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5 Famous Actors Who Studied Meisner Technique

Hundreds of celebrities have trained in the Meisner technique and gone on to achieve great success in the industry. From fresh faces in Hollywood to stage and screen veterans, many actors have sounded off on how the Meisner technique has empowered them to emotionally prepare and live truthfully in the moment. In what ways do you see Meisner technique mirrored in their performances, and in the way they live their life?

Here are five famous actors who all studied the Meisner technique and are known for their powerful and honest performances.

James Gandolfini (Photo from the Department of Defense)

1. James Gandolfini
SAG award, Golden Globe, and Emmy-winning actor James Gandolfini is renowned for his explosive performance as Tony Soprano on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” but before he took Meisner classes he was a young bartender. Actor Roger Bart noticed something special in Gandolfini and encouraged him to sign up for a Meisner class. Gandolfini discussed his first Meisner class on Inside the Actors Studio, saying “I went in and I was scared to death. I was shaking.

His Meisner coach encouraged Gandolfini to channel his “volcanic temperament” to make scenes come alive onstage. Gandolfini noted, “I think she told a partner to do something to me and he did it, and I destroyed the [set] — and then at the end of it — I remember my hands were bleeding a little bit — and she goes, ‘See, everybody’s fine. Nobody’s hurt. This is what you have to do.’”

Diane Keaton
Diane Keaton

2. Diane Keaton
The legendary Woody Allen collaborator was living in a theatrical boarding house in Manhattan when a class with Sanford Meisner “changed everything” for her. In a 2014 interview Keaton says, “I thought I was going to be a singer, maybe do musical-comedies, but [Meisner] introduced me to things I didn’t even know I had in me. He introduced me to rage. He introduced me to living in the moment. And some of these principles apply to your life.” Keaton perfected the art of always being viscerally there with her scene partners, and her technique is evident across her impressive body of work.

Sandra Bullock
Sandra Bullock (Photo by David Torcivia)

3. Sandra Bullock
Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock was one of the lucky actors who had the chance to train with Sanford Meisner directly, and her raw and relatable performances showcase Meisner’s techniques of relying on instinct, getting out of your head, and reacting authentically to the world around you. Though we don’t offer a class on this, Bullock actually learned how to drive a bus for Speed and is actually driving the bus in several scenes so she can exist purely in the moment.

Timothee Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival

4. Timothée Chalamet
The hearthrob and Oscar-nominated star of Call Be By Your Name studied Meisner in New York City, and at a recent event discussed his favorite film scene that he feels reflects the core of Meisner technique. The scene in question (from The Master) involves two acting giants, Joaquin Phoenix and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Hoffman’s character asks Phoenix’s character to answer a series of questions honestly, without blinking.

In Chalamet’s words: “I was floored. The scene contained two masters at work, open, vulnerable, in Mr. Phoenix’s case, physically self-loathing. To this day, I don’t know a scene that feels so intensely honest. The scene was somehow messy, and the most direct piece of acting I’ve ever seen.”

Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Photo courtesy of gdcgraphics

5. Sam Rockwell
The recent Oscar winner immersed himself in Meisner technique for two years while in New York City in the early ’90s. That’s where he met his lifelong acting coach, Terry Knickerbocker, with whom he still runs scenes for his upcoming blockbuster films. According to Rockwell, acting is about opening up, remaining vulnerable, and refusing to get comfortable. “You’re looking for adventure. You’re looking to feel that spontaneous moment,” he said in a recent interview.

Other famous actors who have studied Meisner:
Kim Basinger
Jeff Bridges
Robert Duval
Jeff Goldblum
Anthony Hopkins
Allison Janey
Grace Kelly
David Mamet
Jack Nickolson
Gregory Peck
Mary Steenburgen
Jon Voight
Sigourney Weaver
Joanne Woodward

Ready to take a Meisner deep dive and follow in the footsteps of famous actors like Sam Rockwell and Diane Keaton? Sign up for our Accelerated Meisner Program this summer to unlock your potential.