Arts & Entertainment

Case Study: Prime Suspect

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 12:35 min

Close-up shots are an opportunity to show your character’s emotions and thoughts without putting words to them. Helen breaks down a scene from the first episode of Prime Suspect to illustrate.

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Topics include: Use the Close-Ups to Play Subtleties • Be Conscious of Voice Level • Befriend Your Camera Man • Learn From the Technical Demands • Learn How to Be Your Own Producer


When the TV series Prime Suspect came along for me, it was groundbreaking in many ways, although, in reality, in the real world, that particular ground of women trying to break glass ceilings in their various professions had-- it was at least, let's say, 10, 15 years out of date. In an interesting way, that was why the series gained such attention, because I think women of all professions heaved a sigh of relief because finally their struggle was there on the screen. [KNOCKING ON DOOR] Come in. Hello, Jane. This may not be the right time, sir, but under the circumstances, I'm not quite sure when would be the right time. I'm offering to take over the murder investigation. I don't have to tell you that I am qualified to handle this investigation, and that I have been waiting for-- well, I don't have to tell you how long. 18 months. And in that time, I've had to handle more paperwork than I did at Reading for my whole five years dealing with sex cases. I know DCI Sheffard was at a crucial stage of the investigation-- Inspector, I have to see his wife this afternoon. Don't expect me to make any decisions now. It's just not the right time. Well, when is the right time? Look, I'm the only officer of my rank who's continually overstepped, sidestepped, whatever. Just give me the chance to prove that I can-- You don't have to prove yourself to me. In this particular scene, I have to play, you know, the righteous politeness, and because you're in the system, you have to be obedient to the system, you can't make waves. But you want to, you know, make your case at the same time. So it was this sort of double-layered thing that was happening in the scene. And this, of course, is where the close-up is a wonderful thing. You know, because you can play the subtleties of thought, of intention, of emotion, whatever it is, in a close-up. And in that particular scene, I seem to remember a lot of it is in a wide two shot. And then suddenly, as she's realizing that she's failing in her attempt to take over this case, and she's having to deal with her anger, her disappointment, her resentment, and her thought of how am I going to get over this, I'm going to get over this in some way. Well that's not enough, Michael. I'm getting sick to death of this so-called Metropolitan Police survey being thrown at me. So all right, apparently 90% of the time the general public would prefer a male officer. But until one of us gets a chance to prove that that survey is a biased, outdated load of old bullshit-- A close friend, a man who I respected highly, died right there. And now, Inspector, is not the time to thrust your women's rights down my throat. I'll get back to you. And there, the close-up is fantastic, because without any words you can express all of those things. You have to think them, but you can express them. When I was doing Prime Suspect, a wonderful...

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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