Chapter 5 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Breaking Down a Script


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.

Topics include: Note Your First Instinctive Reactions • Allow Your Subconscious to Work • When to Use Improv and When Not To • Discover the Dialogue in Your Own Mouth • Deconstruct the Script

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.

Topics include: Note Your First Instinctive Reactions • Allow Your Subconscious to Work • When to Use Improv and When Not To • Discover the Dialogue in Your Own Mouth • Deconstruct the Script

Helen Mirren

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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Find freedom in your roles

Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Tony winner Helen Mirren is one of the greatest actresses of our time. In her first online class, she discusses the dualism that is core to her method: the necessity for mastering technique (craft) and then letting go so that your imagination can take over (art). Learn how to break down a script, research characters, and master techniques so you can transcend them to find freedom in every role.

Helen brings you behind the scenes to show you the secrets of her acting technique.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Helen will also critique select student work.


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

Thank you very much Helen :) I think your masterclass was very motivating!!! I loved everything... lots of it I knew already but it is always great to refresh :) But by sharing your experiences, moments of your career and people quotes which motivated you gave me the most!!! And I am sure I will remind them everytime I will need it!!! Thank you once more

Loved this Masterclass! One of my favourite courses.

Great, Helen Mirren is absolutely great. I love the class.

I have learned so much from Helen and I will continue to enjoy her videos and workbook.


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?

Eden R.

very helpful for learning scripts. I usually break it down by scene and learn each scene till I'm sick of it but of course use appearance of the first time.


I liked this lesson. I've always been curious about how the 'greats' breakdown a script and prepare when they are in so many scenes. It always seemed terrifying and overwhelming. This was enlightening and could be a very good technique for me if I ever have that opportunity.

Ann B.

I was struck by the idea of just letting the script come at you in the first read, to jump in . . . to discover the dialogue in the first read

Paula Lee M.

Great ideas! I want to put my script up (as the police do in an investigation) and direct the script as Ms. Mirren suggests. Thank you for all the wonderful advice.



Jessica C.

Really interesting different approach, I found the literal DECONSTRUCT to be of most help. Hadn't thought about it as much, as we are usually so in the theatre mindset of having to be fully on top of the character arc and journey and be aware of the whole thing rather than sit in the moment and let that truth connect to the other moments over the shooting time. Love it & look forward to using this technique.


Clarifying duties and tasks at the start of a script is very important. Reading a script and deconstructing it to learn is priority. Read, make notes, take time to understand the story, create your character and memorize your role. It's time consuming but completely worth it to the actor.


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...