Sanford Meisner – The Yoda of the Acting World … as good a Cesar the dog whisperer!

There’s that famous, but likely apocryphal, story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman when they were working together on Marathon Man. To prepare for a scene, Hoffman had gone for a few days without sleep and looked pretty rough. Olivier asked him why he was putting himself through such an ordeal and Hoffman replied that he was trying to be convincing in the role. Olivier replied, “Try acting dear boy”.

Olivier seems to be in the ‘outside-in’ school compared to Hoffman’s ‘inside-out’. Hoffman is one of the most famous actors to study ‘The Method’ at the Actors’ Studio. As I understand it The Method makes much use of emotional recall in order to fuel the authenticity of an actors’ work. The one course I did in The Method was somewhat disastrous … the man teaching it was one of the least emotionally developed people I’ve ever met. He seemed to use his role of teacher as an excuse to abuse his students while using the bind: I am the teacher and if you resist this it’s because you are afraid of your emotions and you will never be a successful actor. In this case, and in my opinion it was this man who was covering up his own lack of acting success with his teacher role. I’m not saying all Method teachers are like this. I am saying that this one was a bit of a cock.

Compare this with Sanford Meisner. I’ve never met this teacher and he is now dead but there is a fantastic video of him available on YouTube. He teaches students to find ‘the truthfulness of you in an imaginary circumstance’ that is to say that he defines acting as the ability to find truth NOT the ability to pretend.

There are lessons in this for all of us who are interested in finding our own truth … to stop playing roles and to be authentic. From what I can see this guy is the real deal: well worth an hour of viewing. A Meisner course is high up on my ‘to-do’ list.

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