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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Characters: Hair & Makeup, Part 1

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 10:50 min

Helen teaches you to let go of vanity and approach hair and makeup through the lens of 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 this is a place that I know really well. And many actors, especially actors, obviously, who work in theater, this is our world. This is our womb, this is our home, this is our place of tears and of glasses of wine and of terror and of prayers. Oh please, God, don't let me forget my lines. Please, God, don't let me forget my lines. Please, God, let Act 3 go well. So this is a very, very familiar, comfortable place for actors. And if it's not in the theater, there's an equivalent in film, which is your dressing room, or your trailer, your dressing room, your double banger, whatever it is. It's your place, where you prepare in the way that you want to. Nobody can tell you what to do in this space. And it's your private preparation, it's your personal connection with your work. And you know, here are the many tools of the trade, one of which, obviously, is makeup. Makeup is-- you know, it's important. Obviously, makeup for stage and makeup for film are two very different things. It was very interesting, when I did the queen, I used very little makeup. I noticed when I was watching, looking at her face to see the difference between her face and my face, there were two elements I noticed. One was that her upper lip was thinner than mine, and she wore her lipstick in a different way to the way I wear mine, and her eyebrows were just wonderful, sort of beautiful, big, thick, bushy eyebrows. Eyebrows are so important in makeup, especially on film, because you don't have a lot to define your character. And obviously, hair and makeup are incredibly, extremely defining elements. And within makeup, I think the eyebrows are by far the most important element, funnily enough. They are your instrument of expression. I mean, for example, when I did Hedda Hopper, her eyebrows, we spent hours, the makeup. I mean, literally I think it took about half an hour to put my eyebrows on. And they were just two thin little lines. But the placing of them had to be absolutely precise because with Hedda Hopper, her eyebrows kind of went up like this, so she always had this sort of awful sort of horrible expression on her face, this sort of slightly sort of quizzical, critical, rather nasty expression, I thought. And it all came from these weird eyebrows. So the placing of the eyebrows were very, very important. With the queen, again, the eyebrows, incredibly important. And then the mouth. And that was all. A thinner mouth, thicker eyebrows. And then it was all to do with the way I held my head, which was back, in and back. And your face then just settles into an expression. So there was really no need for a huge makeup job. And the less makeup, you can get away with, the better, because-- in film, because the makeup is a barrier between your performance and the audience, because really what the audience to see is the expression on your face...

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.

I absolutely loved this class. It was easy to follow & I feel it gave a good look at how different parts work together to enrich your character.

What a treat to hear from one of the greats in such an intimate conversation!

Fantastic class! I learned so much about the art of acting and more broadly, about the art of filmmaking. I highly recommend this experience with Helen Mirren!

I really enjoyed this class, Helen truly is a Master at her craft, and I really did learn so much about acting, Helen's style, the process, the various techniques. :)


A fellow student

Interesting to see how much she appreciates hair and makeup. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Forget vanity and do what supports the character. What is a "lace" in regard to wigs?

Mike F.

So much usable, insightful, knowledge around costuming. It's opened up an entirely new way for me to asses and observe actors in scene. Thank you!

A fellow student

The most important thing is to look natural from what i can see. Try the hardest not to get caught up in the superficial aspects of things. People want to see if you can do what you say you can do.

Lynsey W.

Yes its true you must give up your own vanity for the sake of the character.. Yes I see what she means, make-up can be a barrier as the audience really want to see the expression on your face. A light delicate look with definition is key!


Naturalism is very important. Regardless of there being cosmetics on your face. As an actor I have to feel comfortable. I'd be horrified if I did a film and someone commented on my lipliner. That would mean they weren't paying attention (to my acting or) the story... And it's probably because I wasn't comfortable in costume, hair, makeup. What a horrific thought... Good lesson :)

Michael O.

These costume, hair, makeup lessons make a great foundation for acting exercises.

Celene G.

I think its so interesting what she said about the eyebrows being an important feature to pay attention to. I know I am always drawn into looking at lips when I watch a character, so her speaking about the eyebrows makes me want to pay more attention now to the whole face. She was so sharply transformed by the wigs that now it makes me wonder what wigs will look like on me. Really interesting lesson and makes me want to have more fun with make up and being adventurous overall.



Flavella L.

I loved the last wig was looking kind of normal day to day , fun. I never knew actresses and actors get ready in trailers so fascinating.

Sophia V.

Really awesome to see how these wigs transform Helen. Different hairstyles definitely exude different personalities, and us actresses especially can use this to our advantage. Thank you for this video!