What Mark Wahlberg’s Weight Loss Really Means for Method Acting

Mark Wahlberg is thinner than ever for a movie role, and it looks like he's not the only one into method acting.

From underwear model to weight-pumping meathead, Mark Wahlberg’s consistently been that Hollywood actor who stays in remarkable shape. And as a guy who’s been in the spotlight for more than 20 years, that’s the only way we’ll ever know him. So naturally people were shocked when Wahlberg was pictured on the set of his new movie The Gambler more than 40 pounds thinner.

The Gambler is a remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan as a literature professor with an intense gambling addiction. Wahlberg will play the lead, professor Alex Freed, and he committed to losing weight for the role to accurately portray the frail and sickly nature of an addict.

This extreme measure is known as a form of method acting, a technique an actor uses to create the real thoughts and feelings of his or her character. While classical acting is dependent on imagination, script analysis, and external stimuli, method acting is developed internally, psychologically, and sensorily. Method acting can be extreme in some instances—like Wahlberg’s—where the actor engages in behaviors like severe weight-loss, a change of living environment, or drug experimentation to emotionally connect with the character.

“I’m trying to get as thin as I possibly can,” Wahlberg told CNN. “I was at 195 when I was doing Transformers, and right now I’m at 158. So maybe [I’ll go to] 150, 149, 145.”

Though the weight loss may sound and appear extreme to some, method acting works, and the best of the best practice it. Jane Fonda, Robert De Niro, Daniel Day Lewis, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep all practice it. Christian Bale is a prime example of a method actor; he drastically transformed his body for his roles in The FighterThe Machinist, and also for American Hustle. Matthew McConaughey lost 47 pounds for his role in Dallas Buyers Club alongside co-star Jared Leto, who lost 30 pounds. The two both walked off with Oscars trophies this year for Best Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively.

These award-winning actors have set a standard, as if to say, if you want to give an extraordinary performance, this is how you do it. Forget CGI, forget makeup. But as stated, transformation—or sometimes deformation—of the mind and body is an extremity, which audiences often forget. Among the former greats are also Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger, both notable method actors whose lives ended tragically. That’s not to say that either died directly because of their preparations for a role, but some do speculate that they had difficulty breaking character.

Method acting is a practice that not all actors have the stability to do, but they presumably accept the challenge not only because of potential Oscar nods, but because it establishes pathos as an actor. Do you wanna be good, or do you wanna be Meryl Streep good?

As for Wahlberg, he rejects the premise of method acting and seems to insist that changing your physique and mental state for a role is obligatory for any actor.

“You do what you’ve got to do,” he told Men’s Health last year when he was bulking up for his role in Pain and Gain. He also joked in an interview with The Guardian when telling a story about actors doing method exercises. He said, “I thought, ‘This is a practical joke!’ So I opened my eyes, and they were all just sobbing their hearts out! I was kind of in shock.”

Perhaps the idea of method acting has a certain presumption since the passing of Hoffman earlier this year. Or perhaps Wahlberg has a realistic way of investing in a role in a time when others grow dependent on CGI. Regardless, the methods are here to stay.