Film & TV

Getting to Know Your Character

Natalie Portman

Lesson time 07:28 min

To fully embody a character, you first need to gain a thorough understanding of what makes them tick. Natalie teaches you how to dig for illuminating details, create a personal timeline, and analyze influential relationships.

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 reminded me of things that I hadn't thought about in a while. Natalie Portman is one of my favourite actresses and it was so refreshing to see her talk about her passion with such light.

I loved this Masterclass! I an a grad student studying acting. I always need more tools to help me be the most creative in building and being a character. I feel I have learned new tools for my acting, and new tools for how to be a working actor! Thank you Natalie Portman!

I wanted to see this class mostly out of curiosity.. I liked to see the perspective of an actress and how she sees her job on the inside.

Great advice from a great actress. I deeply admire Natalie as an actress and as a person. Let empathy rule the world!!



I took this class because I wanted to find out how actors approach their characters. I'm a songwriter and metal(head) guitarist but some of my lyrics evolve into possible storylines. So, drilling down and trying to making the characters as believable as possible. I've always respected Natalie Portman's roles and I hope to see how she approaches her craft and makes them real to keep moving the narrative forward.

Mary R.

Specificity through simplicity. Appreciated the easy to digest information. It allowed me to reflect on what things are in my processes of character development already and which ones could use some deepening.

Callie M.

I'm a writer, and I signed up for MasterClass to learn from authors. But these tips about getting to know your character apply equally to writing. On film, on the stage, or on paper, the better you know a character, the easier it is to make them believable and relatable.

Whitney P.

I love how she explains not judging your character, but I think maybe an add on to that would be also not judging other people around you. You can learn a lot about people and pick up characteristics by observing without judgement. This doesn't mean agreeing with everything they do, but simply understanding why people do what they do. Great Lesson!

Nowa C.

Great insight on developing your character through the relationships you have with the other characters and by developing unique qualities about your character that might not be explicitly laid out in the events of the script. It's all details I had initially thought I would need to do but never had anyone articulate it this way or even introduce and make an attempt to elaborate on these concepts so I didn't know if I was over complicating the craft and process of acting. But with insight, I feel so emboldened. Thank you Natalie.

Gabriela S.

I love how simple yet educational the lesson is. I feel like I can really resonate w Natalie and take what she says and make it my own at the same time.

Mia S.

"You need to look to look at your character in the way they see themselves, in the way other people see them, in the way they know other people see them, in the way they want other people to see them, how they are with different people, because we're all different in different situations with different people - we play different roles in our own lives. You're different with your boyfriend than you are with your mom, than you are with your kid, than you are with your friend, than you are with a stranger. If there are three or four main relationships that my character has in the movie, I will create different pages for them in my notebook that will be, 'This is my relationship with this character, with that, with this person. And think of all of the different elements that go into a relationship, and the feelings towards each other, and the specific dynamics of that relationship, because I think that's a really important way to find nuance in a character. The more details about a character's psyche, the better - and the more specific and the more unusual, because a lot of the things that go through our minds are not just the big category classifications that we would normally put on a person - like, that they're upbeat, or they're pessimistic, or they're really focused and serious, or they're very free-wheeling and loosey-goosey. It's more specific; What is the thing that really upsets them? Or what's their pet peeve, what's the thing that scares them the most? What are the kinds of people that they're attracted to? What is their desire? Desire is kind of like at the root of everything. What do they desire, what gives them pleasure? And finding details like that give you very specific insights that I think give you a key into a personality, versus, 'Oh, she's a very stuck-up character,' or 'she's a very rigid person,' or 'she's an alcoholic.' Those kind of general categories aren't as helpful as finding the very specific, 'there's only one person like this' kind of details. You need to be able to step into any character's shoes and not judge them. You need to be able to really think the way they do, and I think most people don't define themselves as bad people - so even if they're doing bad things, to them, it feels justified. You need to find reasons for all the things that you do in the story, even if the things in the story are not things that you would do in real life. And if you really can't get to that, you shouldn't be doing the part. I feel like it's not something you should do if you really can't get into the justification of the character."

Mia S.

"Your role as an actor is to try and understand your character, and what your character goes through. and what your character is within the film as a whole. I like to take my script sometimes - choose just the scenes that I'm in, and make a chronological sort of list of when the scenes happen in time, so I have a sort of timeline of my character. And of course, a lot of movies don't happen in sequence, a lot of scripts don't happen in sequence, so putting them in chronological order so you can kind of understand when things happen, and then you can kind of choose moments and name moments specifically when there is a shift, when there is a change in the character. And you can try and find one large shift over the movie, like if you had to say what change this character undergoes from the beginning to the end of the movie, or multiple changes - what are the overarching changes? And then what are the steps in those changes that you can name, like 'This is the scene where she finds her voice for the first time. This is the scene where she rejects her parents for the first time,' and then you see this overall shift from girl to woman. Also, it's important to only talk about the scenes that you're in because your character doesn't know what's happening when they're not there. So if two other characters are plotting about your character, and your character doesn't know, you shouldn't be including that in your arc. Again, not every story is conducive to this kind of work. Sometimes there isn't a change in the character. Sometimes it's like a character piece and you're just kind of presenting who this person is, and they're not changing. They're the same throughout and this is irrelevant in terms of them changing as a person, but it can help give you a kind of map of what happens to the character, what the character is doing, how you can show different sides, and how you can have variation so you're not just watching the same thing for two hours."

Mia S.

"Because I started so young, I, first of all, understood that no one expected me to have a lot of knowledge or a lot of technique, which allowed me to always feel like I was learning, and continue. Now, I still feel like it's OK for me to be taking in something new - anew technique, a new process, idea of how to work. I think that everyone around you is a potential teacher and you can get so much from when you see someone doing something you like, meshing it into what you do. Also starting really young, I think I learned that making mistakes is not just OK - it's the best thing. And the biggest thing is just not to be afraid. You can't be afraid, you can't be self-conscious, you can't be embarrassed. The whole point is to try things and just make it all about exploring - explore yourself, the inner lives of other people, and finding the joy in that."

A fellow student

Wow this lesson is amazing. I'm finding everything Natalie is saying so applicable to a character I am working on at the moment. I'm starting to answer the questions or trying to find the answers within me or the script to find those finer details beyond "she's a stuck up character" and not judging the character is something that I've never been taught to think about that I think is so important. Love it.