Film & TV


Helen Mirren

Lesson time 9:56 min

For Helen, props are an extension of your character. Learn how to use them naturally on camera while also cultivating an awareness of the demands of continuity.

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.
Get All-Access


So I've talked about props being such an important marker of your character. It's as much of a marker of your character as your costume is, or your hair, or your makeup. All of those elements come to build the understanding of this character. Now you've chosen your props. You know, I think for this scene I want a nice little posh teacup. Now get to know your props. Now practice with them. Go on the set when the camera is being set up and the lights are being set up, find yourself a quiet little corner, and just keep practicing with your props over and over and over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. Never go on set and find your prop. You know you have to take the top off, you pull it back, and you go oh my god, look, this is wrong. Learn that the lid goes in this way. Learn, you know, learn what the pour is like if you're pouring something out. And incidentally, this is an important thing about props. Just be conscious of the noise of props. Sound, aren't you pleased that I'm saying this, really? Because if you put your cup down in the middle of your speaking, especially in the middle of someone else speaking, you know, there's this awful noise off camera maybe. Not so bad if it's on camera, but even on camera it can be a pain. So just be aware, especially with cups and saucers. They're incredibly noisy things. So be aware of the sound of your props. But above all, learn your props. Practice with them. Especially if you have to serve food or have some complicated prop thing, really, really practice because it will trip you up otherwise. And especially if you're doing television. You know, television moves this in the speed of light. No one's got the time to wait for you to learn how the clasp on your purse works. They don't have the time. So get your purse. You've got to open it. Open it. Close it. Do it over and over again. Learn if it's awkward, if it's terrible. Also if you have to have props, as you often do, inside something, make sure they're always in the same place. I know where my glasses are. I've got to get them out. I will put them where I want them to be, which in the thing. Now I can get them out. I know exactly where they are. So that's important. Also this-- oh, this is bad. Lighters. As night follows day, a lighter will not work on the first go. I have a very good props person on this film. She's made sure that my lighter does work on the first go, but so often it doesn't. Or if it's worked a million times, it suddenly doesn't work. So you get to know your cigarettes. Also-- if it's cigarettes. You know, investigate all the different ways that you can smoke. You know, this tells one story. You know, I love cigarettes. They're such great props. No wonder they were so popular for so long. The best prop...

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.

The class was great, but I felt that the workbook didn't offer as many downloadable or viewable clips or pdf documents the other classes had.

Helen's style makes acting accessible and she demystifies all those intimidating aspects of working on a set or stage. This was beyond wonderful! Thanks to Helen and the entire MasterClass team for putting together a course with information a student can put into immediate action.

Fantastic class! I learned so much about the art of acting and more broadly, about the art of filmmaking. I highly recommend this experience with Helen Mirren!


A fellow student

I wish I found the honest answer to this. They are talking about continuity, and after the lesson on making sure the lighter works on the first try, the next lesson is the playing with the rope, and here the cigarette she was smoking is on the coffee plate put out. But then, there is the lesson of continuity and all of a sudden she is taking a last drag of the cigarette and putting it out XD And am like, uh, wut? lol probably it was intentional, but I really want to know if it was.

Patrick M.

Does anybody think vapes will ever be able to look cool on screen like cigarettes do in say film noirs or Mad Men?

Carroll S.

Ms. Mirren’s instruction regarding the purpose and use of props is very informative and practical.

A fellow student

love this course....wish she taught more.... or was a professor somewhere. She really knows her stuff, but it's no surprise. She's been acting what? Forty, forty five years? Fifty years? Like she said in an earlier clip, acting is an apprenticeship, it's something you work at, and get better the more you do it. In a way, like writing fiction (and non fiction). You're constantly learning, constantly practicing, becoming more adept at what you do.


Cigarette scenes can be memorable to the moment(s). It is important to be comfortable in the enviroment(s) and use the props. Excellent advice.


I love props but they can be a bother at times. I like how she says to get familiar with them and know where things are inside your bag.

Julian S.

It's amazing how natural behaviour can feel so unnatural. Something as simple as sipping a cup and setting it down becomes an arduous task. One must consider the noise they make when setting the cup down, how much attention they pay to the cup as opposed to the view or their fellow actor on-stage, whether they are enjoying the beverage or not, and most importantly, where said cup should be placed and if/how it will appear in future scenes. Continuity is extremely frustrating but Helen is absolutely right. It is essential to keeping the story on point, regardless of how difficult the scene is. Michael Caine once had to shoot a scene where he was in a burning building and it was so hot that he unbuttoned his shirt. At the end of the shot, they realized that his shirt should not be unbuttoned so they had to reshoot the whole thing. The devil really is in the details.

Kalia D.

"Real life never comes at you straight on like an express train, life comes at you from all angles. It's great when your line, your performance comes obliquely at you - it takes you by surprise. You didn't expect to be saying those words, and suddenly - pop, here they are coming out of your mouth, as these words right now are coming out of my mouth. Sometimes just having something to play with can divert in a right way; it takes you out of the obvious, the straightforward." wow.

Mary J.

The set decorators have made the set so elegant for this episode! Flowers and the blue picture, the typewriter, the lamp in the corner.

Karmen B.

So valuable - all the detailed tips you share with us, dear Helen to allow for the streaming of a great performance while using props. Thank you.