Chapter 24 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Characterizing the Set


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.

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

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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Class Info


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 ...

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.


Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren Teaches Acting