Chapter 11 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Creating Characters: Costume, Part 1

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Helen has a deep enthusiasm for costume. She walks you through how various costumes serve the characters who wear them and how to make more thoughtful choices about what your characters wear.

Topics include: Costume Serves Your Character

Helen has a deep enthusiasm for costume. She walks you through how various costumes serve the characters who wear them and how to make more thoughtful choices about what your characters wear.

Topics include: Costume Serves Your Character

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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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.

Reviews

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

I loved seeing Helen as a very real and raw person, discussing her experiences as both a theatre and film actress. It was beautifully taught and edited. Thank you.

From a writer-directors point of view, this will help me work more closely with actors, i believe this artform is a lot like music, drummers singers working together, bouncing ideas and elevating to shift the performance to maybe something new, This class with her kicked some real ass.

This class has given me a much better understanding of the techniques of acting. And Helen Mirren is the best teacher I could ever hope for.

Brilliant! I loved every part of this course and incorporated much of the knowledge shared even in my talks or my teaching. I will assuredly continue to reference this course. Thank you. I absolutely enjoyed every moment of it.

Comments

Nicole B.

Wow! I was blown away by how much a costume can say about something. from the way you wear your belt to the kind of shoes that you need. Thank you Hellen

Beez M.

As a costume designer I BEG you not to wrinkle your wardrobe without first consulting your designer or set costumer. Great thought goes into these choices on BOTH sides. Helen Mirren can step on her costume or wrap it around her pinky if she chooses- because she's Helen Mirren and we love her. Until you reach her status PLEASE don't do this on your own.

R.G. R.

I like her emphasis on costumes and their importance. According to the great acting teacher, Stella Adler, costume does exactly what Mirren suggests. According to Adler, ". . . the costume is a whole creative point of identification." "Costume is more creative than the emotion, much more than the words." I'm not sure if I'd go that far in attributing costume to the level of that importance, but as Mirren, suggests, it can make an important difference in understanding your character.

A fellow student

This is a great course. I didn't realize there was so much to learn in acting. When we first meet especially between men and women we play a game an acting game with each other. Yet in Creation Adam immediately told Eve who she was and why they were to be together. Studying Romeo and Juliet he says exactly what he wants comparing her to a Saint; and he a pilgrim to kiss her. Shakespeare recognizes true love needs to know that love is divine. That's my monologue. .

ALICIA S.

The Addams Family (1991), which spun from a 1960's sitcom, won an Oscar for Costume Design. It was a comedy-fantasy/horror, where the eccentric costume designs could actually have changed the fashion world. Slicked back hair, tuxedos, slinky black dresses, perplexed school children clothing like uniforms was creepy but friendly and fun. Everyone seemed to have perfect posture even Pugsley. We loved them all. A family of statue and not The Jones. Details matter... button, stripes, colors, etc... Their costume and set design didn't change the nation at a time computers started a chain reaction and it completely could have... That's sad to me. Great class.

Michael O.

As a director, I very often have no costume design concept other than a generalized period. I also write screenplays - the best of my writing comes out the vividness of my vision, and it is almost always grounded in what the character sounds like. That costume has so much subtext, a language if you will, should have been obvious to someone who has spent a lifetime in the theatre. And here it is! Thank you Ms Mirren.

Grace C.

I really enjoyed this lesson! It's crazy to think about something as simple as the thing you're wearing affecting how you act.

Evelyn

This was an amazing class! Very informative to me. I never before thought so much went into costume designing. Thank you Helen.

Mia S.

"I found the attitude that the costume forced me into incredibly valuable - playing that sexy but utterly repressed character of Miss Julie, whose sexuality was just busting out. Use your costume. It's not just the thing you put on, it's a thing that is informing the history of your character, the personality, everything. You walk in a very specific way, in these shoes - they are a character in and of themselves. Shoes are so important; incidentally, if they're not in shot, and if you're not walking in them, wear something that's comfortable. Sometimes, even if they're not in shot, you need to wear the right shoes. Can you wear them all day? Should this be uncomfortable? Maybe this character needs something that's kind of uncomfortable, and they feel awkward in it. 'We are very precise about the way we wear our camouflage.' There are little messages in the way you wear this. Any military person will go, 'She got it right,' or 'They got it wrong.' It's all about neatness in the military, can't be too high, can't be too low. The trousers have to be tucked into the boots. There were all these incredible markers of how your fatigues that were so precise. There are really strong character pointers - as far as the military, that's making a very strong statement about the kind of character you're dealing with. I'd leave my trailer, get myself into military mode, and then I would march, left right left right to get myself into that sort of sense of discipline and obedience that people in the military have to have. It's light, which is nice - if it's a dark set you're going to show up. Another thing to think about is what the set is like. If you have the time, go to the set designer and say, 'What color are the walls for that scene?' Sometimes it's great to wear the same color as the ways, and sometimes you really want a contrast. It's good to think of the design as a whole. There is actually quite a big difference between these two ordinary, funky long cardigans. A world of difference. When you get a piece of costume, I scrunch it up, because that immediately looks more real to me, it doesn't look like it's just been ironed. Make sure your costume looks real, looks lived in. Red is always a beautiful color. Red is always some kind of signifier, dramatically. The leading lady is often in red."

Mia S.

"Costume - what an incredible, powerful tool that is for us actors to have available to us. It's not just the period of the costume, it's what this particular costume is saying... exactly what within that period the story that the costume is telling. It's the first building block in your character. When I go to the costume designer, and we have our first fitting, I usually have an idea of the look I want, or the colors, or the type of costume - and then of course, I'm open to the ideas of the costume designer. In a blessed world, your two ideas are basically the same. That's often the case. Sometimes you're at odds with each other, and you can talk through it and find a common ground. Don't be afraid of looking dowdy, of looking plain. Number one, your costume absolutely must serve your character, and nothing else. Not your vanity, not how pretty you are, or how fat you are, how thin you are - just serve your character. Once it serves your character, then you can say - 'Maybe a little bit more in the wait, make me a little bit thinner.' You're not playing the costume, the costume is really serving you, and your character is given its fullest expression. It's great to have movement in your costume. Think about what it's like when you move, think about whether the costume is going to move with you. If you're doing a sex scene, how easy is it to take off? Think about the practicality of what you're having to do in this costume. If you're in a corset, it means you can't sit down comfortably. and you can't breathe comfortably. A trick is to ask for what the call an opera corset, which has elastic down the side so you can breathe a little bit. After a 14, 15 hour day in that corset, you're going to be very grateful. I've seen people wearing period costumes where their composure, their deportment, is completely at odds with the costume they're wearing. They've got a modern deportment. Understand how to lift your skirt up. I love wearing period costumes, because it does half your work as a character."

Transcript

Costume, what an incredible, powerful tool that is for us actors to have available to us. Here I am in an 18th century costume. This is a costume that I have. This period, I've worn before. It's a period I love. But it's not just the period of the costume, but it's also what this particular costume is saying. I was looking at this and thinking, you know what? A costume like that on a woman of my age means that this is a character who is desperately trying to look younger than she really is. You've got a whole little girly thing going on with it, with the little frills, and the little ruffles, and the little bows, and the colors of it, the pink and the green, and it's all very Little Bo Peep-y. So it's not just the fact that you're wearing a period costume, which of course, says an enormous amount-- the hair, which is so fantastic-- but also exactly what within that period the story that the costume is telling. And I want to talk about the stories that costumes tell. So now, we're in the world of costume, and this is a world that I love. It's the first building block in your character. So when I go to the costume designer, and we have our first costume fitting, I usually have an idea of the look I want, or the colors, or the type of costume. And then, of course, I'm open to the ideas of the costume designer, because often they have their own ideas. In a blessed world, your two ideas are basically the same. That's often the case. Sometimes you're at odds with each other, and then you can talk through it, and discuss it, and find a common ground. I'm starting with this costume, which, when you look at all of them, is by far the plainest. Don't be afraid of looking dowdy, of looking plain. Number one, your costume absolutely must serve your character and nothing else, not your vanity, not how pretty you are, or how fat you are, or how thin you are. Just serve your character. Once it serves your character then you can say, maybe it'd be a little bit more in the waist. Make me a little bit thinner. But primarily, it's got to serve the character. This is very similar to the costume that I wore in Gosford Park. I was playing the housekeeper. Very, very dowdy, absolutely no vanity whatsoever in the costume. But the great thing about a costume like this is what happens up here. Your character can flourish and can flower. You're not playing the costume. The costume is really serving you, and your character is given its fullest expression. Now, we look at something like this. Different period-- actually, not so different period, come see it. That's kind of 30s. This is kind of 20s, so not far apart. But what a different world we're in here. We're in the world of party, of frilliness. I've never worn this costume, actually, or anything much like it, but I wanted to show it, because it's an indication of a comp...