Arts & Entertainment

Characterizing the Set

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 18:17 min

Actors may overlook details of set decoration, but Helen encourages you to think about what set dressing can say about your character. Learn how changing the dressing of a set can tell different stories about the character who lives there.

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Topics include: Personalize Your Character's Space: Part 1 • Personalize Your Character's Space: Part 2


You know like we were talking before, working with costume designers, and the incredible importance of, really, sometimes very small details, to tell the story of your character that maybe the costume designer hasn't thought of. That relationship with your costume designer is incredibly important in building your character, but likewise, the work with the set decorator can be very, very important. Because the environment-- if your character has an environment-- their apartment, their flat, I don't know. If it's their personal environment, that environment obviously is going to tell the story of the character as much as the costume is. But sometimes there are elements of your character that the set decorator has-- or the production design or with the set decorator-- hasn't quite grasped. And why should they? They're not living in your character the way you are. So your personal contribution to the set-- again, don't be destructive. Don't come in and say, this is completely wrong! I'm going to-- you know. But I think you're entitled to make suggestions. Just say I would love-- I don't know. I see-- I mean, looking for example in this set that I'm looking in. Beautiful. Nice pieces of furniture. A little bit modern, as they say, mid-century. So an older person could have had this furniture from when they were young. Now it's become an antique. This actually happened in my life. My furniture is suddenly antiques. Right? Very upsetting. But anyway, this could be seen-- if you are hip, a hip young person-- in this environment, it becomes hip. If you're an older person, it becomes kind of antique and period. It's what they had from when they were first married. So I'm imagining, maybe, that in this set lives an older woman. She lives on her own. I'm thinking, OK, she lives on her own. This would be the place that she mostly sits, wouldn't it? So I'm going to pitch this area up. And I'm going to ask-- and props are very, very kindly. This is great. That looks like something that she or her mother might have made. This is great. Again, it's got that sort of older feeling. So I'm going to start just making this set just look more like somewhere that someone sits. Maybe in the scene, for example, maybe this is a prop you're going to use in the scene. And if that's the case, it becomes really important that that prop tells the right story. So I'm looking at this. Maybe in the scene it says the character has a cup of coffee. And this is what the props people have brought. They brought it's beautiful, elegant correct period, but elegant sort of thing for her to have her coffee. And you think, no. Someone living on their own-- unless they're a certain kind of person-- my character would never do this. So I'm going to change this out. Please set decorator, do you mind if I change this ...

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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