Decoder Ring

The Madness Behind “the Method”

Isaac Butler on how method acting became so widely misunderstood.

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Episode Notes

When we think of method acting, we tend to think of actors going a little over the top for a role—like Jared Leto, who allegedly sent his colleagues dead rats when he was preparing to be the Joker, or Robert De Niro refusing to break character on the set of the movie Raging Bull.

But that’s not how method acting began. On this episode of Decoder Ring: we look at how “The Method” came to be so well-known and yet so widely misunderstood. It’s a saga that spans three centuries and involves scores of famous actors, directors and teachers. And it altered how we think about realism, authenticity, and a good performance.

Our guest today is Isaac Butler, who wrote The Method: How the 20th Century Learned to Act.

Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com

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About the Show

In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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