Chapter 2 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Helen’s Journey in the Theater

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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

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

Oscar, Golden Globe, Emmy, and Tony winner Helen Mirren is one of the greatest actresses of our time. In her first online class, she discusses the dualism that is core to her method: the necessity for mastering technique (craft) and then letting go so that your imagination can take over (art). Learn how to break down a script, research characters, and master techniques so you can transcend them to find freedom in every role.

Helen brings you behind the scenes to show you the secrets of her acting technique.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with lesson recaps and supplemental materials.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Helen will also critique select student work.

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Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren Teaches Acting