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Arts & Entertainment

Working with Actors: Part 1

Ron Howard

Lesson time 16:02 min

Ron urges you to collaborate with, inspire, and protect your actors. Learn how you can prepare yourself to work with them—and when to trust them to deliver the performance you need.

Ron Howard
Teaches Directing
Ron Howard teaches directing, editing, and storytelling in his exclusive video lessons.


There are a lot of very effective, wonderful directors who make great television shows and great movies that feature wonderful performances, and they don't really know how to talk to actors. They don't really do much. And the reality is if you are meticulous in your casting and you then create an environment where those actors are allowed to bring to the character that which they understand of that character, you have a very, very good chance of having wonderful performances. So as much as I love to modulate, experiment, and collaborate with actors, it is not the most important thing that I do on a day of directing. The most important thing I do is that overview of the story and understanding how to stage it, how to capture it, how to get it within the lens, the frames, that we're trying to create, and create an environment where those actors can give it their best. And then protect them and be there so that if they are moving off in a wrong direction, that's when it's imperative that you have the confidence and the relationship to be able to move in and help. But it's not essential that you lead them. It's essential that you protect them. [MUSIC PLAYING] I'm very lucky, because I have a reputation. Most people know that I was an actor, and so there's an inclination on most actor's part to trust me. So that's a huge advantage. That's always been kind of a building block of my process and my career. So I have a lot of confidence. Still, you do have to begin to build a working relationship and a collaboration, and it begins with discussion. And beginning to understand how the actor relates to the character, and how they relate to what you have to say about the character. Because a director is a powerful figure, and so is the actor, and I don't necessarily mean in terms of status. It's that actor has to take command over that character. You don't want somebody who just hits the marks and says the lines. You want somebody who's trying to inhabit it and bring something to it. You need them to be responsive to directions, so that, you know, if you disagree with a choice, they have the flexibility to give you what it is that you think you're looking for that the script demands. So you need to find this kind of equilibrium, this give and take. Different actors approach things in very different ways, and the sooner you can identify that, you know, without starting some kind of emotional wildfire, the better. Sometimes if actors intellectualize too much, they freeze. And you can over-discuss something, and there are some actors who really need very, very little direction, and they benefit from the simplest of directions. Faster, more pace, slower, just giving them a result, you know, louder. And then there are other actors that if that's the way you directed them, they would feel like puppeted robots and they'd be angry, and they'd feel that you're actually, you know, you're being reductive, and they operate from a psychological pla...

About the Instructor

Ron Howard made his first film in 15 days with $300,000. Today, his movies have grossed over $1.8 billion. In his first-ever online directing class, the Oscar-winning director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind decodes his craft like never before. In lessons and on-set workshops, you’ll learn how to evaluate ideas, work with actors, block scenes, and bring your vision to the screen whether it’s a laptop or an IMAX theater.


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

Great insights, especially on his personal take on things. Super interesting and very informative.

I have an international indie film that I set in motion and this class is a great tool to prepare myself in all aspect of movie making. I LEARNED A LOT!

Thank you. Ron Howard is such a gentleman. And I love each of his movies. This class has some really great insights, and I really like how honest he is about doubts and such, which make me feel "better" about my owns.

This came just at the right time and Ron is perfect for what I am doing. It's as if he is advising on this project. A real blessing! Thanks Ron!


Tamar K.

Thank you! Thank you for acknowledging that all actors are different and valuable. Thank you for being such a leader and a team player at once. Thank you for doing this class. You're exactly whom every actor wants to work with. And I really hope that every future director takes this class and listens closely.

Robert H.

As an actor myself, I can attest to the fact that over direction can kill a great performance. A great director can suggest all he or she wants. A great actor can bring so much to the table. Between the two, a great performance is given.


It seems (not only from this single lesson) that an imitation of life may at least appear to be more multifaceted than Life Itself! This is "the grand illusion" and infinite riddle actually only hinted at here. We're running out of time, so just before this break, I'd like to say this segment has been a real pleasure, and check out my videos (Henry Raymond) on IMDB. We'll be right back.

Matt H.

paused at 3:42 My film experience, the best memory working with different directors, it was Richard Linklater, for a film called Fast Food Nation. Probably the most artistically satisfying memory; the setup, fast food workers in the kitchen, I was the huge loser/slacker. The lines were, I'm trying to convince my scene partner to rob the store with me. I knew the script well, read the book first, then read the script 50 times in the month given to me before the first day of the shoot. I knew it well, and could go either way with this. So I asked the Director as we did a little walkthrough and talked about the scene, I asked him, "How would you like me to play this scene, just a punk kid being stupid and just saying things? you want me to be completely serious about this, and actually try to rob the store? Richard said, "I'll let you decide." That was so cool. So I went very serious about it. My scene partner was the best, award-winning actor Paul Dano. ok...back to the video!

Burak T.

I didn't expect the classes being so intense. The amount of information being relayed is really massive and I need some time to think on the matters to utilize the information. Actually, I had seen a director who was intellectualizing the role to the actors who really looked fed up with unnecessary load of info but not saying anything. However, because they are actors, they didn't need to tell anything, their gestures were enough. Also, I took an acting lesson just for the reason he mentioned. Without knowing how difficult acting is, we could easily distract actor. Overall, great 15 minutes. Thanks.

Pétainguy M.

Very interesting observation about actors freezing the character ... when they intellectualize too much.

Matthew B.

This might be me Sir but I got more experience walking in doors than most so thats why I know i can do this stuff just need some Luck and direction

Joseph N.

ROn's point about the actor giving you the insight or "word" that unlocks a scene is brilliant. Often as a director I feel like I am the one who needs to enlighten the cast but here its apparent that the actor's discovery if what he/she needs to do is electric and so wise. The results will surely be stronger than if the director takes charge and gives it all to them.


I am a hundred years away from being able to work with the caliber of actors who have the kind of power Ron Howard is talking about. As long as the actor is a pro, I have a tendency to be a bit envious of their ability.

J'nee H.

I like the advice of taking an acting class in order to get into the shoes of an actor, speak the language and build the trust.