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Watching the Anthony Hopkins & Florian Zeller YouTube video interview (On Approaching The Heartbreaking Story Of The Father) - when asked how he prepares for a movie from the script, he states:

...it is quite easy once you know the technique for doing it, and technique is a word that's rather mistrusted in America, particularly at the Actors Studio...

Anthony Hopkins states he is not a method actor.

His response seems to imply that method acting is the preferred technique for American actors and therefore in the industry. I say preferred, since he has achieved enormous success in America, despite his supposedly alternative methods.

Question: Why would the Actors Studio (in America) mistrust the technique employed by Hopkins? And, what exactly is the formal definition of his technique?

With my limited understanding, I would class his style (technique): understated dramatic realism.

Incidentally, I have always thought Hopkins succeeded in the US because of his theatrical/dramatic skills and heritage. It seems the movie producers have considerable respect for his acting abilities.

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    Sir Anthony doesn't say that the Actors Studio distrust his technique, but that they distrust the technique label itself (which probably just means that they don't like to call their acting techniques "technique"). It just seems to a dig at them.
    – muru
    Apr 29 at 6:32
  • At least from the quoted snippet, it doesn't seem so.
    – muru
    Apr 29 at 6:55
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    @Flater ah, that's because OP deleted and reposted their comment (the third comment) like half-a-dozen times, and they stopped that unfortunately after I posted my reply, so the order is now messed up
    – muru
    Apr 30 at 10:32
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    @Dylan: You're missing the part where Hopkins didn't state that a particular technique (whether method acting or another technique) was being distrusted, but rather the word "technique" in and of itself. As far as Hopkins' statement goes, the Actors' Studio does not distrust any acting, but just refuses to categorize acting into distinct techniques.
    – Flater
    Apr 30 at 10:32
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    @Dylan: Your inferences are your own. But your question focuses on Hopkins' quote, which doesn't contain any of that. The quote doesn't even imply that "method acting is the preferred technique for American actors", as per your inference. It only implies that America/the Actors Guild distrust the word "technique".
    – Flater
    Apr 30 at 12:24
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After comments, I guess I ought to address the question title head-on to start with.
It's simply human nature to mistrust any teaching which goes completely contra to your own [this doesn't just apply to acting]. The US uses Method, the UK uses Classical.
I'm not sure that one technique is "better" than the other. They are vastly different approaches to the same end result - to be convincing to the audience.

To over-simplify the differences, Method can be characterised as "becoming the character" vs the British Classical technique of "just pretending".

There's a great article from The Guardian [from way back in 2007] on this difference, which I simply cannot improve on as a short précis. British actors are just better at pretending

...the common grievance among American "method" actors: that Brits are often content to mouth the lines without asking what they mean.

This difference is encapsulated in the classic confrontation on Marathon Man where Dustin Hoffman was delaying proceedings by searching for his character's motivation. His scene-mate was Sir Laurence Olivier - tired, perhaps, and exhausted by theorizing. At one point he whispered to Hoffman, "Just pretend."

It is an American orthodoxy that English acting teaches a lot of style and technique and not much inner assurance. In turn, the school of American acting that is derived from the Actors Studio (a huge influence since the 1940s) believes that actors are polar explorers trudging towards a great personal truth (as opposed to being servants of the writer).

There was a moment when a generation of actors (such as Brando, Clift, Dean, Steiger and others all the way down to De Niro, Pacino and Penn) were justification enough for the American approach, and a proper rebuke to the more lightweight British style of the post-war decades.

But times are changed. The terrible, swamp-like hesitations of the Studio becalmed far too many films. Great as Marlon Brando was he lost his taste for acting - whereas Gielgud acted until the last moment. And there are those who see Sean Penn, say, as a great talent far too easily led astray into self-important and self-pitying meanderings.

Meanwhile, the British attitude to acting - male and female - is stronger and more varied than ever. And there is a feeling abroad, even in America, that the pretending in acting (as opposed to the solemn sincerity) is a vital part of the pursuit.

The trouble with this simplistic separation is that there is no real true distinction between the two. They are not black and white: this or that. They shade into one another.

Amongst the various disciplines are:-
Stanislavski Method
Classical Acting Technique
Method Acting Technique
Meisner Technique
Chekhov Technique

There are others, but it's already got too complicated to cover in a simple answer.
Many of these borrow from others, backwards and forwards in the timeline. Many would say Method is not its own technique, but is a sub-set of Stalislavski and Meisner. All share the same origins.

You can read lists of which actor uses which technique, but sometimes the really good ones seem to do what is needed just at that precise time; they can call on years or decades of experience and just "switch it on" right at the needed moment.

I have had the privilege of working on a small set with Anthony Hopkins and he does indeed seem capable of going from laughing and joking, straight into the depth of his character the moment "Action" is shouted.

Across the past couple of weeks I was also privileged to be on set with Olivia Coleman. She again has the ability to be giggling, smiling, waving at people in the room and generally having a really fun time, then 'click' and she's absolutely mesmerising to watch, suddenly completely in character.

I've seen both of these actors drop right back to their real selves the instant "Cut" is shouted, but then ready to switch right back in two minutes later.

Then again, I've seen classically-trained actors who really do hold onto a great deal of their characterisation between takes and setups, from overt mannerisms and walk, to accent; so again it's not a distinct demarcation between these disciplines.
Again anecdotally, I had a part recently, just a single day in a much larger production, where as I was going on for the first time, the director called me over and whispered, "xyz is being a bit method today, so give him plenty of space between takes." - so even within the industry, it can be different things for different days and an internal joke even to itself.
*No names, no pack drill ;)

PS. Interesting reading CGCampbell's answer [we posted almost simultaneously so I knew there was another post but couldn't read it until mine was complete] that I have found Anthony Hopkins to be one of the warmest, friendliest actors on any set I've ever worked. I've seen him in several productions across the years and he definitely is a nice guy. [Actually Olivia Coleman is really nice too, but she doesn't have quite the reputation for being so outright scary ;)

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  • Yes - I see, the list of different disciplines is useful, and I suppose like visual artists draw on different techniques (sculpting, musicians, painters). If Hopkins' technique could be distilled, it would mean: learn your lines until they are second nature - and then act (naturally according to the script). Thanks for the insight, it reminds me of the scene when Daniel Day Lewis breaks character outtake. I must admit I was an extra in Hopkins directorial debut August, I saw how he would switch to character (emotionally). I never did become an actor, but 'methods' of acting still intrigue me.
    – Dylan
    Apr 28 at 15:01
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    Suddenly the 'Extras' joke involving Sir Ian McKellan exhaustively explaining that, in order to act, he "pretend[s] to be the person I'm portraying" takes on a whole new angle with this answer discussing that there are other ways. youtube.com/watch?v=m5CX00i4uZE
    – Exal
    Apr 28 at 21:27
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    Thank you for using examples of both female and male actors. It's particularly inexcusable (of the Guardian) to see the long quote you posted mention nothing but men. Apr 28 at 23:18
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    Very nice answer with many insights. As a complete layman reading this with great interest, I feel the phrase "technique is a word that's rather mistrusted in America, particularly at the Actors Studio" needs a bit more exegesis. It's all in your and CG's answer, but more explicitly: "Technique" as used here means a way, or a set of means (studiously avoiding "method" here ;-) ) to create an opaque "shell" of appearance (the character's expressions and behavior) that differs from what you (the actor) actually are. (ctd.) Apr 29 at 11:37
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    (ctd.) By contrast, Method Acting strives to internally become that character (as much as possible) so that this shell becomes unnecessary; the actor can behave naturally because they are that character, and thus produce a more genuine, visceral performance. If this "transformation" of the actor's self, their "emulation" of the character they are playing is deep and strong enough they cannot easily switch back and forth between takes; they must stay in these new mental ruts they have dug. A "shell technique", by contrast, can be employed at will (which we hear is what Hopkins could do). Apr 29 at 11:42
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First, Hopkins' himself does not identify as a Method actor. However, what he does is fairly consistent with the Method anyway. Under the Wikipedia entry on Method Acting, we read:

Method acting, known informally as the Method, is a range of training and rehearsal techniques, as formulated by a number of different theatre practitioners, that seeks to encourage sincere and expressive performances through identifying with, understanding, and experiencing a character's inner motivation and emotions. These techniques are built on Stanislavski's system, developed by the Russian actor and director Konstantin Stanislavski and captured in his books An Actor Prepares, Building a Character, and Creating a Role. links removed

Anthony Hopkins is considered a "Classically Trained" actor, and is known for theater (stage) as much as films. He is among those recognized as a Shakespearian thespian. To memorize Shakespeare and perform it on stage, well, is an accomplishment. I know many high school drama departments do Romeo and Juliet, for example, but watching a high school performance and comparing it to a well done play by classically trained actors is amazing.

To get back on track, however, it has been said:

While Hopkins doesn’t identify himself as a method actor, he does think his approach of deep-learning his lines has an affect on his mental performance. He says, “Well, I learn the text so deeply that I think it has some chemical effect in my brain. I’ve been playing some pretty tough guys, like King Lear, or this guy with dementia in The Father. It’s exhausting, but I’m not a method actor in that sense. I believe in learning the text which is there. Once you know it so well that you can improvise and make it real, it’s easy. You can’t pretend to know it – it’s impossible to, and I couldn’t do it. I’ve worked with actors who don’t know their stuff, and they were just wasting everyone’s time.”

With that said, Hopkins does think of himself as an actor who can easily be scary on screen. He explains, “Oh yes, I know I can. It’s a technique. When I read the script of The Silence of The Lambs I thought, ‘Ah, I know how to play this guy.’ You get a sense of how you could do it: the more subtle and quiet you are, the scarier it is.”

However, in another interview, he said:

“When I tell people that I just learn my lines and that’s all there is to it, my wife thinks that I’m putting down the craft of acting,” the 69-year-old actor explained in his suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles.

“But I’m not putting it down. I have nothing but respect for the craft. And I could come up with all sorts of fancy theories about playing these characters but, basically, it’s just a matter of learning the lines. I’m sure that Robert De Niro and all the other Method guys would not approve of that.

“I admire them, but I’m just as Method as those guys. But I believe that the text is all the information you need.”

So, he does agree that his style is kind of Method, but he just wasn't trained in the Method formally.

Whatever method (pun intended) Hopkins' uses, it works. In the words of his co-star from The Silence of the Lambs, Jodie Foster:

During her appearance on The Graham Norton Show, host Graham Norton asked Jodie Foster about is it true that she never spoke to Anthony Hopkins while shooting the film. Answering this, Jodie Foster replied by saying, “No. Never spoke to him. He was scary.” She further mentioned that on the first day, they had a read through where everybody was sitting down and they had a read-through of the movie. She revealed by the end of the reading, she never wanted to talk to Anthony Hopkins again as she was petrified.

Talking about the filming experience, Jodie Foster shared that Anthony Hopkins was always behind the glass partitions or he was in his cell. As the scenes were long, Anthony Hopkins was locked inside at the beginning of the day and on the next day he used to be on the other side and she would be on the opposite side. This is how they got to the end of the film and never actually had a conversation as such, revealed the actor. Jodie Foster also said that she used to really avoid him.

It is telling that an actor of Jodie Foster's caliber (she had been acting, off and on for 23 years, starting at age 3) that she was "scared of Hopkins" ... in other words, he was so well in character that she could play off his abilities.

Finally, you mention The Actor's Studio. According to its website:

"The Actors Studio, founded in 1947, was created and survives today as a unique theatre workshop where members gather together to work on their craft in private. Through moderated sessions, workshops, and readings, the Studio offers its members – free of charge – a dynamic, creative atmosphere, as well as a safe haven away from commercial pressures. The Actors Studio helps professional actors, directors, and playwrights hone their craft and explore the depth and breadth of their talent.

Based on exercises and techniques developed here by Lee Strasberg and others, The Actors Studio is ‘the home of method acting.’"

You should be aware that The Actor's Studio had Anthony Hopkins in their televised program "Inside The Actor's Studio".

That television program was: "The program began as a televised craft seminar for students of the Actors Studio Drama School, originally a joint venture of the Actors Studio and New School University in 1994, with Paul Newman, a former Actors Studio president, as its first guest, and soon became Bravo's flagship program." So the fact that in a Nationally televised seminar they actually had Anthony Hopkins as a guest to explain his craft to their students, and us viewers, shows that they thought highly of his abilities, in the method of the Method.

EDIT: As Tetsujin also says, as I was writing this, I knew someone else posted an answer, but didn't know what it was. I bow to his expertise, being a working actor himself, and one who has had the opportunity to actually work with Mr. Hopkins.

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  • If you do a search for "Anthony Hopkins Shakespearean actor" you'll find an article that claims he is not a Shakespearean actor. It simply describe that there is no such thing as a "Shakespearean" actor, but actors well versed in acting out parts of Shakespeare's plays.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 28 at 11:49
  • I've seen Hopkins listed as Meisner, but sometimes i think these lists are made up on the spot, with people just guessing or over-simplifying ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 28 at 11:54
  • @CGCampbell - many thanks. I believe he means the institution of the Actors Studio, as represented by its members.(?) Incidentally, Hopkins has said he admires many actors, including those known for being Method-types, e.g. De Niro. In my opinion, I find a lot of similarities in Hopkins and De Niro: realism.
    – Dylan
    Apr 28 at 14:56
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    @Dylan I've modified the section where I wasn't sure whether it was an actor's studio, of some kind, or The Actor's Studio. Thank you for specifying what you believe he meant as well as what you meant by that phrase.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 28 at 16:34
  • Stanislavski's psychological theories were soundly disproven years ago. To say that modern method acting is still build on that is doing method acting a disservice.
    – Weckar E.
    Apr 29 at 21:30
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There is already a good, accepted answer, and another good answer with a lot of detail too. But I wanted to point out something about Hopkins' quote. To repeat it:

...it is quite easy once you know the technique for doing it, and technique is a word that's rather mistrusted in America, particularly at the Actors Studio...

In response, the OP asks:

Question: Why would the Actors Studio (in America) mistrust the technique employed by Hopkins? And, what exactly is the formal definition of his technique?

But notice that Hopkins didn't say the Actors Studio mistrusted his technique, but rather that they mistrusted the word "technique." Now this is a little odd, because, outside of acting, "method" and "technique" are almost synonymous. My method of mowing the lawn might be to go back and forth, while your technique might be to do an inward spiral.

But, in acting, of course "the Method" is a very specific thing. By contrast, if I understand Hopkins, when he uses the term "technique" here he is talking about any specific strategy you might use that addresses directly how you appear to the audience, rather than how it would be to be that character. I think he is arguing that it's OK to explicitly think about how to create an impression in the audience, and that the Actors Studio is suspicious of that notion. (Also, I think he us using the Actors Studio as a stand-in for a broad school of thought with vague boundaries.)

I may be speaking out of turn here - I'm not an actor. But that's how I understood his comment.

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    It's true, I think Hopkins is using the Actors Studio to refer to a specific sector of acting in general. I think his independent-minded perspective of the difference in his own technique compared to the Method approach dominant throughout the 70s and 80s, allowed Hopkins to forge his own unique and distinctive style. However, I must say, funnily, sometimes I even think Hopkins is the perfect Method actor considering some of his roles. I still believe he positions himself in opposition to the Actors Studio, but in a very diplomatic and respectful manner. Not "my", but "the technique" (I use).
    – Dylan
    Apr 30 at 11:44

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