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Arts & Entertainment

Playing a Real Character

Natalie Portman

Lesson time 07:33 min

Playing a historical figure requires intensive research into both the private and public sides of your character. Natalie discusses how she stays true to the facts about her character while leaving room for invention and creativity.

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.

Total newb - opened my eyes to so much. Thank you!

So much information that i was able to take down as notes to focus on as an actor and pursuing my career!

Natalie Portman did such an amazing job with this masterclass!

The class has helped me understand the process and the mechanics that go into acting :)


A fellow student

While being true to history, the actor has freedom to invent and create based on what she knows from historic sources...not just replaying history.

Noel H.

Natalie, I have found your suggestions very helpful. Not only will they help my acting, but I will use your techniques in my music performance, as well as in my writing. Thank you. (5 Stars Lessons).

Shawn L.

Video kept stopping before it officially ended with an error code “video is bad or can’t play on my browser.” Weird because I’ve watched the previous videos without any problem.


There are a few "real" characters I've played, and hands-down the hardest one was Judas Iscariot (the apostle who betrayed Christ). As far as doing my research on him, what was interesting was actually how *little* information I found on him, because the Bible is the only main source I had. So he was an apostle, he was a thief, and he betrayed Christ ... and that's most of what we know. But then I found one thing on him (according to some scholars) ... which was that some scholars believe Judas originally was a zealot, which was someone who had actually been looking forward to the coming of Christ (a Christ who he thought would overthrow the Roman Empire). And when that didn't happen (and I'm not starting a religious discussion; what I'm saying is that this guy was a hard guy to find information on as to why he may have done what he did and why). It was one of those things where he may have actually been a man who had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah only to learn that what he had planned and hoped for in his mind was not the person he expected. So the only angle I could think to take was that he felt so betrayed in his own heart and fell into a place of pure hatred that he went into a self-consumed darkness that led him to meet what he felt to be a betrayal in his own heart (betrayal by God) with his own betrayal. So I played him as a person who was very calculating and cunning and just very hateful. Now one scene that was not in that particular production was that after Judas got his way, he was eventually filled with complete remorse. But anyway, the point I'm making is that Natalie teaches a very valuable thing when it comes to doing your homework on real life characters. I direct way more than I act, and one thing I will say is this ... whether you're a big name actor or you're not in the pubic eye, one of the greatest gifts you can give to a director is when you take time to do your own homework. And I also want you to really pay attention to her when she talks about the fact that every director is different. She also nails something straight on the head when she talks about a director in her lessons ... "There was this one director who worked different with each actor." As directors are different, actors too come from their each individual walk of life, and one thing I promise is that during the collaboration process, taking time to do homework is good :-) Your thoughts?

A fellow student

I really wish that more time had been taken in the preparation of these classes. These people are masters of their craft and they provide remarkable insights, but it becomes very obvious that a lot of this is completely off the cuff. With a name like masterclass it tends to lead one to believe that this would be a class type of setting with a structured lesson plan. And I'm not saying that this needs to be stuffy but that the lessons are well-thought-out and that we're getting the most thoroughly thought-out version of these lessons. I appreciate that these people are busy and there probably wasn't a lot of time to take from them but I do very much get the sense from these lessons that most of what's being said on camera is off the cough and not pre-prepared. I would be much more curious to see what insights they could share if they took the time to prepare beforehand.

Lydia P.

I love the insight about playing a real person. And the part about the 'complications' was awesome! It must have been such a strange feeling to know that you were part of something so traumatic and then not fully remember it. The layers that brings is amazing. I've never thought of a situation in those terms and it has definitely changed the way I look at, not only life, but also the way I'll approach scenes in the future. Great lesson.

Nowa C.

Something that Natalie doesn't mention in this video but just sort of dawned on me is reading biographies to get real human histories in written form, that plays with the imaginative process in a different way than watching documentaries would so that it gives you a sort of repertoire of experiences to pull from when trying to flesh out your own creative ideas of your fictional character's back stories. Just really great lesson!

Aditya C.

Wow I am blown away by the class and the insights Natalie has about her acting process.I am really loving the journey..

Matthew B.

Great Job on Jackie ! You were the perfect choice for the Role and delivered. Notebook getting bigger


She was amazing as Jackie.Id love to collaborate with her someday.We do allow ourselves to dream right.That would be great