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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Characters: Costume, Part 2

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 8:40 min

Every piece of your character’s costume—down to the shoes—has to tell the right story. Learn how to evaluate accessories for your character.

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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Now speaking of color, and stuff around your face, this is gorgeous. The color is beautiful. It's alive. It's got a liveliness. But it's not overpowering. It's always lovely to have something you can play with in close up that just gives you a beautiful frame here, if you feel that's appropriate. It's also great, incidentally, to have something that, if you want to, you can kind of play with. If you feel that that's something that you're going to need in the scene, think about that. Think about maybe a scarf, or maybe a necklace, something to play with, another element that you can add for character And of course, purses for a woman or a man-- what does this tell about the character? It's old. It's heavy. It's ugly. It's period. So if it's modern, it's someone who hasn't bothered to buy a new one for a long time, someone who's very serious, who doesn't really care what something looks like. That's one thing. And here, we have a whole other story going on. Your purse is quite important. Because very often, you're opening it and getting stuff out. You have to check that it's easy to open and close if that's going to be a part of your action, so you're not fiddle-assing around and everybody's waiting for you to open your purse in the shot. So I'm terribly particular about the purse that I carry. Because I think women's purses are very much a reflection of who they are. Some are flashy. Some are very sober. Some are just not absolutely ---- a sort of kind of non-existent. Like this is someone who just doesn't care what they look like. This is a lady who is quite Bourgeois, quite elegant, obviously, and just-- it's color-coordinated. There's a little tiny thing here that's useful. Oh, look, it's got a little thing on it. Oh, that's cool. I didn't see that. That would be good, too-- but anyway, very, very, very different. Likewise, my god, glasses-- how much? I mean, think of the queen's glasses. It always a good thing, if it's appropriate, to wear a pair of glasses. What a world of difference between those-- sorry, I'll put them on again-- those and these, very earnest, very sweet, very whatever it is, owl-like. And then these are always a winner. You normally get a nomination if you wear glasses like these. Because they instantly give you, like, total character, especially if you're playing a Russian. A Russian with a bad wig and these glasses, nomination. I'll have to try it next time. Watches, you're never going to get a nomination for the watch you wear. But it tells the story that you want to tell. And maybe only you will know that. But what a world of difference between this little watch, this very work-a-day watch. Obviously, this watch tells a very specific story about a character. If the watch is going to play, you know there's going to be a close-up of i...

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.

This course was excellent! It is filled with so many pearls of great wisdom that can not only be applied to a career in acting, but just as well to life in general. I loved this masterclass! thank you!

Helen was such a delight to learn from. Very educational and informative! Thanks again Masterclass!

THANK YOU!!! She was informative and inspirational.

So much of her talent is from her ability to really "BE" there, in the room, in the moment and working with all the Crew to make a memorable result.


A fellow student

Again her attention to detail adds so much to the character's presentation.

Madeline E.

I never knew that as an actor you could have such an influence over your costume-interesting!

A fellow student

Its quite interesting to know that an actor does have an opinion on what he/she can wear in order to create a character. Cool

Sophie C.

I didn’t realise how much actors have a say in their costume! Interesting!!

A fellow student

Just watching Eye in the Sky on Netflix tonight. She's a powerhouse! I'd say that's my favourite character she's played. I'm not only an aspiring author, but a history graduate and gender scholar, and ever since I was a little girl, I've always been fascinated with women in the media/film and how they are portrayed. It's good to see women becoming more active in roles.genres-entering roles that could be written for men, It's through the media we can change the view of women and women can begin to see themselves clearer, as capable, strong, independent individuals. High five to Helen!

A fellow student

Helen you are magnificent at this. If you wrote am autobiograohy, I would buy it! Please do write one. I loved commander Powell's outfit. So commanding..... I like how you can get little clues of the uniform to signify something about the character. (As you can do with any other costume).


My favorite Shakespearean Character is Titania from Midsummer Nights Dream. Long curly hair, golden body spray, glitter bedazzlement, cottage roses, feasts of indulgences with an aura of a Lady Godiva comes clearly to mind. Other characters that I like to day dream about are First Ladies, Princesses and ostantenous woman because I read magazines. So it's simple. But thinking about it... Last night, I watched An All-American Christmas Carol (2013) and realized that sometimes even a simple character like Cindy Wagman needs plenty thought into being brought into life. Pushing the limits is necessary sometimes. Good lesson.

Michael O.

What is the history of your boots? Your hat? Your accoutrements? How did they come to you? When? Why are you wearing it now?

Kalia D.

I don't know whether you noticed, but she can take up a prop or a costume and wear it, fill it with life without looking in the mirror! She puts up the scarf and knows exactly how she looks in it, in this lighting, from this angle, with this gesture. That's amazing! But it's also quite obvious: she is an aristocratic actress. There is not one contemporary average dress among the things she shows us. Everything is about Queens and Nominations, historic geniuses and people of power. Everything else is, as she so often repeats, mundane, boring, ugly. She said earlier that actors are not vain, but she comes across to me as quite arrogant. Or positively put: aristocratic. Isn't acting also about our love for the world as it is? A child chasing a balloon? The night after a long party, your hair unkempt and full of smoke, faded make-up, writing something important with lipstick on the bathroom mirror? I don't know. The art of acting isn't only about historic monumental figures. And if you confine yourself to that kind of idolatry, isn't your success and popularity actually partly stolen from the grandeur you impersonate? Everyone wants to see the Queen, of course! Helen chose to start these lessons with a beautiful empty space, and look she filled it quickly with jewlery and monumental figures, with 'the most expensive silk accurately tailored to my particular body'. 'if you wear these glasses and play a Russian - nomination!' how shallow and superficial, isn't it? I'm not disappointed. But we must speculate, she is the bodybuilder among the actresses. Everything must be tailored to her image of success, grandeur, nominations, even the small mundane details. So, let's watch this to learn more about the Laws of Power. And her special genre of acting, among its many forms...

Frederick A.

"A Russian with a bad wig and these glasses - nomination!" I'm enjoying these costume lessons but, apart from the fact that they're really geared toward women, it seems she's also talking about an actor who is in a position to approve or choose what they wear. My guess is that day players or people with smaller parts (non-stars) don't always have that luxury.