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Arts & Entertainment

Directing Actors

Mira Nair

Lesson time 23:24 min

Learn how to direct both child and adult actors, develop natural and honest chemistry with actors, and incorporate background action.

Mira Nair
Teaches Independent Filmmaking
The Oscar-nominated director teaches her methods for directing powerful performances, maximizing budgets, and bringing authentic stories to life.


I like to create a space in which they are comfortable to take risks, to sometimes make a fool of themselves, to leap into that transparency of showing us what's going on inside. Professional actors can cope with any amount of mayhem around the set. But often, child actors, or non-actors, or new actors to the game cannot. So when I'm asking for something that is really demanding, and emotional, and heartrending, it's about creating a sense of almost a cocoon with the actor, finding whatever they need for them to have the space to listen and to even meditate and contemplate on what has to happen. Oftentimes it's also to do with the relationship with the other actors and creating that sense of safety, you know? David Oyelowo, as Robert Katende the chess coach, was absolutely extraordinary in that quality of almost fatherly love and protection of the children that he played opposite. They still call him "the coach," because he gave us-- he's a father of four. He's an extraordinary father, actually, himself. And there was that safety he provided, and how he would say even things to Medina that he had gone through as an actor to get to where I was asking her to go. So that type of safety, to be able to lean on him, was very valuable for the young actors. So it's about creating that kind of cocoon of safety. It also has to do with love. Again, I'm talking now of child actors, and I'm talking of people who are not professional in every consummate way. But that's what you have to do for certain things. Otherwise, you get a kind of cute performance. You get a kind of cheery, superficial-- something that doesn't plumb your heart. And I think it's to do often with just human connection. Never really do I show them what I want because that does not feel-- that feels sort of limited and borrowed, you know? It's just finding a way to speak to them that will elicit a thought that will help them to get beyond. Each child is different. So the way I speak to each child is particular to that person than to everyone else. First, when we have created an atmosphere of trust, and safety, and, actually, love-- there's no other word for it but that. And the kids know me, know us, know that I'm pretty tough love sister is my nickname "Salaam Bombay!," which means "tough sister." So they know they can't sort of-- I'm not a pushover. They know me, and I know them. So there are various ways to speak to the child actor. One way is to not speak about the situation exactly and directly but to ask them to refer to something that they might have experienced in their own childhood or in their own day, and to actually get them to go to that place. Remember when your father left and you still have not heard from him. I'll only do that if we have that relationship, if we have created that bond-- and which is my duty and my job as the director of a bunch of non-actors who are children-- to create. I have to create that haven, that cocoon, that trust, that f...

About the Instructor

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mira Nair approaches directing with the “heart of a poet and the skin of an elephant,” spurred by rejection and fighting to bring uncompromising stories to film. In the Golden Lion-winning director’s MasterClass, learn to make a big impact on a small budget in film production, evoke the best from actors and nonactors, and protect your creative vision so you tell the story that can only come from you.


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

oh i so so enjoyed this wonderful woman's guidance even though I am a photographer I now get alot more from her to improve my want to pull from people emotion...and seeing how she works all aspects of her craft and the collaborative way in which she works inspires me to better mine. thank you Mira....The Ugandan School looks like a hidden gem!! I will pass it on.

My favorite Masterclass by far. Mira demystified loads of things! Beautiful production as well!

practical wisdom from a master laid out clearly and passionately - no fluff, huge heart.

I am still in aw of how many great films I've loved for years came from Mira Nair. Amazing lessons that only she could teach and for that this was invaluable.


Tracy Twinkie B.

This is a Brilliant well thought out concept. As a Casting Director, I have used some of the tactics with children as Ms.Nair. Now with this last aspect of the Frame and how it tells a story... I love the full frame idea or organized chaos!!! Brilliant

Jason R. F.

I'm looking to take some of these mindsets and transfer them to documentary interviews.

Zulhay G.

So far I have learned so much. Thank you for your honestly through this entire class.

Jon Y.

Child non-actors can be tough to work with and direct, but there's a raw truth in their performance that's very powerful when you connect to them and build that trust (which Mira has alluded to).

A fellow student

My god - an amazing master, intellectual and master. Love her movies, and this peek inside her head with the warmth coming through is worth her weight in gold.


Asking the actor to give what you want as a director, is probably the reason I would not be good at it. Shonda Rhimes talked about her respect for the actor's process. On the other hand, when it came to the task of dealing with actors as a writer she says, "I wouldn't dare tell you how to act. Don't tell me how to write."


I have worked, almost exclusively with professional actors. Perhaps, because I was never successful as an actor myself, I am almost in awe of a good performance. I would probably have someone else do the casting, because I am too easily charmed by competent acting performances, even if the actor is not right for the role.

Franco E.

There’s so much to unpack here, way beyond simply directing actors. What a great lesson. The anecdotes really drive it home as well.

R.G. R.

This is one of the best and most important lectures on directing that I have ever heard. Her insights have opened my eyes to an array of what it means to be a director under different circumstances (children, well-known actors and directing background action) and has also confirmed what I have done in my own directorial experience, especially her insights on dealing with children who are inexperienced (or even those who are).


I love that she talks about activities, like chess with the children and others in different scenes. One of the first lesson I remember as an actor, was to really do what the character is supposed to do, unless it would harm myself or another person. It always helped me to stay true and honest to the role.