Film & TV

Film Acting Technique, Part 3

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 17:38 min

Learn how to drop into character right before a take, how to stay grounded in your process, and how to give your best performance amid the distractions on set.

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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Be patient with other people's process. Every actor has a different process. Some are very noisy on the set and very funny, and they have to make a lot of noise, and they have to shout. Other actors have to be really quiet and really silent in the corner. And why isn't he talking to me? What? Did I do something wrong? Everyone has a different rhythm. Some actors need a lot of takes to get to the essence of what they are going to do. Other actors do it in the first moment. Some actors need really quiet concentration before they work. I worked with an actor once who-- every time before a take, he would start telling a story or start on a joke, which he knew he wasn't going to get to the end of that joke on action. So literally, on turnover, he'd start telling the story, and then action, and then he'd drop the joke and start acting. And maybe that was his way. It was very distracting for me. It was really annoying. But because I'm the other sort of actor, I want to quietly concentrate. But it was his way of doing it. So you have to find-- you have to learn to work with other people. I think what's very important also to understand-- when you're in the middle of a performance, be it in a film or on the stage, you know you're on a train that you can't get off. In the theater, 7:30, curtain goes up, you've got to do it. On a film, on television, turn over, action-- you've got to do it. And sometimes there are elements that are just pissing you off or that are making life difficult for you. It's incredibly hot, or it's cold, or an actor is annoying you, or there's something that is really making you feel uncomfortable. My only advice there is to use it. Just incorporate it into your performance, as we do in real life. If something is kind of annoying us-- oh, this chair is so uncomfortable-- whatever it is, just use it. Incorporate it into your performance. I learned this very clearly once a long time ago. I was doing a play in the theater, and the actor I was playing opposite, and I was supposed to in the play be madly insanely in love with, to the extent that I was going to give up everything for him, everything, and basically sacrifice in the end my life for him-- I couldn't stand him. He just really, really annoyed me, and I found him physically unattractive-- repulsive, actually. And I just couldn't not express this. And we did a run-through quite late on. We'd rehearsed it, and we did this run-through. And a very, very astute actor came up to me at the end of the run-through. He was playing quite a small role, but he was a darling. And I've always thanked him for this. He came up to me and said, I know what's going on. I understand, and I can see, because I can see how you feel about him. You're showing it in your performance. He said, just use it. Just everything that you find unattrac...

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.

Master Class is a very useful took for many dreamers out in the world and MasterClass has given me the ability to learn and prosper on my schedule. The fact that I am learning from experience, its online which makes it very practical, and the asignments given all in all make learning on Master Class an fantastic experience!

Great advice from an actress who lives her performances rather than 'acts' them. Her passion and genuineness is greatly inspiring. Worth the watch!

So far so good. I like her simplicity & authenticity. I am seeing how she is connecting with me, eventhough she is speaking to lights in the dark

I took this class simply as a writer to learn character development from an accomplished character actress and not disappointed. Excellent teaching — love her style (and accent). I've included my class notes in the HUB encouraging other writers to consider her class from a writers POV.


Michael O.

The Periscope Queen, ta-da! Bow and arrow each line! Oh I see, I'll just banana in that scene. This lesson just what the doctor ordered. A true blue pick-me-up. The source is to rediscover childlike (dog-like) innocence, while juggling technique. Every element of this lesson was a gem of whit, charm and wisdom.


Group dynamics is just amazing. Learning to deal with varied personalities is part of team work and that is an imperative in any workplace. Keeping focus on yourself and your character is important for the actor... Regardless of how small or big a role. Great advice to play psychology on yourself for everything to work together, not just for the actor, but for the sake of the cast & crew. Great lesson.



Louanne F.

Loved the idea that there is a difference between performing for the camera and really acting!

Kalia D.

I love how she can be so utterly in awe with other people and their talents. I also noticed she never talks about directors and other people in charge, although they often leave a memorable impression on the actor, to say the least. But how can you gain expertise, technique and skill, if you never evaluate your performance - in a mirror or on film? What you feel intensely might look unintelligible or awkward when filmed. It's nice to hear how each actor has his own peculiar habits and talents.

Julian S.

A lot to digest in this segment. Working with other actors can be fun but it can also be frustrating. People sometimes have certain tics that they just do as a way of calming themselves. I can imagine I might have the opposite problem as well, because I have certain things I that I do to ease into the role. Certain costumes, props and/or scenes can also be annoying to put up with. You might find what you're doing to be in stark contrast of your own beliefs. So you have to own it. You can't stop and complain about it, so love it. Love what you hate. You will still hate it but you make it look like you love it in your own way. With takes, if you have to keep repeating the same process, that can be very tough to deal with. Especially if the scene is an emotional one which requires building up your energy. So take breaks, let yourself cool and refresh what you did. Don't be quick. When I was performing a scene, I realized that I could only keep going higher in emotion. So I did. Now regarding the babies and the dogs: I agree. I always found my attention more focused on these two types. Because what they do is entirely natural. They cannot bark or cry on our command. Not really. They are just right there and nothing more. That kind of presence is impossible to replicate yet it doesn't mean we can't try. Of course, this ties in with studying performances. You want to be natural, you want it to fit perfectly, but how will you know? Well I have constantly studied my monologues after performing them. Admittedly, I see what Helen means by getting stuck on technicalities but if you watch for the things that you know you can avoid such as the breathing at the wrong times and the blinking of the eyes. Watch what makes you uncomfortable, what words throw you off. Now the good side bad side, I think is relative. If you have a certain scar that makes you seem unattractive, maybe best not to show it. Or maybe you do show it, because that side of your face is more interesting. Otherwise, no, there is no good or bad side of your face, nothing that cannot be fixed with lightning and makeup. Now the biggest lesson that is mentioned here is something I will take to heart: there is a difference between performing and acting. You can recite all the words, you can angle yourself perfectly with the camera, you can keep your eyes in place, perform all the cues to the letter. But if you have no emotion to it, than you are just going through the motions. And that is not acting. There is no creativity, no imagination. So yeah, when it comes to acting, there are no rules beyond the rules you set for yourselves. Otherwise, don't argue with the director unless you are a superstar like Helen Mirren ;)

Victor H.

I really enjoyed the whole film acting section but part three here was my favorite. Really insightful stuff & also made me chuckle a lot. I loved her description of how one can technically accomplish performing on camera without actually acting. I think for a lot of us who were trained in the theater, we have to learn this technique; which can be frustrating initially but hopefully in the end we bring more depth to our performances.

Flavella L.

So much great advice, I feel I have experienced a lot of these situations as a dancer and this is really helpfull stage mother wisdom. How to handle these situation, from understanding that other artists are processing there own preparation as much as I am, in there own way makes me feel less intense about how much preparation I do. After performing for many years as a dancer, I felt my true self and my other true creation self that is a transformational process are very different. I was getting all, no one can meet me, they can only see my creation character, to just be yourself is the advice I needed to hear. The star struck advice brilliant. ❤❤❤

Jim P.

Letting go. So difficult, yet so necessary. Great food for thought indeed.


Everyone has different​ rhythm. Everything that makes you feel uncomfortable... opens yourself up to it, and love that flaw, that will turn the feeling in your head! To concentrate, overcome all the distraction, or play with it and make it part of the element. Professionalism: do it the same every time. Don't watch yourself and be overly technical, let go vanity! There are no rules, anything is possible!