Film & TV

Choosing Roles

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 19:14 min

Helen offers you advice for auditions and shares her unique way of assessing a role.

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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I want to talk a little bit about auditions because, obviously, many of you will have been to many, many auditions in your life, and you probably will go to many more. And I don't have a lot of words to say about that because you guys know more about that, really, than I do at this point. I know that you know you're often given sides, so you don't really know the whole story, and that's a big challenge for an actor. But I know that you understand you have a sense of who the character is. And I know that you will often go-- in a sense-- in a form of the costume that you think this character would wear. And that's a good thing because I think the people auditioning you have to make very quick decisions. I just give two pieces of advice. One is, if the people auditioning you give you a note in your performance-- you've done it once, or maybe twice, and then they give you a note. Why don't you try this. Even if you feel it's completely wrong, immediately try to incorporate that note into your performance because that will tell the director, the producers, that A, you're capable of doing that. And B, you are amenable, and you know how to listen. You can incorporate it in, and at the end of it, you can say, I tried to do what you were saying. I'm not too sure that that work, but you know. But you listen to the note, and absolutely respond to it, and try to incorporate it into your next go through, the performance. And I think the other thing to do is if you're just being given sides and you don't really know, where does this character sit, I think, one or two very judicious and very pointed questions-- intelligent questions-- I think show that you're thinking. That you can see beyond. You understand that beyond this one scene, that there is a whole piece of work around it. If you can ask, what sort of background do you think this character comes from? Or do you think an accent is appropriate? Or I'd just like to know where this character goes afterwards. Or I have a sense of the direction the scene should be going in. Just if there's a really thought out, accurate question to ask, ask it because again, that means that you're thinking. You're intelligent. You're responsive. And I think that's what people want to see. They don't just want to see, is this person right for the role? Of course, they want to see that, but they also want to see, can I work with this person? Is this going to be a living relationship on set? I'm going to share something with you, which I really shouldn't, because it reveals actually how venal I am, and what a terrible person I am. And you can only really do this if you're being offered nice roles, but when I get a script, I do this. It's awful. They always tell you-- not always-- but they often tell you, oh, it's a great role. It's not on the page, but it needs an actress like you to do it, and it will...

Find freedom in your roles

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.


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

Insightful, Meaningful, Direct, Concise, really a master class from a master Teacher Helen Mirren!!! Thanks so much!!!

Great advice from an actress who lives her performances rather than 'acts' them. Her passion and genuineness is greatly inspiring. Worth the watch!

Great insights into acting in general, but in particular to film and TV acting. I'm not a "young" actor, but I still feel there's plenty to learn and I couldn't have found a better teacher than Helen Mirren - gracious, down-to-earth and generous with her advice.

I am not nor will be an actor. I am a writer of mystery novels, but I took this class because I sensed I could learn about character development from Miss Mirren. That was true, but I learned so much more that will definitely help me shape my stories. Excellent class!


Graeme R.

I loved Helen's regret that more more roles were not open to her as a woman, and her obvious delight that actors today are so much less constrained.


Her way of deciding/choosing the role is very interesting. It would ideal to choose a role like she does. But if you have no name, no stable wage, you would appreciate and take whatever offered, right? If I were an actress, I would like to be able to do as she does "someday." Then, giving an impact in a movie would be possible... Not nudity but "hugging" or "kissing" is something I felt uncomfortable in an acting workshop I just joined---after all such "behavior" is not common in my culture.. anyway, as she advised, I mentioned it before the actual scene. It worked. Thank you for a good advice.

Nastasia M.

I love that she gives advice to the actor when considering career decisions and direction. To constantly explore, think in ways that are against the grain, grow outside the box that people constantly try to put you in and show the world a new perspective and way of things.

Ariela X.

Very helpful advices especially about about diversity in characters. Thats why she is one of the most brilliant actresses.

Violet W.

I have done the hiring for three businesses over the years and the biggest thing I've seen is that people have become oblivious of the need to be "amenable." It's really just a small thing but as she says these things tell employers exactly what she's describing, are you flexible, are you open to feedback, are you willing to problem solve? I love that she's explaining how important it is and how to go about it and why. Thank you!

Mary R.

The idea of how much a character impacts the story stood out to me when considering a role.


That was great advice about how to know if your character as a great impact on the story/and audience or even at least a great scene. I am pursuing film making as well, so hearing about breaking stereotypes when it comes to casting characters was very eye opening


The honesty and depth of advice and information is brilliant. Helen has touched on many things confirming that my approach to auditioning and choosing characters is acceptable and match her own approach and asserting my recent - and tough - decision not to be "pigeon-holed".

Kristi N.

I love the idea of reading a script from the last scene; what a unique way of learning your character!

A fellow student

How do you memorize your role from the script? I will pick a monologue from Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.