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Arts & Entertainment

Working with Actors: Part 2

Ron Howard

Lesson time 12:38 min

Learn why Ron always looks for moments where an actor’s instinct brings emotional truth to a scene.

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


Whenever possible, I really prefer to build on what the actors' instinct naturally is. It kind of gets back again to that six of one, half a dozen of another idea. When an actor is executing a move or an approach to a line of dialogue or any performance choice, if it's something that just kind of comes organically from them, that they understand it on a very honest level, a personal level. And I love building on those moments when they coincide with the needs of the scene. And that's my job. And whenever I can find those things to use, I really make a point of it because I want them to also know that I'm trying to connect this to sort of a truth, an honesty that they can build on. I think it sends the right signal to the actor that they're the collaborator as well. And the other thing is it's also a show of respect. And when you're going very, very quickly, sometimes you have to pre-block it, and hopefully, the actors understand. But they're not creating as much then. They're executing the director's plan. And great actors, proficient actors, they need to be able to do that and they all can. But you're not making artists of them. You're not inviting them to express themselves, to make creative choices and contributions that they understand. And I think the more you can create that environment where they're participating in developing the choices, I just think there's an intrinsic value in that that audiences are ultimately going to appreciate. Trying to manage an ensemble can be very, very tricky. Because often, if you get three actors going in a scene, they may not all approach the work the same way. They may not find their stride in the scene in the same way. You may have one actor who is very improvisational and another one who depends so much on thorough preparation. And as a director, you need to understand that. That's another value of rehearsing. And sometimes during the prep, I'm talking to an actor, I will say privately, I'll ask, do you have a pattern? Do you feel like that you benefit from more takes and you get better as it goes along? Or do you find that you feel like your best work is generally in the first few takes and then you get stale? And I can work with that answer either way sometimes. But the mere fact that you had the respect and the foresight to ask is meaningful to an actor. But sometimes I'll go into a scene, and knowing that actor A tends to peak early, and actor B benefits from doing a few extra takes, becoming a little more comfortable, seeing with the other actors are doing. So that means that I might do something like start with the coverage, the tightest shots on actor A first, right away. And then go to the wide shot. And then come back around and start covering actor B, because that's given actor B ten or twelve takes to sort of work with the scene and learn it. But you caught actor A early wh...

Direct your story

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.

It was informative and the sharing of ideas was inspiring. I was a little disappointed in the lack of more technical aspects.

Thank you for taking the time to educate, inspire, and influence us in a grand way. This was amazingly wonderful to listen to your vast knowledge of filmmaking.

Masterclass give me a sense of directing scenes on stage. Really interesting ways for captcha coverage and how to explore the actors performances by the camera. The idea of always ask, share and discuss things with time is so much important, and see that he really cares about it....very refresh!

I was very surprised by this class. Of all the directors that you have currently as teachers, I believe that Ron is the best for people starting out.


Launa B.

Would like to know what was the most difficult scene Ron Howard remembers acting in??

Launa B.

"Actors need to be creating and not just executing" never really considered it in that light. Very good insight.

A fellow student

Disappointing. One of a film director's primary functions is working with actors, getting their best performances, yet Ron (who was once an actor) says he doesn't work with actors that much. In the lessons on working with actors he gives a lot of useful advice so I was looking forward to seeing how he really works with actors, how he develops the characters and the relationships and guides them through the scene as they each pursue their (character's) individual goals. But then, when he finally has actors to work with there is no discussion of the characters, or of the scene. He doesn't even ask the actors for their perspective of the characters. Sad. All he does is allow the actors to find their own staging (which was pretty flat) and then focus most of the time on how he wants to shot it. In other words, there is no "working with the actors" and no "directing the actors" other than result directing.


On the set the Director has the final say. But today I realised for the first time that dealing with actors - each having their own style and ego - is a balancing act of mega proportions. Bringing it all together is not without hiccups. I always had respect for Ron Howard as a Director, only now it has doubled. Definitely one of my favourite lessons so far.

Joseph C.

Ron goes pretty well into a great discussion into actors communication traits and adjusting to each needs, be like a chameleon change with each actors. As a new director I studied acting for one year because I wanted to know the language and things that an actors goes through, I already did what Ron suggested therefore he supported(I use this next word lightly "validated") agree with my decision to study acting.

Dawn C.

I loved this lesson. I never really thought about how actors differ in peaking early or later. I definitely am an early performer. I usually get cast in emotional roles because I am able to cry on cue. I find if I’m crying a lot I get dehydrated after numerous takes, so it’s very important that EVERYONE is ready for the scene. It’s not difficult for me to cry repeatedly at the same spot numerous times, it’s just my tear production gets depleted after about 6 takes of profuse crying. He is correct after being emotional it’s exhausting and I appreciate that he is aware of that fact. Asking actors about there patterns is a fantastic idea. It’s also comforting to know that as an actor when you have that uneasiness about “did they get what they really needed” is a normal feeling. I find myself so lost in the character that I’m in the zone and block about the crew. The scene is done and I start, that went by quickly, did I say everything I was supposed to say? Great lesson.

Deborah S.

The physical differences one might feel as an actor compared to a director were spot on. I particularly enjoy the hands on approach Mr. Howard takes. The positive and emotional trust he places not only on himself- but my gut is telling me everyone involved with any of his films. I say this because he has a reputation for caring and feeling right along with any member of his crew, no matter how small the job. It truly takes a team to get a job done-but-to get a job done well, it takes loving what you do and how much you enjoy developing not only yourself, but everyone else along for the ride.

A fellow student

I love how he sets it up to get the most out of them and how to shift to get there with them.

Charles B.

I like this asking people how they work. I often got it right on the first take, and then things get worse for several tens of takes and then out around 70 takes I get good again.

mark L.

Great hearing how an actor works with actors. I love the idea of asking actors about their patterns.