Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: Elizabeth I

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 16:05 min

Learn the two-track thinking required to have an impactful performance on camera: You must play the emotional moment of the scene in real time while knowing exactly where the camera is.

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Topics include: Make Sure the Staging Fits Your Character • Find a Modern Approach to Period Language • Keep Your Brain on Two Tracks: Emotion and Technique • Read and Adjust to the Filmmaking Environment • Dance a Pas de Deux With Your Cameraperson • Play the Moment in Real Time


I did a piece for television-- Elizabeth I. Well, she was actually very emotional. She wasn't all cool, and calm, and controlled. She was highly emotional. Highly extreme. But if you're doing that kind of stuff, it really helps to, as I say, think fast. I'm out of control, but I've got to pull it back. Sometimes you can't think that fast. And if you can't, as I said, don't think. Just don't think. Just go there without thinking. And then you'll find your feet into what you're doing. There's a scene where I'm encouraging the troops to go into battle against the Spanish Armada. You'll see, as I seem to remember, I start off on a platform making the speech to the people. But I remember talking to the director and saying, I think this should be much more intimate. I think she should be down there amongst them. You know, she's really, really appealing to them as a woman. Obviously, as a leader, but more as a British-- an at that time-- English person. And basically saying, we're all in this together. And if you die, I'm going to die with you. So I thought it was very important that she be right there in amongst with them, not a sort of remote figure making a beautiful speech from a distance. My loving people-- my loving people. And that's where staging is very important. And you must feel free to speak up if you feel a piece of staging is wrong for your character, or your role in that moment of the drama, you must have the courage to speak up. A complaint I always have very often about directors-- especially on television it happens a lot-- is that they decide to do a walk-and-talk in a scene. People are walking along while they're playing the scene. And so often it's so wrong for what these two people are saying to each other. They would never, ever say those words to each other on the move. Directors and cinematographers, obviously, often like that, because it gives movement. Or they know they need to get from this point to that point. And how the hell are we going to do it? Oh, I know, let's do a walk-and-talk. But really be aware of that. And I've personally very often said to directors, I'm sorry. I cannot play this scene on the move. I can move up to this point in the scene. Those words, that intention, I would have to stop, look at the other person in the eye, and play the scene eye-to-eye. In this scene, obviously, I felt very strongly that it would be good to move. You know, it was not a moment to stand still. It was a moment to move amongst the guys. And hopefully it worked. I think the moment of grabbing the earth-- And I remember thinking-- Because we had to shoot that film very fast. We didn't have time for many takes. And we didn't have time for much rehearsal or anything. You were like, moving, like an express train. So finding myself down there, obviously, then I...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Helen Mirren

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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