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Arts & Entertainment

Acting on a Film Set

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 19:52 min

Helen gives you a unique look at what acting on a film set is actually like and shares the key to success when working to camera: concentration.

Helen Mirren
Teaches Acting
In 28 lessons, the Oscar, Golden Globe, Tony, and Emmy winner teaches her process for acting on the stage and screen.
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OK. Picture's on. Camera A set? Camera B set? OK. Lock it up, guys. Last looks if you need it. This is for picture. Looking at my mark. I have to stand on my mark. Yep. Now this is what happens just before you do a take. You're in your world, you're in your character, you're in your environment. Wherever that is. It might be ancient Rome, you know, it could be anywhere. But at this point, you have to cut all this stuff out of your world. You have to maintain your concentration, re-find your character, re-find your environment. And now maybe you're ready to work. And now we're ready to go. Action. And when the director calls action, you don't have to say action straight away. You don't have to start acting straight away. If you need a little more time just to pull yourself down from all this amazing distraction you've had to deal with just in preparing to come up before you come on the set, and then coming on the set. You know, a set is an incredibly distracting environment. And it's all about maintaining concentration. I'd like just for one second to show you the world that I'm living in that's apart. This little world is nice, but look at this other world that I'm living in. So you see, here's the camera crew that I'm looking at. There's my director who always insists on wearing a bright red hat so that he really stands out. Which is very annoying. Here's our beautiful sound operator, Yvette. I mean look what she's doing. It's extraordinary. So that's what I'm looking at. That's what's in my eye line. Just outside of my eye line is a whole other world. I have to just concentrate all of my thought. My mind, my imagination has to go into very often a little square, a little mark on the camera. So this is what I'm acting to. This is my eye line. This is where I have to pour all my emotion, all my thought, all my feeling. Into this read this little square by the side of the camera. The actor who's maybe giving me the off camera lines will be standing around about here, where at the moment my director is standing. But I don't look at him, I look at the little red dot. I just hear the lines coming from off camera. I want to step back a bit now and talk about what happens when you first walk on to the set. It's a new set-- maybe you're playing a medium-sized role, a small role, a larger role, whatever it is-- you walk onto this set full of strangers. Now maybe you've been on sets before, so you have an understanding of-- you certainly by now probably know who the AD is, because the AD has come to get you out of the makeup or out of your trailer. He said, they're ready for you on set. Now, I have a little trick I'm going to share with you. On my first day of shoot, I always go to the set early. I make sure that I'm ready in hair and makeup earlier than ...

Find freedom in your roles

In her first-ever online acting class, Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren shares the techniques she has learned through the course of her international career that has spanned stage, screen, and television. Her powerful and versatile performances have earned her numerous awards, including the Academy Award in 2007 for her performance in The Queen, a Tony Award in 2015 for her performance in The Audience, and four Emmy Awards.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Fascinating and inspiring... I am not an actor but found this very compelling and enlightening. I will watch theatre and movies far more keenly and note the details much more. Thank you.

It was very important to hear all of this not from an acting coach only but from an actress herself!

There were gems for storytellers of all makes in this masterclass. Quite enjoyable, I learned a lot.

Watching all of these and completing the assignments only assured me that this is who I am and what I need to be doing. Not only is it something I need; it's something I want. This class was wonderful and to the point and I couldn't be happier with what I've gained from her.


A fellow student

A bit of Vince Lombardi philosophy, but more gentle. Be early, be respectful, be ready to go and others will appreciate it. You will learn so much from the others on the set, especially the behind the camera professionals. Knowing your crew but also going deep into your imagination especially with all the distractions on the set. Be willing to do another sound take because it will make a huge difference in the final product. Use the unexpected. Be spontaneous. Use the moment. It may actually improve the final product.

Ms Katherine M.

I think in French when I respond so I'll have to translate to give my responses. Partial repeats on the beginning. My choreograher for my Productions company told me to be early 4 years ago - expanded into indie filmmaking. Body language is gesture work. I'm very good at gesture work which is just the beginning of the Parisian work. I really appreciate this class and you are spot on. New branded picture soon. Good night :)


Agreed on sense of timing and mannerism can speak louder. Both lessons (or basic) thing that actors tend to forget.

Bianca A.

I love the small details that tell an unveil an emotion more powerful than words can speak... Helen's simplicity in recounting her experience is fascinating and inspiring... thank you

R.G. R.

Wonderful overview for beginner and experienced ... It is where it happens and actors need to envelop themselves in it.

Michael O.

I have never witnessed such holistic philosophy in action on a set as I have just now. What revelations masterfully thought out and exquisitely delivered. It is a dance with every damn person on set. Wow!


I have to be told where the eyeline is situated if it's not directly talking to another actor. I trust the crew to do their work. The details I can see in the finished film, if I watch it. Reason, I just would like to be an amazing film actor. I know other actors do multiple titles, however, I would like to stay grounded and focused on every aspect of acting. Every actor has their own motivations and for me it's gaining work and keeping continued work. How to get more work... Pffft. Enjoyable class.

Louanne F.

Helen Mirren is such a joy! I just love her down to earth approach to showing us all the sides (literally) of what happens on set and then, just when you think it's just too much to think about to do a good performance, she brings us right back to the awareness that when the camera is on you, it's all about you and that moment. The more I learn about all the aspects of filmmaking, the more respect I have for everyone involved. It's a complicated art form, for sure, with collaboration at the heart of it all. No one is really more important than anyone else when it comes to getting it on film.

book E.

Well, I'm certainly gaining a respect for actors & actresses. There is so much more to acting than us movie goers imagine. What an enlightening course even though I'm taking it strictly as a writer for the purpose of character development. I would love to watch a movie being made, but fear I may never watch a movie the same again.

Kalia D.

That was really nice. It is nice to get to know all the collaborators and the surroundings on set. Again a great example of the five awarenesses at work. Essentially, you know and anticipate what everyone else is doing and adjust your own performance. I wonder whether it's always necessary to have an actor that is so skilled at cinematographic details. A more rudimentary approach to shooting is when the actor is just immersed into his own performance, repeats it several times, and the cameraman adjusts lighting and angles independently as he likes, like in a documentary. What I also find amazing is the ability to perform emotional dialogue towards a red cross next to the lens. So much of dialogue is interaction with and reaction to the other actor, it's incredible how people can split it into single takes. One can feel how Helen enjoys the set and interacting with everyone to paint a complete picture.