Film & TV

Helen’s Journey in the Theater

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 8:50 min

Helen talks about the beginning of her career and the events that inspired her to become an actress, from an amateur production of Hamlet to a variety show in her hometown.

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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I lived in a town that was like the British equivalent of Coney Island. So it was a seasidey place for people to go and have fun at the weekends, get drunk, put a funny hat on, have a fight, throw up, and go home. And that was a great night out. Anyway, it was that kind of town, and we had the longest pier in the world. And at the end of the pier they had a show. And I remember the name of the show. It was called Out of the Blue. And I was taken to see this show when I was about-- I guess I was about 7 or 8, something like that. And this show started. It was a variety show. And they had a comedian who was-- I just thought at the age of seven-- was just the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life. I literally remember falling off my seat with laughter. And then the dancing girls came on. And they had-- I'll never forget-- they had blue chiffon-- again, it was all about the costume. They had blue chiffon scarves and pink chiffon scarves. And they came on, and they floated their scarves around. And I was absolutely entranced. I went home on the train down the longest pier in the world after the show just feeling that a whole new world had opened up for me-- the world of entertainment if you like, the world of a darkened space with a group of people watching something where they're quiet, and they are transformed by it. They laugh, they clap. And that whole process just seemed to me just the most wonderful, magical thing. My mother took me to an amateur production of Hamlet which was, I'm sure, an extremely panned production. It was probably laughable, if a professional went to see it. But I wasn't a professional. I was a 12, 13-year-old girl and exposed for the first time to the world of imagination, and the world of drama, and the world of storytelling through drama. And it was a cataclysmic experience for me. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the romance of it, the beauty of the passion of it, the fantasy, the extremeness of it, coming out of my very dull, little world-- if you like-- that I lived in, very lacking in drama so to be exposed to these extraordinary characters and the language, even the language that I didn't at the time really understand. But I could tell there was something extraordinary in this language. My two great inspirations as an actor was an end of the pier show-- variety show-- and one of the greatest plays by the greatest playwright ever. But I think that that really indicates A, the breadth of what is available for us to do, and the fact that we shouldn't be snobby about any of it. Because it all feeds into that same filling up the empty space. That is a part of the great tapestry of what is available to us as actors. And I've always approached all of my work with the same kind of attitude, whether I'm doing Red or doing The Tempest. You're telling stories. You are entertaining. You are transporting people. And never ...

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'm a writer and I'm very thankful to all her insights about acting that can have an impact on me as a writer.

It's just wonderful to hear her voice. She's a gentle and compassionate speaker.

I have been blessed with the gift of her generosity in sharing a lifetime of experience. A treasure of knowledge for the young actors out there. Thank you!!!!

Improved greatly after 1/2 way. She moves her hands a lot.


Ana F.

Según Helen, los actores cuentan historias, y es verdad, pueden contar las historias con tal pasión que involucran a la audiencia y hacen que ellos se sumerjan en las vidas de los personajes, en otras épocas, en lugares remotos.

A fellow student

This is meant to be an acting masterclass not an autobiography. Let’s hope lesson 3 picks up

Mary S.

My first memories of acting were black and white television shows in the 1950’s. I was mesmerized as a child of the characters, plots, locations, costumes, etc. I remember the first television show I saw in color was at a friend’s house in the late 1950’s with all of us glued around the TV set. My friend’s father sold TVs, and they were the first in this small town of 1500 people in central Illinois to have a color TV set. Shortly after that my parents bought our first color TV. But it’s this first show in color that still sticks with me. I cannot remember the name of the TV show but my memory of all of the colors still sticks with me. The colors made the show come alive and entered into my imagination of other realities. In retrospect the colors were rather garish and harsh but have seeing black and white TV shows for so long this was amazing. I was around 9 or 10 years old. To this day colors are mesmerizing. Which is probably why I do not care for black and white shows.

Karina I.

I really love how she talked about what she was in college for and her transition toward acting as her career. I am currently a senior and I am on board to be a teacher as well, but there has always been that instinct in me to act. I know I can't just go off and try to get an agent- I need money first. It's refreshing to see peoples' unique paths. And I will linger on the question myself.


This besson was very insightful. Imagination indeed takes us very far and is the basis of everything.

Carrie B.

I am delighted , I would like to meet you in person over dinner lunch a walk something enjoyable

A fellow student

Cool and interesting to know how actors begin their careers and how they develop. Its a gradual process

Sarah W. first theatre experience. My Grandma took me to see Beauty and the Beast back in April, 1996 for a late birthday present. I would have been 9. It was the most magical experience ever and I've never forgotten the sheer wonder and amazement of it all. I was completely transported. I raved about it every day for a good year long. Ever since then I've wanted to be part of it and I did for a little while in my childhood and teen years at local theatres, then stopped in my later teens when studies became too demanding. The passion has never left me and it's only now at 32 I've decided it's about time I did something about it. This is the first step.

A fellow student

This gives me hope. I just started acting and me being 22, I felt alone and late to this but you have given me so much hope and enlightenment!!

Ana H.

I think that when you keep in mind that you are transporting people, you instantly develop a responsibility that is to create a place to transport the audience to. The only way you can do that is through actually creating life, you have to believe this place exists and live inside it.