Living the Part

Living the Part

10 Episodes

Extreme diets, elaborate prosthetics, uncannily convincing (and sometimes less so) accents: the late twentieth century witnessed the rise of a new strain of screen acting that saw stars deploy extensive research, long preparation processes, and often staggering physical transformations to create their characters. Inspired in part by Robert De Niro’s work in the 1970s, these performers sought to live within the very skin of their characters and render them with operatic intensity. Bringing together key performances from actors like De Niro (RAGING BULL), Meryl Streep (SOPHIE’S CHOICE), Jeffrey Wright (BASQUIAT), and Joaquin Phoenix (THE MASTER)—as well as an essential showcase for chameleonic precursor Lon Chaney (THE UNKNOWN) and several films that comment on the transformational potentials and pitfalls of acting—this program surveys a major shift in film art that continues to inspire both acclaim and controversy.

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Living the Part
  • Living the Part Teaser

    Episode 1

  • Living the Part Introduction

    Episode 2

    This introduction by Isaac Butler, author of “The Method: How the Twentieth Century Learned to Act,” was recorded in 2024.

  • Sophie’s Choice

    Episode 3

    Directed by Alan J. Pakula • 1982 • United States, United Kingdom
    Starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol

    Meryl Streep cemented her reputation as the greatest actress of her generation with her indelible, Academy Award–winning portrayal of Sophie Zawistowska, a Polish Catholic Holocau...

  • The Master

    Episode 4

    Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson • 2012 • United States
    Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams

    Paul Thomas Anderson’s monumental portrait of a traumatized postwar America features two staggering performances: from Joaquin Phoenix—as Freddie Quell, a hard-drinking Navy vetera...

  • I’m Not There

    Episode 5

    Directed by Todd Haynes • 2007 • United States, Germany
    Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin

    How can a film portray the many sides of the shape-shifting enigma that is Bob Dylan? Director Todd Haynes’s audacious gambit is to enlist six actors to play him in this innovati...

  • Basquiat

    Episode 6

    Directed by Julian Schnabel • 1996 • United States
    Starring Jeffrey Wright, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper

    Julian Schnabel brings the all-too-brief life and incandescent world of Jean-Michel Basquiat to the screen with this dreamily stylized tribute from one creative phenom to another. Jeffrey Wrigh...

  • Cruising

    Episode 7

    Directed by William Friedkin • 1980 • United States
    Starring Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen

    One of the most notorious films of the 1980s, this controversial thriller directed by William Friedkin (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) stars Al Pacino as Steve Burns, an NYPD officer who goes ...

  • My Week with Marilyn

    Episode 8

    Directed by Simon Curtis • 2011 • United Kingdom, United States
    Starring Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne

    Michelle Williams delivers a luminous, fully embodied performance as Marilyn Monroe in this captivating behind-the-scenes portrait that captures both her legendary star pow...

  • The Unknown

    Episode 9

    Directed by Tod Browning • 1927 • United States
    Starring Lon Chaney, Norman Kerry, Joan Crawford

    The most celebrated and exquisitely perverse of the many collaborations between Tod Browning and his legendary leading man Lon Chaney, THE UNKNOWN features a wrenchingly physical performance from “th...

  • Kate Plays Christine

    Episode 10

    Directed by Robert Greene • 2016 • United States
    Starring Kate Lyn Sheil

    This gripping nonfiction thriller follows actress Kate Lyn Sheil as she prepares for her next role: playing Christine Chubbuck, a Florida newscaster who committed a shocking act on live television in 1974. As Kate investiga...