Film & TV

Developing Your Character's Physicality

Natalie Portman

Lesson time 10:00 min

To develop your character, you will need to use your body. Natalie teaches you how to find the right movements and physical exercises, as well as how to use wardrobe and makeup, to embody the role.

Natalie Portman
Teaches Acting
Oscar-winning actor Natalie Portman shares the techniques at the heart of her acting process—and teaches you how to tackle your next role.
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Make every role extraordinary

Natalie Portman began acting professionally at 12 and won an Oscar before she turned 30. As a self-taught actor, she uses personal techniques to create compelling, complex characters. In her first-ever acting class, Natalie shows how empathy is at the core of every great performance, how to bring real-life details into every role, and how to build your own creative process. Get ready for your breakout performance.


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

it was a deep insight of a practical world out there and what are the situations you face while shooting, and how to work on those, all in all I had a brilliant experience!

It's no much more emotion and being in hour body than thinking.

The Course was Amazing and informative. Natalie is a great human and I am Glad I got to learn not just Acting but being a good Human over all!

For me the best learnings: on set your acting in an environment of sensitivity. make everyone feel comfortable


Martin T.

Loving Nat's comments re her nails in Vox Lux and her Jackie O's heels.. Brilliant character details. Cheers Natalie.

George C.

I really like how Natalie is in row of seats, it's really comforting and makes it feel like we're part of a discussion. Great start to your masterclass. I hope to work with you one day.

Dan U.

Nathalie Portman’s teachings should be studied on a repeated basis as much of it carries over to other artistic endeavors such as writing novels, short stories and music genres.she is very clearly in the least very knowledgeable especially for her age and very pleasant....maybe even beautiful in a cautious sense. Her creativity and understanding of her craft is most impressive again for her years. She is dynamite working with gifted actors and directors and others that seek to guide actors. Let’s find out more.

Mia S.

"There are many things that you can bring - for example, the last film I did, 'Vox Lux,' I chose to have nails, kind of big nails, and it just had this effect on the way I used my hands as a character - that all of a sudden she became a character that talks with her hands all the time, which is a very specific physical thing for a person to do. I was definitely informed by the fact that I got these nails, and all of a sudden, it was like a prop that I could use. There are little details like that that you can pull in from your wardrobe, hair, and makeup, that help inform the way that you move. On 'Jackie,' we had this scene where I'm going through the cemetery, through Arlington, to chose the location of JFK's plot. In the scene, I was wearing these heels that were just part of the character, wasn't really planned, and it happened to be a very rainy day, and so the soil was really soft and of course as I was walking through it, I was sinking into it with the heels, and it created this drama. It was unexpected, but because of the heels and falling into it, it had this sort of physical instability and that was a great example of something that happened by accident that actually was a wonderful accident that allowed for physicality that related to the emotions of the scene. There are things like that that are really beautiful - beautiful accidents, physically - that are some of my favorite things to watch in other movies."

Mia S.

"Hair, makeup, wardrobe gives you a lot of feedback that you are this person that you're playing. There's all of these psych studies about how, when you just physically are in a position, it makes you feel a different way. Like, if you hold a pencil in your teeth, it makes you feel happier just because your body's sending signals to your brain, like, 'I'm smiling,' even though it has nothing to do with smiling. It's a similar thing when you look in the mirror and you see yourself as another character; it kind of gives you the feedback that you are this different person, that you're not yourself. And of course, you physically feel different - you're wearing shoes that are not the same shoes as you would normally have; you might have hair falling on your face in a different way than you usually do, so you physically feel very different and people respond to you differently. I remember being blonde for the first time in a character, and the different reactions from people was so extreme that it informed the character in a lot of ways. So you really can get a lot of feedback just in the way you view yourself and in the way other people view you by changing your look. For a period film, if you're wearing a corset, it, of course, affects your posture, and that's actually a really helpful thing if you are doing something that you're going to be wearing a corset, to wear it in rehearsals to start getting used to it, because that can really affect how you breathe, where your voice is located, and of course, how you move. Or if you have a dress as opposed to trousers, it can give you opportunities to move in certain ways, but also limit you in other ways of how you are able to navigate a space."

Mia S.

"There's always beautiful ways you can move; moving with the camera, if the camera is fluid, is another way that you can physically affect how the audience will be experiencing the character. Of course, how frontal you are versus how much you're hiding yourself while you're speaking, and also how you are interacting with your fellow actors because, of course, how close or how far you get when you're with them, and how you touch them, how you gesture with them can say a lot. There's a lot of physical ways you can show the relationship between different characters as well. The things that I notice are things that surprise me - the things that are choices that I wouldn't obviously make, or that I wouldn't have thought of myself. And the in-between moments - the moments that are probably not written down in the dialogue, or in the actions, in the script - that are the inventions of the actor, that kind of inform you what you can invent and what you can bring to your work that isn't just performing what's on the page. Always finding something interesting physically in between the spaces that you're speaking, and then in between those moments, you find something that your character might be doing. There's people who have repetitive tics, people who kind of are always doing that sort of thing; girls that are like constantly doing things with their hair. Or it can actually be movement. I think the more you create, the more you're emotionally engaged with the material, and it just reads."

Mia S.

"Start from the emotions with a character to define the physicality when it's not specific to something like a dancer or a fighter that has a very clear physical necessity of what you're going to do. For example, the character in 'Brothers' that I played was a military wife in this community, and I felt like she would be someone who went running every day, someone who was trying to let go of a lot of tension because her husband is presumed killed in action. She's obviously dealing with this new, young widowhood, and I imagined that that was her way of letting this tension out. And so that informed sort of what I was doing personally to have the sort of physical appearance for the film and also gave that sort of physicality a tension and an emotional connection to the rest of the film. When I was doing Anne Boleyn for example, that was a person who I felt was very controlling, and very calculated, and needed a sense of order in her life. During that time I was doing Ashtanga yoga that I felt was very related to that sort of mindset of control, and order, rigidity. So you can kind of choose things like that that can have to do with your training, in terms of what your body actually looks like for the role. There's so much in physicality that informs the emotions, and also emotions that inform the physicality. You always have to remember, often the camera's right here, the way you move with your body is such a big part of expressing the character's personality, expressing their emotion, and expressing the way they enter the world. Then there's just the physicality of, How does your character enter a room? And this can be different at different times, of course - depending on their mood, depending on the person they're with, on what kind of room it is, if it's a space they're familiar with or not familiar with, if it's people they're familiar with or not. Those are all questions you should be asking about. There's how a character moves - whether they're confident, whether they're more self-conscious, how you move through a space, how you assert yourself, where you lead from in your body when you walk. If you're someone who enters a room and wants everyone to look at them, or is entering a room and wants to hide and not have anyone pay attention - that is all defined by what your character wants when they go into a situation, how they want people to look at them, how they want people to react to them, and how they feel inside themselves. So you can kind of pick and choose those things to inform. And think about what part of your body you're leading with when you enter a space."

Tracy D.

I'm a writer, so I work in a different creative field, but Natalie's advice on how to develop and show a multi-faceted character is unusually helpful. Thank you!

A fellow student

This is my third master in acting. I think this one will be my favorite. My main concern is can i memorize the script? Right now i am writing even a play. Thank you for your lessons master Natalie Portman.

Stanley K.

I am a little head of schedule for myself studying this lesson, but wanted to get ahead. I am already working on movements a little. Troy, from 3 Kings is soldier, so I made an attempt to contact my instructor Paul Pax (retired) from Special Forces (he was the instructor for Special Forces, Green Beret, Navy Seals, and Rangers [hand to hand & other training too]) I started training on my own again in Muy Thai and Silat, what they use in Special Forces and other elite units. I thought since my character was friends with Archie Gates, Special Forces, he may have taught him some hand to hand combat, each part of the military uses different martial arts. I have a scarf I started to wear, too. Archie Gates trained them in tactics in one scene... Scarf fighting is something Silat uses. So thought that would help me think more like my character some. I sent out some other emails to people, too, for advising (a U.S. Rep., Paul Pax, and some past/present Presidential staff), I hope to hear back soon. I signed up for DOD and DOJ reports years ago. Those help a lot, always, trying to stay current with DOD and DOJ email.... I did a research paper about POWs in college, (for my Narco Terrorism teacher at WSU, Professor Erin Sanders, I think saw her in that movie "DoomsDay" from England she cute, smart, and talented, it looked like she got the main role... not sure though, I have no idea what she is up too) so I am trying to check up on my report I did, at the same time. My grandfather's friend is a POW/MIA from the Korean War & my character got captured at one point and became a POW, so this character is making think of him a lot, Milton Lawson(POW/MIA) from my college research paper and grandfathers friend. Watching a lot of youtube videos and reading reports. I hope for some phone interviews and emails, too. I will get back to more movements, soon, I might check Air Soft competitions, for tactics and gun research. I am still working on last lesson...... I will probably get some camo or black cargo pants. I am happy too see I am working some this on my own, ahead of schedule. I may check out if I am doing anything else early, as well. I like seeing I am on the same wave length, bettering myself and learning this.