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.

I am not nor will be an actor. I am a writer of mystery novels, but I took this class because I sensed I could learn about character development from Miss Mirren. That was true, but I learned so much more that will definitely help me shape my stories. Excellent class!

I got lots of good tips and advise from Helen!

Has absolutely helped me become a better actor. Helen is such a wonderful teacher and I am extremely grateful for this website and for Helen for doing this amazing educational masterpiece

When I saw this class, I bowed my head because it was the queen who was talking.


Madeline E.

I've really enjoyed these three lessons on film acting technique, as it's something that is completely new to me which I plan to learn about and develop further, these lessons have been a great starting point for me


Helen Mirren is literally a Queen and she teaches acting as a pro in the most high praised acting schools . I wish I could play opposite hee

A fellow student

Very important pointing out the importance of letting go of vanity and care more about the performance, what you are there for. Real good


Turn the feeling on it's head; this is a brilliant piece of advice! Thank you so much for the fresh perspective.

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 ;)