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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.

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.


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...

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.

This has been the most AMAZING masterclass!! So generous, so deep!! I'm NOT an actor--and of course admire Ms. Mirren, I'm an artist, a painter--but this has been a reality changing experience for me. So grateful. Thank you to this great great actor.

I loved this masterclass! Helen is so relatable, it felt like a chat with a friend. She is so interesting to watch,

Fascinating to hear about Helen Mirren's approach to her work and especially in the attention to the minutiae of detail of every aspect of acting

Thank you Masterclass and thank you Helen. I enjoyed the helpful, well-rounded acting lessons, especially Helen's notes on Shakespeare.


Alexander S.

I think she's an extraordinary person and I love learning from her. So much she says is so on point. So far I especially loved the Shakespeare lessons. Just as small constructive-meant feedback: It would've been wonderful if we could've read the passages from the Shakespeare plays with her. Maybe have the text somewhere beside her on the screen. Just as an idea for next time. ;)

A fellow student

Building the character on a solid foundation, even if it is a small role. Giving texture to the person by developing the back story in one's own mind. So much more than memorizing the lines.

Madeline E.

A lot of the content in this lesson had been echoed from previous lessons, but I still found it useful all the same

Charlie P.

very repetitive. She's spoken extensively about gaining a deep understanding for Shakespeare's language in several other segments. She read Prospero's speech (from The Tempest) out of The Merchant of Venice. Continuity!!!

A fellow student

Many of us want to tell a story through acting or writing, but it has to be meaningful. Think about the level of authenticity it has to have. Is it a story worth telling or is it not. The complexity of real people is what you want to portray.

Bianca A.

I find it fascinating to see how Helen’s words just fall into place with our journey, how we are all wanting to tell our story and we have all we need out there in the world... beautiful lesson, thank you

Patricia L.

TY, Helen. I have to go and strut my 10 line "lady at a wedding" (GLADYS) audition today. This chapter helped tremendously. After an acting hiatus of many years, I have to regain, establish my precious confidence. I shall rely on that strong substructure that is mine uniquely.

Allie G.

I thoroughly enjoy her perspectives. Very articulate. A great teacher. I love the 'how do I play Death ?'

A fellow student

Great lesson. It's very much like novel writing. You are telling a story on pieces of paper, rather than a stage/screen. As Helen said. you are finding the complexity of people. Their psychology, their background, their wishes, their likes, their desires/ dreams, etc. Even what they fear, what they struggle with, who/what they hate and human evilness can be examined on film/stage and on paper. These types of communication vessels can be scaled to look at an individual or as a bigger picture at society/time in history as a whole. Both of them can be vessels of philosophical meaning as well.


Once again, The Great and Extraordinary Helen Mirren, guides us all within her deeply personal journey [and pattern] of granting "voice" to any character that--initially--exists upon the page. ---She presents to us, the first steps toward bringing said character to life.