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Arts & Entertainment

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 improve very much in acting I know the technique now . In early stage iam confused about what is mean by acting and how iam going to act in front of camera. Thanks to Helen mirren .Giving details to very little thing in acting

So far so good. I like her simplicity & authenticity. I am seeing how she is connecting with me, eventhough she is speaking to lights in the dark

I really enjoyed hearing all of the tips for each stage of acting. This master class really made me aware of how every element of filming is important to creating a great piece of art. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Brilliant introductions to analytical thinking in regards to theatre and film. So much insight into reading and involving oneself in script.


Maryam L.

It was absolutely fascinating to know a person's inspirations when it comes to any form of art. I think that it was amazing how thinking about seeing her first production at the age of seven made her smile as she told it. Speaking about never forgetting your first inspiration, and how acting can become something more to you is a great lesson.


What am I supposed to learn from this? I'm already interested in acting, otherwise I wouldn't be watching this video. I'm not interested in dreamy reflections and pontifications. Where is the educational content?

A fellow student

I too was enthralled with theater whether live, movies, or at school. I was smiling when I heard her talk of her early feelings about theater. Me too!

Jessica B.

I loved hearing about Helen's fascination with "Shakespeare and the Showgirls" as a young girl! So interesting that she studied to become a teacher initially, also. Loving the videos thus far!

Allen M.

Very interesting to hear her talk about her initial experiences, and the range available to actors. Although I have gone on to act in a wide range of shows, including some Shakespeare, my very first stage experience was performing "Who's On First" in a high school talent show. And it was such an incredible feeling to both feed off of and contribute to the audience energy. So it was nice to hear her reference both a variety show and Shakespeare as her initial exposures.

Mia P.

This lesson was fascinating. Hearing Helen's story was incredibly inspiring and hearing how she began her career gave me a boost of confidence. I will never forget my first theater experience, and the time of my life where I really began to fall in love with acting, and I am always fascinated to hear other people's stories. There is nothing more difficult than beginning your acting career, but once you start you can't stop. I can't wait for the rest of the lessons!

Cider G.

My father was an amateur actor. I think my first play would have been one he was performing in. I think it was Blood Brothers, the non-musical version. I remember snippets of going to see it very clearly, although I must have been very young, 8 or 9 at the time, maybe younger. I remember being fascinated by my father being a different person from who he was at home, by him being up on stage and the lights. I also remember waving at him when he came on the stage and one time, he did a sly little wave back. I would imagine it was my father’s passion for storytelling in all forms that inspired me to want to act too

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.