Film & TV

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.

You get a lot of inspiration watching this masterclass. Helen Mirren seems to really know what she is talking about and you can only be amazed by all the small thoughts she puts into all her work. It was the masterclass I have watched so far.

Helen Mirren gives an incredible insight into what goes into acting. I loved when she talked about her own personal experiences. What a great class!

Helen Mirren has such a classy way of explaining acting. Every gesture she makes is resplendent and I love the way props are used with purpose.

Incredible insight from such a great actress. The scenes breakdowns were fantastic!


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!

Adrienne K.

I loved this! So true about hair and how wigs can cause this whole metamorphosis. I now want a wig collection of my own. I quite like the "Uma Thurman" one on Helen.

Mia S.

"Another incredibly important element, obviously, in the whole building of the character through the look of it, is hair. I love wearing wigs, because otherwise you spend hours in makeup in the morning, and I don't like to spend hours in makeup. You have to have your hair all curled, it has to be brushed out, then it has to be styled, so I much prefer to just have my hair all shoved up under a wig cap or something, and then put a wig on that is already styled, it's better than my own hair. A good film has to have a really good lace, and nowadays there are wonderful laces for wigs, specially made for digital film, and they're very very fine, you cannot see them. But then you have to have a makeup artist, a hair artist who is really really good at putting on a wig, and that is a whole craft on its own. Make sure the makeup person you're working with, if you have the power to do this, really knows how to apply a wig. 18th century wigs were worn almost like a hat; they weren't pretending that this was their real hair. They were obviously wigs, which they sort of plonked on, just for the look and the extraordinary sort of fantasy of them. It's incredible the way a wig can just instantly change you. They're just wonderful for really forming a character. I felt as ugly as sing wearing those wigs [in Ayn Rand/Gosford Park] but they were right, right for the character. Sometimes, you have to give up vanity for the sake of what is right for the character. You can so, so change the dynamic of a character - the huge difference between this kind of look and that kind of look, all the transformation is the hair, and then obviously you'll take it many steps further with the makeup. Incidentally, eye color, too. Eye color is an interesting thing to play with. That is really powerful. It doesn't so much change your look, but it changes your expression - changes the way the audience are receiving your expressions. There's a penetration with dark lenses."