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.

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Topics include: Understand the Context of Your Shot • Don't Plan Your Performance Too Much • Don't Be Intimidated by Big Stars • Save Your Energy for Your Close-Up • Put It Out There and Let It Go


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...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Helen Mirren

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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