Chapter 16 of 28 from Helen Mirren

Human Behavior


Learn the essential human behaviors and aspects of the human experience you’ll need in your toolbox throughout your acting career.

Topics include: Surprises • Physical Pain • Nudity • Sex • Sleep • Being Drunk • Dying

Learn the essential human behaviors and aspects of the human experience you’ll need in your toolbox throughout your acting career.

Topics include: Surprises • Physical Pain • Nudity • Sex • Sleep • Being Drunk • Dying

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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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.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This course was insightful and worth the hours put into completing it.

Great insight from a wonderful actress. Will definitely improve my craft as a writer and director.

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

Helen Mirren is wonderful and her class was amazing! If life wasn't so busy, I would have finished her Masterclass in a heartbeat! It was so helpful and informative. I can't wait for acting opportunities of my own to practice the skills I've learned.


R.G. R.

Excellent pointed and reality-based advice for all of the activities she discusses.

Julian S.

Human behaviour is so important because of how natural it is. What surprises us in real life may not have the same effect on stage or on set but we have to pretend it does. We have to recreate that feeling and make it real. Just like in a fight, we have to believe we are getting beat up. Daredevil provides a great example of realistic fighting. In the Hallway Fight of season 1, the protagonist fights eight mobsters and wins, but he doesn't do it like it's easy. As the drags on, he gets more beaten and more tired, as do his opponents, to the point that they can barely stand. In fact, the effort was so intense that the actors actually got tired from the shoot. With Nudity, Game of Thrones takes the cake. In fact, nearly every main character in that series gets naked at least once, some of them at least five times. There are more sex scenes then there are fight scenes. And that's not even counting the amount of scenes with nude characters. Rape scenes included. In fact, I feel that is something that should be touched upon. Even if it's not real, rape scenes probably feel very uncomfortable because they're supposed to. I can't speak from experience but I bet that is the kind of scene that younger actors are particularly weary about. Love scenes can be difficult too, especially if you are not attracted to the person on set with you. Yet you have to make it real. Sleep feels easier, though again I wouldn't know. It would be waking up that has to be the challenge. It's not just about closing and opening your eyes (unless you are faking it in-character). I did do one scene in an amateur production where I was told to wake up as if I was drowning and coming up for air. It was simple enough, but it took effort to make it convincing. Being drunk is definitely something I'll need to experience in real life before I can master it in film. I am not strictly a non-alcoholic but I dislike beer and I have only ever gotten drunk once in my life. I do know that when one is stone-cold drunk, they are practically numb. They won't react to much, which is why they can crash on the floor without even groaning. Dying is probably something that actors will have to get used to, as well as Extras. All those battle scenes where a character appears on screen for a few seconds before getting gunned down, gets me thinking how many times they've had to perform them. An actor may not fall right, or they may twitch after "dying" and those movements can ruin everything. Which is probably why gory scenes are easier, because the actor is no longer required... just a few plastic limbs with red paint.

book E.

I was impressed by Kathy Bates skinny dips in a hot tub in the movie About Schmidt (2002). She was full nude getting into the hot tub. Jack Nicholson was already soaking and quite the gentleman with her scene. She was totally professional and did not seem embarrassed or shy about her body.

Antoinetta V.

truthfully, I am doing this on the side and I love it! It brings me in a different world, if only for those 15 minutes before sleeping time, on e world that would have fit me if my constellation would have been different. Thanks Helen.


Very funny stuff here about the sex scenes. It had never occurred to me before but pretending to die is probably difficult. It's not just about holding your breath. Although that certainly helps make it look more realistic. I swear I've noticed an actor's chest rise and fall although the doctor's just pronounced him dead.

Julia F.

It is great that she has done a lesson just for human behaviour because often actors exaggerate at things like this, I found. Wonderful lesson, as always, I could listen for hours to Helen!

Kathy M.

One of my pet peeves is the cliche scene where a person wakes up, sees no one is next to them, then they reach out and touch the pillow just to make sure. The audience can see they are alone in bed— Don't touch the pillow!

A fellow student

I have done a couple sex scenes in my life and they are probably the hardest thing I've done in film. They are incredibly NOT sexy, awkward and un-natural and I applaud the people who are willing to do it.

Natalie U.

Thank you Helen for teaching this class! When she was discussing Drunkenness, it made me think of some main states of Drunkenness: 1) Happy 2) Sleepy 3) Angry Obviously, there would be variations of the persona in a drunken state and the intent of the lines the character has. I believe there is a phrase for drunken words are sober truths. Is the character saying something they normally wouldn't say when they are sober? Or the Drunkenness to avoid a certain truth in their life, or even a device for other characters in the scene to reunite against this drunken character? Enjoying the class. Makes you think!

Conlan S.

Isn't it sad that even a great actress like Helen Mirren considers pornographic sex scenes perfectly alright? Every sex or nude scene I have ever heard of or seen is completely pointless. They take totally away from the artistry of the movie and are simply meant to "arouse."


Being surprised in close-up or this kind of shot over and over again-- oh! Cut. Action. [GASPS] Oh! Cut. Action. [GASPS] Oh! You start feeling like an absolute tit, actually. But you know, there you go. You just have to do your best. And incidentally, if you're finding yourself running out of steam, I don't think there's anything wrong with getting the help of someone to go [CLAPS],, you know, do something that will get a reaction from you. And incidentally, also sometimes when you're off camera and you're realizing, like the actor has to act surprised at your entrance, but he's on camera, you're off camera, it's great to help the actor on camera out by doing something that literally surprises them. And then you get a real reaction on camera, which you off camera have made happen. But that's an act of generosity that you can give another actor. And I think you should. I think it's part of your job, really, to do that as much as you can. I did a fight scene in The Debt. We called it the geriatric fight scene. But it was a fight scene that we had to-- and we worked with a stunt man to do this scene, a wonderful stunt man. He did the naked fight in-- was it Eastern Promises, the film with Viggo Mortensen-- in a wonderful, wonderful naked fight sequence. And fight sequences, which men in general have to do more than women, but women do occasionally. And you work with a stunt person. Listen to the stunt person. Just do what they tell you to do, because they know what they're talking about. Well actually, I say that, but actually, sometimes stunt people, because they are stunt people, you know, they know how to sell a punch. You know, boom. But because they're not actors, sometimes they oversell it. And you have to pull it back, pull-- you know, it's not uh, you know, it's like uh. Do you know what I mean? A stunt person sometimes oversells, and it becomes too physicalized. And you have to bring it back to reality a little bit. But this stunt guy was brilliant. And he taught me-- because so often you see in fight sequences, you know, people get punched, and then they come back and they're, like, perfectly normal. And that always annoys me when I see that. And he said, you know, this hurts. I think it was-- it was a stab in the shoulder. And he said, everything in your body goes into paralysis from the pain. And so often, you see people stabbed and stabbed, and they go, oh, oh, I'm stabbed, but they sort of carry on. He said, everything stops. So I've really played that-- just your whole body has gone into paralysis from the pain of this thing in your shoulder. So I think it's quite important to be as realistic as you can. I mean, certain movies there's not the time or the inclination to be realistic about this kind of stuff. You know, in action type movies. But if there is the space ...