Ion Cojar’s Acting Method

Ion CojarAdrian Țofei, 2012


This article is a short summary of my research based on years of collecting data about Ion Cojar’s method and experimenting it. I’ve added similar info on Ion Cojar’s Wikipedia page, with references.

Ion Cojar (1931-2009) was a Romanian acting teacher, researcher and theatre director. He is the founder of a unique method that revolutionised the Romanian school of acting.

Ion Cojar changed the old way of understanding acting in Romania, when the actors were taught how to play theatre, to act, to fake, imitate or mimic life, emotions or characters, with a new one that demands actors, directors and teachers to create the circumstances in which the truth of life can occur, and the actor to go onstage or during filming through authentic psychologically-realistic processes, at the end of which they would be actually changed as a person, so that the audiences may be able to follow the lifelike processes, to understand and believe what they see and hear, to empathise with the actors.

Ion Cojar argued that in order to have an authentic performance, the actor’s psycho-emotional processes, along with their speech, body movements and physiological changes, which are the results of those processes, must not be anticipated, because this way they would be anchored in preconceived ideas and would not be new and authentic, and also must not be consciously controlled, because we cannot observe our own processes as their are taking place without interrupting them.

In everyday life we never know what is going to happen or how we are going to behave or what we are going to say when we interact with someone. We just try to change something in that person in order to achieve our goal. In the same way, the actor, in a certain life situation and with a certain psychology that were previously assumed, aims to actually change something in their partner in order to achieve their goal (their character’s goal that they previously assumed), without anticipating any obstacles, by venturing into the unknown and allowing themself the freedom to make mistakes. This way, everything that will happen to them in the process, from emotions to body movements to speech, will come organically, without being consciously controlled or anticipated, and this way they will be authentic, just like in everyday life, and thus the audiences will understand and believe what they’ll see and hear and will empathise with the actor.

Ion Cojar also argued that we can know for sure that the actor is not faking or acting, but is going through an authentic process when we see instant, organic changes in the color and texture of their face, like when blood instantly floods its vessels in important moments, because these changes are almost impossible to fake.

As a professor and researcher at The National University of Theater and Film from Bucharest, guided by the principle “follow the process, not the success”, Ion Cojar worked with his students in order for them to develop a specific psycho-emotional mechanism that, along with the use of a specific acting method, would allow them to easily transform conventions in life truth (conventions like fictional and imaginary life situations, given plot and lines, a character’s personality and goal etc.), unlike the old acting school when students were taught how to play theatre. Ion Cojar always said that “the art of the actor has nothing in common with theatre”, a statement that became his trademark.

The professional actors who were trained via Cojar’s pedagogical method tend to use in their creative processes an acting method derived from the previous one. One of his former students, Luminita Gheorghiu, won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress with her performance in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005). Professor Mircea Gheorghiu, another former student of Ion Cojar, is considered to be the main continuator of his teaching method in the art of the actor. Adrian Țofei, a former student of Mircea Gheorgiu and ardent follower of Cojar’s method, won the Special Jury Prize for Best Actor at the 2016 Nashville Film Festival for his performance in Be My Cat: A Film for Anne.

As a theatre director, Ion Cojar also argued that the audiences, in order to fully empathise with what they see and hear, must not have any clue or the impression that they’re witnessing a theatre show, but a genuine life event. He aimed to make theatre shows that paradoxically don’t look like shows at all, where the audiences would find no elements whatsoever to indicate that they are witnessing a theatre show and not an actual life event.

The term “Cojar Method” has three meanings:

  • Cojar’s authentic pedagogical method (used in present by other acting teachers) through which he guided his students in developing a specific psycho-emotional mechanism that allowed them to easily transform conventions in life truth;
  • an authentic acting method derived from Cojar’s pedagogical method, through which every actor could create the circumstances in which the truth of life can occur;
  • his method as a theatre director, through which he tried to create theatre shows that paradoxically don’t look like shows at all, but more like genuine life events the audiences could fully empathise with.

In parallel with the development of his method, Ion Cojar supported an educational system in which the students are not taught or modeled by the teachers, but in which the environment is that of laboratory experimentation and self-knowledge, of despecialization and deliverance from preconceptions acquired in family, school and society, an environment in which the student is able to become aware of and to use their full native creative potential that makes them unique.

In theory, Ion Cojar has gathered all his research and discoveries in his book entitled “O poetică a artei actorului” (“Poetics of the actor’s art”).