Chapter 11 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Creating Characters: Costume, Part 1


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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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...

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