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Arts & Entertainment

Physical Characterization

Samuel L. Jackson

Lesson time 12:33 min

Sam dives deep into the myriad ways actors can use their bodies to reflect their characters’ personalities. Learn how to use posture, gait, voice, and physical appearance to add complexity to your characters.

Samuel L. Jackson
Teaches Acting
One of the most successful actors of our generation teaches you how to elevate your acting.
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When you're creating characters, I mean aside from all that background crap that I'd, you know, throw in there that nobody knows about or cares about, there are things that you want to make a character different in some way aside from doing something to your face. My agent and managers had a real problem with me for a couple of years because I like to scar myself, and they were like, stop putting scars on your face. We like the way you look. You know and in the beginning when I first started doing movies I think early on in my career Laurence Olivier died. So Laurence Olivier died and I was sitting at home and his obituary came on. When they were talking about him and they put his face up on the screen, and as they talked about him they morphed through all these different characters that he'd done on screen. And I was sitting there going wow, look at that. So that was the beginning of me and my hair, my hair career. You know my wig making. Doing all the different hair styles and ways that I could change my look through hair. And the other way you change yourself is through the physical movement of a character. How they move in terms of how they feel about themselves or do they have any infirmities or we've all known people who have different gates and all kinds of things. When I did 187 and I was playing a school teacher because I had been around school teachers all my life. All I had to do was kind of amalgamate the school teachers that I knew and create this teacher who had a fear of students after he'd been stabbed in school. Being an upright nerdy kind of guy I decided to make him slew foot. And he walked upright in a specific way with his feet like that. And he wobbled when he walked. With his glasses, and he pushed his glasses up on his face a lot. So that was him. In Time to Kill, that was my grandfather and his brothers. These old, country dudes that work the land, work a hard job, pigeon toed, kind of stooped, arms loose, loping kind of swaying from side to side. You know, kind of a hangdog look. Always, always got that analyzation face on when they look at you. Brow wrinkled because they listening to you, but thinking something. You know there's that guy. Wow. Shaft. Shaft because Shaft attacks the world so fists clenched a lot. Walking upright, chest out, aggressive, leaning forward, into the wind, into every thing that's coming at him. Elijah in Unbreakable had a specific disease that-- I talked to people who had that disease. And I talk to parents with kids who had it. It's really crazy and kind of insane disease that you know, they have to, they have to think about the kind of covers that they sleep under because if you pull you pull the covers up when you turn over you can break your ankle. You know, you can just snap your ankle when you turn over and pull the cover too tight or whatever. Or two people...

Get into Character

As a kid, Samuel L. Jackson stuttered so badly that he stopped talking for almost a year. Today he’s one of the world’s most successful actors, with roles in over 100 films, including Pulp Fiction and The Avengers. In his online acting class, the Oscar-nominated star shares how he creates memorable characters, powerful performances, and a long-lasting career. Learn to master auditions, analyze scripts, and find the truth in every role you play.


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

Great advice not just for acting, but for living your life in general.

I'm a director and I know I will be better now I have a better understanding to my aprouch to make film's and how to get the best out of my actors Thanks Sam One day I would love to work with you. One night I was at them Emmy doing a interview with Kream Iadd jabbar

Okay, so now I'm impressed. I suspect I'm still having trouble separating the actor from the roles. And that's MY problem.

I like all of the tips and wisdom Samuel Jackson gives us. He does swear a lot so be forewarned if you're not used to that. He focuses on some scenes.


Katherine W.

I really appreciate this idea of changing yourself in as many ways as you can--through appearance, through physicality, through skills, what have you. That whole idea really excites me. (Side note--it really is amazing how many skills an actor can acquire by taking on different roles. You really can become a jack of all trades.)

Emilio B.

Im young, I have been two years in theatre plays, with a teacher who claims himself as a professional, learned nothing. With Mr. Jackson I have learned so much in 30 min. WOW, no wonder why he is one of the bests.

Tiffany P.

Definitely is so important to make sure the character you are playing is remembered and known to the audience who they are playing. Good to know that if you can, you should take advantage of being able to make your character as extra as possible


Learned so much from this lesson. It further delved in to what i have learned. The use of actions and tactics, what your character wants and how they will get there. Also the given circumstances, the who, what, when and where. It is so important to know your character inside and out, and focus on your scene partner/audience. Loved this!

Antonia T.

Wow. So many tips. Such an incredible actor! Change yourself as much as you can and make the character as real as you can.

A fellow student

One essential point I took from this lesson was If its ab interesting occupation your character has don't be afraid to explore it.

A fellow student

There is no such thing as a bad character just different ways of thinking or living.

tuphr N.

This class really makes sense to me and is engaging, because Sam is an Actor who takes roles seriously like a true adherent to his Art. You can see it onscreen when Actors don't do what he's explaining, about knowing your character inside out, and it's only the great Actors that people remember the performances of, who do this.

QueenLashae S.

The way he explains everything in making/defining a character, can be incorporated in how we define/critique our own character. Bravo Mr. Jackson!!!

A fellow student

This is an awesome class! I’m finally on the road to my career as an actor! Thank you Samuel L Jackson!!!!!