The Art Of Getting Lost In A Role



Austin Butler, playing Elvis and Heath ledger, playing the Joker.

Alyssa Sanders, Editor

Many people play the role of the entertained, they watch elaborate and intense movies, shows, and other forms of entertainment to fill their day. While many are simply viewers, entertainers are doing the work. Actors and actresses completely disregard themselves and slip into the mind of someone new all for the entertainment of others. The most talented entertainers truly dedicate themselves to their roles, but as tragedies have shown, this can be their downfall. Losing themselves in a character’s mind and leading them to destruction.

Artists who participate in the acting world have been taught the same thing their whole careers. To let go of who they are and switch their minds into a character. To portray only what this character would do, many entertainers are miraculously skilled at this task, sometimes leading to fame and fortune. But for some while there are benefits there are side effects of being able to perform the skill of acting so well. Many actors or actresses begin to dive into the character, spending months or even years attempting to portray the person accurately. Meghan Meyer led a team at Dartmouth College and Princeton University in an experiment, which was published by The Journal of Experimental Psychology, where they tested volunteers to see if putting themselves in the mind of someone else would affect them. They had the volunteers show the way they perceive things by rating their memories and personalities. Then they had them put themselves in the mind of a family member or friend and rate the memory or their personality by how they thought that person would perceive it. Afterward, the volunteers rated themselves once again and the results became increasingly similar to the person they chose previously. Even when they tried it with a 24-hour gap between the tests there were still results that proved that they’d morphed together personalities. These people were regular people, not actors, so imagine how much worse it can be for someone who professionally puts themselves in someone else’s perspective for months or years in production. 

Famous British actor, Austin Butler, played Elvis in a wildly successful movie called “Elvis”. This movie showed millions of people the story of a famous American rock and roll singer, Elvis Presley. Butler had dedicated himself to getting into the mind of Elvis for two years. Once he got the call that he got the role, he then shut down any other offers or auditions to focus on studying Elvis. When the global pandemic in 2020 plagued the world, Butler chose to stay in Australia instead of going to his home in Los Angeles and used the pandemic as an opportunity to dive deeper into Elvis. According to British GQ, he dug deeper into the character by turning his apartment into a “detective scene”. Butler stated, “Just images of Elvis everywhere, from every time period,” The actor continued to read about Elvis, listen to his music, and even made connections between him and Elvis as he realized they had both lost their mother at the same age. The actor continued to give an astonishing performance in the almost 3-hour-long movie, losing himself as he started to struggle to differentiate himself from Elvis. “You can lose yourself with who you are. And I had that when I finished Elvis– not knowing who I was,” Butler admitted. Then after finishing the movie, a dark turn took place, “The next day I woke up at four in the morning with excruciating pain, and I was rushed to the hospital.” The day after finishing the film he was rushed to the hospital and was diagnosed with a virus that simulated appendicitis and was bedridden for a week. He also struggled to find himself again after the film was finished and struggled to lose Elvis when moving on to another film, Masters of the Air. The director Cary Fukunaga stated Butler was “still very much Elvis” when they started filming. The actor Austin Butler has truly dedicated himself to his character and is a prime example of losing yourself in a role, as he still has Elvis’ American accent lingering in his voice today.

Another famous actor dedicated himself to a much more twisted and dark role, Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight in 2008. Just like Austin Butler, Heath Ledger was determined to fully grasp his character, no matter the costs. Many have tried to achieve the goal of truly understanding the DC comics villain’s twisted mind, but none have captured the character as well as Ledger. He dedicated himself to becoming the Joker. There were several extreme methods he used, including isolation. Ledger had spent weeks isolating himself in a hotel, perfecting and practicing his joker performance. This included talking to himself, imagining voices, and practicing his laugh. He also would insist on risking physically harming himself if needed during a violent scene. The scene was an interrogation scene and his fellow actor, Christian Bale, refused to hit him. Ledger then decided to throw himself against a wall to make the scene look more realistic. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter Bale stated, “He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them. His commitment was total,” The character even began to take control of Ledger’s mind so much that he could barely sleep. In an interview with the New York Times, he informed them that he only slept for a couple of hours a day, due to his mind being haunted by the sick thoughts of the character. “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” This sleep deprivation eventually led to the dedicated actor’s death. He has been prescribed sleeping pills and had an accidental overdose. Unfortunately, this event took place before the film was released, meaning he never got to see his hard work pay off. Heath Ledger’s story is a tragic example of what can happen when an artist such as himself gets lost in a role. 

Talented and dedicated entertainers can sometimes lose themselves in a role, ultimately leading to their downfall. After all is said and done, only one question remains; is there a length too great, is it all worth it when it comes to the art of acting?