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.

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

Topics include: Create a Cocoon of Safety for Your Actor • Child Actors: Reach Each Child Individually • Combining Non-Actors and Actors: Take Away the Ego • Work to Keep It Fresh and Honest • Create a Natural Dynamic • Professional Actors: Ask for What You’re Not Getting • Direct Background Action


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.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Mira Nair

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

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