Actors’ Varying Degrees of Preparation

February 19, 2018

Once actors learn the craft of acting, there’s an endless array of ways to prepare for each of their roles. Some dedicate every hour and pour every possible resource into their prep. Kristen Stewart hired an equestrian and overcame her fear of riding horses for Snow White and the Huntsman; Matthew McConaughey lost about four pounds per week to play an AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club; Halle Berry did not bathe for an entire month to authentically appear to be a crack addict in Jungle Fever; Daniel Day-Lewis needed to be lifted and carried around set and spoon fed by crew members while playing a severely paralyzed character in My Left Foot.

Margot Robbie, who played the controversial figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya recently sat down with the Hollywood Reporter and described herself as “kind of a crazy person” when she prepares for roles. “I do timelines and backstories, I work with a dialect coach, a movement coach, and an acting coach. I do a lot before so I can throw it out the window when I get on set. But if I hadn’t done the work before, I’d be too scared,” the actress said.

But not every actor feels compelled to prepare so thoroughly for his or her roles. Adam Driver, who stars as Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens, was recently interviewed by The Guardian, and at one point the 34-year-old actor stated his more simplistic prepping approach. “I never figure anything out. I do my job. That’s my goal, to be as economical as possible. Basically, the only thing I try to do is know my lines,” Driver stated. “Usually, the mood of the set is what I adapt to, as opposed to having a set way of working and imposing it on everybody else. If you need private time, usually people give you space for that. But getting set into one way of doing something seems like closing yourself off from being wrong,” he said.

Oscar-winning actor Anthony Hopkins has expressed a similar sentiment when it comes to prep work. “I’ll make a confession: Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I learn my parts, show up, and do it. If you overanalyze anything, you just kill it,” he admitted.

Tombstone actor Sam Elliott kept his preparation habits simple, but sometimes he’s felt regret for not having pushed himself harder. “I think I might have been a more interesting actor, had more of a career earlier on, if I had more formal preparation. When I see something ten years later that I was in, I think: ‘Boy, would I love to do that over,’” he revealed.

Regardless of the extent to which an actor prepares and what helps him or her to be in the moment while acting, the goal is to come from a truthful place while focussing on and relating to other actors in the scene. As Constantin Stanislavski once said, “Play well, or play badly, but play truly.”