Method Acting is based loosely on Stanislavsky’s method, but utilizes ‘Sense Memory’ for emotional preparation. Stanislavsky himself experimented with ‘sense memory’ for the better part of his career and abandoned it for being unreliable.
‘Sense Memory’ in a nut-shell being the use of personal memories to affect and achieve appropriate emotional preparedness before engaging in a scene. Stanislavsky (as well as Adler and Meisner) eventually realized that personal memories and experiences alter greatly with the passage of time, as in, what mattered to you a great deal when you were four may present very little ’emotional’ impact at the age of 45.
As it is based on personal experience, the preponderance of modern adherants tend to subject themselves to all manner of potentially dangerous situations to achieve a truly realistic experience to draw from. This has manifested in such things as experimental drug use (which actually lead to addiction and death in the case of River Phoenix) and placing themselves into actual, immediate physical stresses or harm.
A famous story regarding Dustin Hoffman (a purported ‘method’ actor) during the filming of ‘The Marathon Man’ tells of Mr. Hoffman running all around Manhatten during filming to force himself into a true state of exhaustion (which would be true for the character as well.) Sir Laurence Olivier on seeing this behaviour is quoted as saying “Good Lord man, just act.”
While I think ‘Method Acting’ can be a valuable tool, and many excellent actors are staunch supporters. Me personally, I find it too dangerous and limiting to achieve a safe and more importantly, sane acting career. The pros are very realistic performances based on actual, lived experiences. The cons are potential mental and physical harm from engaging in dangerous behaviour and unreliable performances.
Whatever you decide to do as an actor, it is worth mentioning that there are many safer methods in existence to achieve wonderful results. Many of the finest actors of the last 100 years (like Gregory Peck and Rober Duvall, to name a couple) were trained by Sanford Meisner who employs an actor’s most wonderful asset to achieve emotional preparation.
That asset being your Imagination