From Helen Mirren's MasterClass

Helen’s Journey in the Theater

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.

Topics include: Showgirls and Shakespeare • Early Training and Opportunities • Learning to Swim at The Royal Shakespeare Company


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.

Topics include: Showgirls and Shakespeare • Early Training and Opportunities • Learning to Swim at The Royal Shakespeare Company

Helen Mirren

Teaches Acting

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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.

Helen Mirren is an absolute acting darling! She transfers to the students the absolute and utter need for naturalism, and most of all, the need to embrace human qualities and emotions; to not run away nor be scared from them, but rather, to be thankful for them. This class is worth every penny!

Amazing she was very informative and she appealed to a lot of us who make things more than they are

Helen Mirren is fabulous! She has presented her masterclass masterfully. I can't tell you what I have learned without writing an essay. I am so grateful for such an amazing, inspiring, enlightening, insightful class. Thank you Masterclass for creating this.

The MasterClass helped me gain more confidence in trusting my instincts. I don't have a lot of formal training, so I tend to "feel" my way through roles (after doing the work to build/connect with characters). Helen has a great balance between humility and confidence, and that is the kind of actor I want to be.



There was a time when all I wanted to do was acting. After a ton of frustration, lacking the ability to do a cold read, and not being able to project, I walked away from performing. I am visiting this class because I want to see what I missed.


For Lesson 1. Intended naturalness leads to unnaturalness or natural-less. Helen pointed out exactly the core of difficulty in acting. And actually this is what I did in the short term acting workshop I took the other day. Naturally the instructors did not like my acting at all. This put me in the starting position of learning how to act.

Patricia B.

I am always intrigued to hear how actors get their start. It usually seems to be something random that ends up catapulting them!

Mary R.

I love Helen's approachable and generous spirit with the material. Most appreciated the words about entertaining and transporting the audience through storytelling.


Beginning this masterclass experience with Hellen Mirren. I love the open honesty. As actors, we do have a critical eye....the jealous creatures gave me a giggle. Something I have learned is also to accept critical thinking and opinion on my work and use it to grow

A fellow student

This is very first On-line Video I m about learn for how to acting ! is just what I wonder ! how to walk natural ! merci dear Beloved Helen . I buy this master class because of you ! And it s open a new for me .

Vickie R.

Funny. Helen just reminded me of the time I performed in an amateur production of the song "Lemon Tree...Very Pretty," in our garage in front of the entire neighborhood. No wonder why the neighbors can't stand me. (Kidding). I had NO fear back then at a very young age and was game for anything. I then tried out at 15 for the school cheerleading squad and again NO fear of performing in front of a live audience. But at 20, that's when the fear and stage fright took hold and I butchered my cheerleading try outs at the local college here in Northridge. Stopped right in the middle of the routine which I knew by heart and simply forgot and froze and just stood there. It was so surreal and so unlike me to do that. Ever since I have not been able to give speeches or get up in front of a live audience. Don't know what triggered the stage fright in my later years but from what I hear I was a RIOT as a kid and the voted the Class Clown at my celeb studded highschool, until some jealous guy named JD got angry that he didn't make Class Clown and basically DETHRONED me!!!! True story. I think he bribed the school judges to take away the Class Clown title from me.

Kathleen L.

In a way my journey began much like Dame Helen's. During the summer between second and third grade (I was just about to turn 8) my mother took me to see Marlon Brando and James Mason in "Julius Caesar." I was horrified by the assassination, but heartbroken when Brutus died. I hated Mark Antony with the fire of a thousand suns! Of course the brilliant performances of the actors had everything to do with these feelings. Then during the school year my third grade class went to a student concert at the University of Arizona. For the event we had to learn to sing an English translation of The Triumphal March from "Aida." The student dance company also performed, and it was all very grand. At least my 8-year-old self thought so! I have loved opera and musical theater ever since.

Brexton O.

The first time I saw a live acting performance that genuinely moved me was when I saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at my high school. The actress who played Olive was amazing. During one of the scenes when she sang about her parents I teared up and the person next to me started full on crying. That person next to me ended up becoming my best friend and it felt very special when I found out a few weeks later that both him and I had made it into the same Repertory acting class that the actress who played Olive was in. That's what I think is so amazing about theatre and acting, that a performance can make an audience member feel emotion so intensely.


Lesson 2 : Great Honesty. We ARE a strange race of jealous but loving creatures, we thespians! Great advice, to watch and learn with adoration BUT with a critical eye. I would have liked a little more depth into HOW Helen worked on her roles, a greater explanation into her mention of the "Mantra" technique and I am hoping this will be covered in more detail later. Helen makes it sound very easy. She auditioned and was accepted and was also invited to join wonderful establishments - clearly great testament to her talent and her character - but many audition for years before winning these opportunities and some never win even though they too have great qualities. I wonder if it may be better to tell us of her experiences, yes, but also address more broadly? And, I'm afraid, I found some comments unnecessary in this lesson that will not further the education intended - with the risk of sounding "snobby", also remember that there are amateurs - both good and bad - that will find some Professional work "laughable". Looking forward to the next lesson.