the late nights. That’s Frances McDormand, but she’s not exactly seen as a difficult and selfish woman, rather as an acceptable grumpy, a tolerable rarity in an age when performers are generally preferred not to overdo it. intense.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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