Film & TV

Breaking Down a Script

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 10:23 min

Breaking down a script is a very personal process. Learn Helen’s tricks for tackling a large volume of material at once, and experience the joy of discovering your character’s dialogue in your own mouth.

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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So now we've decided to play the role, because it's a good role. And now I start, and obviously the first thing you do is you read the script, trying to work out who the hell is who and where they are and all the rest of it. And I often have to make notes because I forget. You know, Constance is the daughter of the woman who owns the house, whatever it is. And, you know, you work your way through, and then you begin to see where your role fits. So let's just look at the basic way of looking at a script. We just start, and we read it through. And we find our character. Then, obviously, we pay particular attention to that scene, exactly what she says, what it's telling us about the character. And if at that point, any ideas pop into your head about the character, about what's said, about the backstory of the character, whatever, just scribble it down on the page, because I find that the first instinctive reactions to a role are great. And often you forget them. You know, you read and you go, oh, that would be a great idea. Oh, well, what about that? And then you're reading on, and you've forgotten it. So note any of those little ideas, you know, down. Anything that you have that you suddenly think, oh, maybe it's slippers. Maybe it'll be good if she's wearing slippers, in this scene or whatever it is, any little thing. I find the process of writing very important in my work as an actor. I mean, obviously, to have a great script is the most wonderful thing. And everything, even when we improvise, we are in a sense writing, the great kind of writing that's just coming out of our subconscious. And that can be fantastic, or it can be very mundane. It can be kind of stupid and mundane, because improv can go both ways. It can be inspired-- and inspired in that particular way that is, as I say, coming from your subconscious. And it's true and inventive, or it can be mundane and boring and kind of stupid. So improv isn't the answer to everything, far from it. But in a way, what I often do is I will write alongside of a scene, very quickly, allowing my subconscious to work-- just quickly what the underlying story of that scene is or what maybe is not being articulated but maybe in another world would be articulated. It will never be articulated, but that is what is the subtext-- it's the subtext of what's being said. Improvisation is an incredible tool. And, in fact, even when you're playing Shakespeare, to improvise the meaning of the speech in your own language is a very, very good tool, because it allows you access into what is sometimes quite dense language. That's one use of improv. Then, improv, obviously, just to enliven or to elucidate or to complicate or to bring a whole other element into a scene is also a fantastic tool. And it can lead you into a wonderful sort of naturalism, which is what we're all seeking for. But the...

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.

Understand much more about the way to work and study

I'm fascinated by her. Ms. Mirren is so natural and down-to-earth. Lots of interesting insights. I loved the section on costume. It was inspiring

She talks so much sense. Confims my thoughts giving me that validation. Her tenacity, so kind too, very warm. I always want to learn more , its a never ending study, and this wonderful woman, again, has sparked my love and awe of this incredible art.

Helen has reinforced some of the knowledge I already possessed and taught me more about other areas I hadn't given a lot of thought to previously (approaching writers, directors, producers etc. about ideas, or importance of hair, makeup and props and how they enhance your character). I appreciated the resources she mentioned as well.


Mary S.

I have chosen Hermione from A Winter’s Tale. Why? I reviewed the categories in “Shakespeare The Complete Collection”. I chose the romance category as the other categories did interest me. Of the plays listed in this category A Winter’s Tale caught my eye, and as I had no knowledge of it, I chose it. Again with the same process I looked at the list of characters, and Hermione grabbed me. I then dove into the deep of the play and was mesmerized by the first part of it. I found myself rooting for Hermione and her baby daughter. The latter part of the play found me less interested until I read the Wikipedia synopsis of the play. Then I went back and reread the play with much more enjoyment of the dialogue and not trying to decipher the language. Now I will reread only Hermione’s part and pick a scene to practice.

Diana F.

Just what I needed. Im prepping for a audition. any good Shakespeare monologue suggestions? I love lady Macbeth, but just felt like its too over done. Really wna try something that is originally written for a male character.

Helen W.

Fantastic, am in rehearsal for a play at present and am going to implement Helen's ideas from now on..

Nastasia M.

I like her thoughts on organizing yourself to keep track of the story, being able to focus on what is more important as filming moves along, and to avoid getting overwhelmed.


Deconstructing a script is very interesting...It reminds me of deconstructing many pages of textbook/note to memorize the content when I was a college student! But then, I agree to that idea!

Reze-Tiana W.

The way deconstructs her script is quite interesting. Usually I just learn all my lines before our shooting dates, but her method has more sense to it. You can actually really work through the scenes very well.

Sebastian N.

Hi guys, The pdf lesson is not downloading for me. Assuming it works for others, can someone please send me one, or provide it as an attachment? Thank you!

A fellow student

She's fantastic as a teacher in this. I've seen at least three or four of her films. Red and Eye in the Sky are favourites. Versatile to say the least (comical and serious).

Jessica S.

I found this class extremely helpful! I appreciate Helen sharing the ways she uses her scrips for the read and to get into character. I usually just go over the scrip with self-doubt, because of uncertainty on whether I'm able to connect with my character in the story. I'm sure this will help me in so many ways.


As fascinating and informative as I'm finding this course, the deeper we get into it, the more I'm beginning to feel that it is really aimed at a minority. In Lesson 4, Helen pointedly made it clear that she was addressing the younger generation and in this one she mentioned that she would orchestrate the cutting of dialogue when she felt it was not necessary. Surely, you would only be "allowed" to do this if you were established? I can't imagine it going down very well if a "newby" dictated or even suggested this?! I'd be interested in your thoughts? With this in mind, in learning the Shakespeare's monologues - is it acceptable to cut the odd line that we feel is not necessary or doesn't flow, or is that impertinent assumption and sacrilege?! Is Shakespeare one of the writers that we hold in reverence and leave alone? Obviously, I understand the logistics but it would be really good if we could ask Helen questions like this. What are your thoughts?