Film & TV

Developing Your Character Through Research

Natalie Portman

Lesson time 07:43 min

Real-life resources are invaluable for developing your character. Natalie explains how historical research, documentaries, and even YouTube videos can help you understand your character’s motivations and behavior.

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.

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

I really enjoyed this tuition. Many great points to think about and take on board. My only suggestion would be to include more actual footage from films the actor has been in, and anaor at least, more on set movement / instruction etc.

Natalie is obviously a great actress and I think she did a great overall job of trying to cover all aspects of acting. I work in casting and it was also very helpful to me.

Was good but seems it's more suitable for someone who's already acting..


Arianna A.

love how she gives us questions and points to draw off of and make conclusions on our own while still guiding us through it and making sure we're doing the most productive things to get the most out of our character. mwah.


Wow. Most of this i did not know. It's really useful. Thank you, Nathalie and Masterclass!

Allison F.

I love all her lessons. They are incredibly insightful, detailed and very interesting, My vocation is primarily as a writer and storyteller and I work in 6 genres, however I spent a good deal of my life in performance. These lessons are incredibly valuable to my writing process. Natalie is very detailed, clear and concise and I resonate to that.

Mary R.

What I loved about this lesson was the boost in confidence I received listening to her character development process. Having a similar process in research, this gave my self-doubt reason to relax and moving forward now, a more solid trust in my process. Thank you!

Mia S.

"When you're playing a historical character, you obviously want to be faithful to the things you know. And the things that you don't know are where you can be inventive. So you see where you have latitude, and you are faithful. In my interpretation, that's what you do, that you're faithful to facts that are established, and then find these sort of in-between moments of what they were like alone, maybe it's not well-documented for a public figure; did they have a problem with their sibling, or did they have some interesting thing going on in their relationship that is maybe suggested but not confirmed in the research? You can get a lot of great details from the research that you find, and then you can also find a lot of substance for your imagination and what you can't find when - what you don't have details for. When you do all of that research and all of that work ahead of time, then it's just in your bones so that when you're creating, you can really feel like it's almost just coming out of you - that it naturally kind of flows. I think the big message for you is that you just do as much research, and thinking about it as you can ahead of time, and then once you start, you just let go and you feel free. It's in you."

Mia S.

"When you're approaching a real-life historical character, you're so lucky because you have very obvious research to do. There's usually quite a bit of reading you can do about the character; there's often - if it's a more recent character, you can get audio or video footage of these characters, so there's a lot to draw on. When you're in a moment, it's very different than looking back on it. Things are just happening. And so you have to remember that when you're in the moment, it's different than the way we might look back on a historical moment - just as in our lives right now, it seems like daily life, but might be written about as these kind of huge events that are happening, once they're able to be framed in a particular way. Reading accounts - first-person accounts - of what people feel, or what their daily routine is like, can inform a lot. In 'Jane Got a Gun,' when I was looking at the Western women's diaries, or in 'Boleyn,' when I was reading historical accounts of what that life was like, and the courtship with the king, and how you'd maidservants doing particular tasks for you. Those kinds of details can give you clues as to what that character in that particular time would be like, and what their physicality would be, because it's not just their emotional life - it's also playing women in different periods and the restrictions on women in different periods, whether you would cover your body or be really free and open, and all of those little details have to do with a larger cultural expectation too. So figuring that piece out, the historical moment, the cultural expectation on your character, is also a piece of it."

Mia S.

"Terrence Malick said to me this like, van Gogh thing of like, 'Paint from life' - that you don't want to be doing a version of a character you saw in a movie. You're not making a movie influenced by other movies. You're making a movie influenced by life, you're making a character influenced by a human, and you want to think about particular people you know and make it as human as possible. You can be playing a medieval character that reminds you of your mom's best friend, and you can take elements of her behavior and bring it into that character. I find that very helpful if you can identify a person you know that shares some sort of characteristics with the character you're playing, and you kind of think of them and channel them while you're doing it. Sometimes you can actually use specific documentaries to inform a character. For example, I just did a film called 'Vox Lux,' where I play a contemporary pop star. So I watched - luckily, there's lots of documentaries out there about contemporary pop stars; I watched the one about Katy Perry, about Lady Gaga, the older one about Madonna. And I found things, details in there that I used. For example, the fact that there's always this kind of group around them, that they're almost never alone. There's always people around you, always people kind of taking care of you - emotionally, what that does to a person. Details like, Madonna's almost always sucking a lozenge in 'Truth or Dare,' and that was something I brought into 'Vox Lux' - the paranoia about your voice; taking naps in the makeup chair. There are little details you can steal like that for a character. YouTube is a delightful resource for actors, because you an find anything and everything you need, from accents to behaviors to how to learn a skill. You can really find everything you want. So I'm about to play an astronaut, and the movie takes place largely after she returns from space, and I think that a lot of the character's psyche has to do with how she's adjusting to being back. Of course, I can't go to space, so Chris Hadfield does all these great videos of the kind of magic things in space that are actually kind of part of the daily routine, and so that's really, really helpful; brushing your teeth or preparing food, to imagine that you're doing that many times a day, and then coming back - and everything you do during the day has less magic, and sort of building up the life before and the life now is completely something that I'm working on based on YouTube."

Kristine K.

I like the way she taught about research...she just said it. Sometimes teachers can get too wordy but Natalie said just what needed to be said. lol I think I got too wordy just now. Great lesson!

Nastasia M.

I love the article about the process the different actors have. Doing all the research which seems almost beside the script. Then using the script, but really focusing on the other person, playing off of them. Don't turn long passages into speeches.


research creates imagination which can come forth ib how brings forth the eternal spirit of the character.