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Arts & Entertainment

Film Acting Technique, Part 2

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 13:10 min

Helen dives into the nitty-gritty of working to camera, sharing advice for staying oriented on set and reserving your energy and emotions for your coverage on camera. She also encourages you not to obsess over every take.

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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When you're filming, unlike in the theater-- obviously in the theater you move linearly forward through the play and your whole energy and the storytelling is a part of that process. In film, and it's often been the case with me, you literally shoot the last scene in the film first thing. Or in the first week, you're shooting the last scene. And that can lead you up the garden path because sometimes you make decisions that later on you realize were not absolutely right. But there you go. That's what happens. Here it's very important to talk to the continuity person. And I always go, what's just happened? What happened before this? What's the next scene? What's the next shot? And then and another very important thing to begin to grasp is how it's going to be edited. So not just what is the next scene after this, but maybe what is the next shot after this. And you can sort of tell this from the script. You know, here's you're in close up, and the next scene maybe takes place outside. And you think, they're probably going to cut from my close up to a big wide of the landscape. I'm not saying you should think about that necessarily, but sometimes it can modulate your performance in the sense of you can think, you know what? It's a good idea to be really fast here. Or no, this is a moment I can take some time. Because you can get a sense of the rhythm of the cutting of how the film rhythmically is going to play out. So that's quite sophisticated. But in certain circumstances, it's not a bad idea. to kind of be aware of this. But anyway, shooting out of sequence, the continuity person is your friend. I think, from my experience, you can plot out a certain amount, but actually it's, and I guess if push comes to shove, it's a valuable thing to be able to fall back on if you're confused and you don't quite know where the hell you are or what you're supposed to be doing, you suddenly remember, oh yes, that's right. My dog died in the scene before. So I'm going to be upset from that, and that's why I'm-- that's why I'm shouting at my child. So to make that connection is probably a good idea. And my other feeling-- and we're talking about planning too much. I try very hard on turn over action, I want my life, my feeling, my response maybe to what the line is not come this way at me, but to come this way at me. So it kind of takes me by surprise. It comes to bilaterally at me, not face on. That's the only way I can describe it. I want it to be almost random or to take me by surprise. And again, I will come back to A Pacino, who-- I've never spoken to him about this, but I feel the-- I had the great privilege of watching him work on a film my husband directed called Devil's Advocate. And just seeing the way he just shakes it all up constantly. There is no master plan. It's a question. Of course he knows who his...

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.

Thank you. Very much enjoying life from your perspective.

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

This class particularly affected everything for me. I didn't know what to expect and well just being able to relate to you from the perspective of what it would be like to be in your shoes, was healing. I plan to see the "Fugitive Kind" and will comment. Helen, Thank you so much.

Much wisdom to be gained from watching. Thoughtful insights.


A fellow student

Take pride in yourself and your right to be in the part. Do the best you can and don't angst about how to do it differently after the arrow has flown away. That might be good advice for many things in life.

Madeline E.

Another great and interesting lesson, although I really would like some working examples

Shane H.

Today's concerns carry enough weight of their own; let yesterday remain there and look out the front in the direction we are going. She said it well and it is good to know it is appreciated and shared at her level of the profession.

A fellow student

the last advice seem to be the best advice for beginners and all actors in general

Barry C.

A well known actor, having found out I had been cast from an open casting-call, made me feel incredibly comfortable. He told me I had earned my way into the film and that his agent had set everything up and he was not entirely sure they even wanted him.

roland S.

brilliant advice unfotunatly lacking in my experience in American acting classes exept for clay stevonson and peter miner

Riitta S.

What a generous gift Helen Mirren's spirit is! I'm so appreciative, that she shares the treasure of her experience! Thank you!

R.G. R.

"Just let it go" is the best advice for inexperienced and experienced actors alike.

A fellow student

i expanded my monologue from Romeo first studying his poetry under her balcony.; to the first time he sees Juliet and seeks to kiss her. I think it is a romantic way to enter this world.

Mia S.

"'White Knights' was the first time I've had to work standing opposite someone who's a big star. I'm quite intimidated by big stars - not intimidated, that's not the right word; but I'm a little bit overwhelmed and fan-y about them, and if I'm going to work with a big star, I get up in the morning, say, 'Do not make a fool of yourself. Don't talk too much, don't be sycophantic, don't laugh at their jokes too much. Just be yourself. That's all you have to do.' Then I walk up and there's Bruce Willis, or a big star, and I just fall apart. Luckily, they've always been so kind to me that it's made it easy for me. But I'm hopeless. Likewise, working with Baryshnikov, an icon, a legend, at that time he was just at the height of his power, so an incredible artist that I'm working opposite. And to look across the set and see that's Baryshnikov standing there, that knocks you off your acting balance. Get over that. What I tell myself and I'm telling you: Get over that. You have as much reason to be there as they do, that's why you've been cast. You have as much value at that moment in time as they do. That's why you're in the scene. So just really get over that, be yourself, and be proud. Don't be arrogant, that's not good, but be proud to be yourself and give yourself the full value - the same value that they have, actually. Because although they are great stars, they are also very often as insecure as you are, actually - don't tell anyone I told you so. It's funny with film, you can't really rehearse film. You can rehearse literally, 'I think I'll sit in this scene,' or 'I think I'll walk across there,' you can reorganize the text in rehearsals - 'I think we'll cut that bit out, why don't you say that there?' A lot of that goes on in rehearsal, but to actually rehearse the emotional moment of the scene, you always want to save that. Often when I work with inexperienced actors, and if you're the star, want of a better word, very often they do your closeup first, which can be good, can sometimes not be good - because they don't want you to have to overdo it, and I work with a young actor and they're next to the camera and they're giving their all, and I go up to them and I say, 'Don't, it's fine. Don't act, wait. Wait till the camera's on you, save it. You can just give me the lines, I don't need any acting. Just save it for your closeup, your turn.' So you can't rehearse that stuff. Incidentally, the only actor who gives so much off camera - he gives more almost than he gives on camera, and I have to say it is a wonderful thing - Al Pacino, because he loves acting so much, he cannot say the lines without acting it. I'm not like that, but it's a beautiful thing - a man who loves actors, acting, just finds it one of the most important things in the world to do. Be inspired by him, because I certainly am."