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Arts & Entertainment

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.

I enjoyed Natalie's class. It was insightful and interesting

That what an amazing Masterclass ! The one I preferred by far from all the ones I watched.

This was just amazing. I learned so much and will take this with me throughout my career in acting.

This was amazing. Would love to see more actors on Masterclass!! loved the behind the scenes and craft of Hollywood.


A fellow student

I love the guidance on using YouTube and documentaries to give you a better sense of your character

A fellow student

Natalie gave me so much to think about in making my character multidimensional...lots of little facets and differences with various people

Bill H.

I just saw "Lucy in the Sky" where she plays an astronaut recently. At the time I noticed a different range in her from her other movies. One thing she did say was not to play a character from a movie. This made me think of Joaquin Phoenix. I could not help but to think that Joaquin Phoenix's Joker was a farther expression of Heath Ledger's Joker, in "The Dark Knight" while watching it for the first time.

A fellow student

I love the idea about asking what the character was like when they are alone because it is what people do when others aren't watching that shapes what they do when others are. Also the fact of using YouTube to see how other people who lived a similar life to the character are and like the environments similar to a character is genius. I always used YouTube for accents and tips and tricks and learning how to do new things but using for figuring out behaviors and other things is genius! This is all very helpful! Thank you for making this class!

JD Mayo

I got to meet Chris Hatfield. Once on Stag Island in Canada. He is a very nice guy. I love watching his videos to. I love her historical character in the movie Cold Mountain. Not to big or to small. It was a perfect character for her acting in that film. I love historical films.

R.G. R.

We shouldn't under estimate the value of looking at real life as a foundation for understanding the character we play


I think it's great advice to ask of any character, "what are they like when they're alone."

Iara L.

Coming into this with some practice in fictional writing, it’s very much rooted in the same ideas for developing a character. I suggest trying both real people and characters you create, it will show you how to get into a deeper perspective.

Inge V.

This was once again so good! My top notes: - “Paint from life. 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.” The character is a real person in a real life. How does this person live? - “Create a character that is influenced by real people in your life. Take note of behaviors that you observe in your personal relationships and apply them to your character.” This makes the character more real. - “Use videos on YouTube for research. It is a fantastic resource for learning about accents, behaviors, and certain skills you might need for a film.” - “When playing a historical figure, learn more through audio and video footage of the character. First-hand accounts of your character’s life will give you a window into their personal experience of historical events. You’ll see what their day-to-day life would’ve been like.” Learning more about how this person lived their life would make it easier to play. - “In your process of developing your character, feel free to get creative. When you are fleshing out the final details of a character, think about what the character is like when she is alone. For this, use your research as a framework, but fill in the details using your imagination.” The character’s real personality will show when she is alone. - “The research you’ve done should be in your bones and settled in your body. This way, the character has a way to live and breathe in you even before you start saying your lines.” When you get into character and start, you should let go of everything and just be the character.


"It's not just the emotional life but physicality". Drawing in from astronauts who has just returned from the space.