Arts & Entertainment

Finding Your Character

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 12:08 min

Real life is one of Helen’s greatest inspirations—she says it will always be better than anything we can invent. Learn how to find your character in the world around you and the importance of having a secret story that drives you in every role.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Go Out Into the World and Look for Your Character • Pack Tiny Roles With as Much as You Can • Root Fantasy Characters in Backstory • Find Your Secret Message Inside the Story


I find, if I'm playing just a death-- playing death in Collateral Beauty-- that was like, where do I start with that? I know I don't want to wear black, that's first one. And I'm not going to carry a scythe and I don't want a hood. Where do I go from there? So it was very, very difficult to find the image that I felt, and the kind of character, that was right for that role. On the page, it was pretty open-ended. You could go almost in any direction. And luckily, I was in New York at the time, and New York is just so full of extraordinary wonderful characters. And I love just sitting on a bus. And I take the subway because I want to see people. I want to see them. I want to be amongst them. Looking, just watching people. A mantra of mine is, real life is always more interesting than anything we can invent-- always. If you walked out of wherever you are watching this, into the road and stopped the first person you see on the street and asked them about their background and their family, incredible stories will come out. Incredible stories. And then, you will also then, start noticing things about what they're wearing. And who they are. And the way they speak. And so the world is full of characters. And part of our job, as actors, is to reflect the world around us. That's what we do. Human beings have an extraordinary constant fascination with themselves. And how they belong in this world. And how they negotiate this world. And how they negotiate their own brains and their own emotions. So we're fascinated with ourselves. We paint ourselves. We write about ourselves. And we act ourselves. And I think it's fascinating that actors-- actors are profoundly mocked by the media and so forth. In England, we're called "luvvies." It enrages me, that. And actors are thought of as narcissistic. In my experience, actors are the absolute opposite of narcissistic. A tiny, tiny few of them are, but the vast majority, are not. They are not narcissistic people. They are shy people. They are thoughtful people. They are vulnerable people. But they're not narcissistic. They're in it for something else. And the world wants what they're in it for. We want to be told stories. Of course we want to be entertained, it's fantastic. But we also want to be told the more serious stories. The more profoundly reflective stories of who we are. Why we are. And those stories can be told fantastically or poetically or literally, as in docudrama or in the wonderful early Italian films of Visconti and De Sica, and Pasolini. There are so many ways, but we are all in the process of telling the human story. And that's why we are what we are. When you're starting out as an actor or actress-- male or female-- inevitably, the roles that you're offered will be insubstantial. Will not be enough...

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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