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Arts & Entertainment

Working With Writers & Directors

Helen Mirren

Lesson time 23:27 min

Helen advises you on how to create successful relationships with writers and directors, and she shares lessons learned from working with renowned director Robert Altman on the film Gosford Park.

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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You have to be very careful when you're dealing with writers. I won't say dealing with, but in your relationship with a writer. Because a writer has his or her ego. And this is their work. And it might have been a painful process to get this script on the page, or the scene on the page. And they might have put an awful lot effort into it. So you must be very careful with your relationship to that. Sometimes they haven't quite got it right. Or sometimes they've got it completely wrong. But nonetheless, you know what? You agreed to do the role, so it's your job to kind of make sense of it. Some writers want to work with you as an actor, and others don't. And really, you have to judge that. And you have to judge whether it's appropriate or not to approach the writer if the writer is on set. It's always great if the writer is on set, incidentally. And if the writer is on set, go make a relationship. Say hi. Say how much you love their work. That's always a good thing to do. And make a relationship with them, so then you can approach them and say, I'm having a slight problem with this line in this scene. And I'm not quite sure why it's there. Could you maybe help me a little bit with that? So make a relationship with the writer If that's feasible, if that's possible. I would say always treat the writer with respect, because they're on their own mostly, when they work. They're isolated. And they don't know whether this thing is going to fly or not. So I would say, treat a writer with respect, but not so much that you can't contribute. Because in the end, what we do on the screen is an absolute collaboration. The first moment of the inception of this baby that we were all putting out into the world-- it takes its little toddling steps out into the world-- the moment of conception is the writer with his empty page. Then comes the director, and comes the cinematographer, the production designer, the actors, the editor, the music. And all of these elements-- all of them-- in every moment this work of art shifts and changes, gets added to, and morphs into something. And you're all contributing to that. Every one of you. So be conscious of that. That you are a part of a very complicated whole. Sometimes writers, because they have so much to deal with, they haven't quite grasped-- They've got the scene right, but they've actually got it in the wrong order. And you, as an actor, because your job as an actor is to make the mental connections between this word and that word, this speech and that speech, this relationship and that relationship. And we have to consciously make those psychological connections. Great writing-- It's very interesting to me that good writing is really easy to learn. Bad writing is really difficult to learn. Because in good writing, those subconscious, those psychological connect...

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.

It's helped me become more aware as an actor and also I found it to be very informative in terms of film acting.

As a drama school graduate I have to say that a lot what Helen Mirren said was part of my curriculum but she also gave me a different perspective which opened a lot of new opportunities

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

I learnt more than what I was expecting to learn. I had questions answered; Questions that I didn't know I had. A class to recommend!


Dalin G.

I've enjoyed every session. Every coach, director, writer and actor, etc. all work differently on the set. She simply is telling us how she works on set, etc. It is not gospel, but great ideas and suggestions. As an Actor it is up to you to decide how you can best work with those who have hired you to make the best of every project.

A fellow student

To be honest if I was a director I wouldn't want to work with her. I don't need actors rewriting scripts and suggesting to cut scenes.

A fellow student

Good advice for working with a writer. There is a way to approach and to suggest. This is also valuable advice in life. Going through the right channels might soften the blow. Making up the backstory can enrich the character and the story. Be open to the freedom of changes suddenly, but also ask for clarification about something one questions. Changes are in the air and you can contribute.

A fellow student

These tips and lessons are the reasons why Helen is such a wonderful actoress and a wonderful human being. So much respect for her, working with her on films must be an absolutely beautiful experience.

R.G. R.

If an actor is going to be the kind of actor who does approach the director with recommendations on script or scene or any general idea you think might be worthwhile, tact and approach is very important, especially if you are an inexperienced or young actor. Ms. Mirren's examples are interesting and important, but she does have a long career that offers a credibility that a new or young actor might not have at first.

Michael O.

An honest intensive behind the scenes of 2 films re: actor relationship to writer(s) and director on set. Actually you've given us - in this lesson and several previous - the insider's experience behind the scenes. Truly remarkable.

A fellow student

lWhat Helen said, because it's very true. "Respect writers". "A lot of work and effort goes into it". "it's hard work.". Unless you are a writer, especially of fiction, you don't know how much goes into writing. I like how she puts it, that as an actor, you should join forces with them. Point out politely what works better when it comes to acting.


Working with writers and directors is part of being an actor. Everybody is cast and crew.... However, when you take initatives to change or add to a script, you're messing with a creative individual(s). So, learning tactfulness is an art. I like that you fully understood the script and could write a scene. I'm shocked the director added it. It sounded like a brush off was coming for a few seconds there.... Lucky.

Julian S.

Working with writers and directors is always going to be a challenge as an actor. Sometimes we'll see something we don't like and we won't want to do it, but sometimes we'll something that is good and we think we could make it better. Making a few suggestions is all right but pushing the directors might be risky. Finding the proper dialogue within words is time-consuming if anything and it's worth it. If you know how to make a scene flow better by rearranging sentences, you should feel free to be up front about it. And adding to a character to add to the movie will prove beneficial not only for you, but for everyone in the long run. I'll have to watch The Long Good Friday and maybe check to see if the original script is available to see the big differences. I am seeing some of myself in Helen Mirren, though maybe I am being over-presumptuous.

Louanne F.

I just reserved Gosford Park from my local library......the beginning of another film festival of Helen Mirren in the works!