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Arts & Entertainment

Creating Characters

Samuel L. Jackson

Lesson time 20:37 min

Learn how Sam imbues every role with a sense of purpose and complexity of character—even if they only appear on screen for a few minutes. In this lesson, he shares the fundamentals of his characterization process.

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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If there's source material, read it, especially if it's a book. Read a book, because writers tend to give you vital info about who the character is, where he came from, what he does. Sometimes they even try and explain why he's doing it, why he's doing a particular thing. And after you've done that, reread the story again to get the story in your mind. And after you've read that, figure out how you feel about that character and why he's doing those things that he's doing inside that script. And once you think you know why that character is doing those things, then you figure out, OK, where did he come from? Who is he? How old is he? Does he feel that way about this character because he has a brother or sister that is that way? Who are his parents? What's his educational background? Does he have a military background? Did he go to the army? Has he ever been in jail? Is he out of jail? How educated is he? Is he smart, sort of smart, very smart? It's not there. And sometimes you will never have to explain that to an audience or to the other cast members. But it's important to you as a person, because all those kinds of things determine how you feel about people, how you look at them, how you interpret their actions, what your prejudices are toward those people in a particular way. Are they smarter than me? Do I like that? Do I not like that? Is he dumber than me? Am I going to manipulate him because of it? And it's stuff that an audience might, or they probably won't ever know. But for you as the actor, when you're interacting with that character that you think you're smarter than, it interprets how you approach that character and how you accept what they say to you or what you think of it or what you're trying to do. And all those things are dictated by what kind of person I am. And if there's no source material to tell me what kind of person I am, then it's incumbent upon me to create a human being that's inside that story that has a full life, that feels a certain way about things because this happened to him, that happened to him, this didn't happen to him. He didn't have this advantage growing up or he had this advantage. Or he had a woman who left him so he can't relate to women, because he thinks women are all whatever and he just cannot deal with them or he doesn't understand the female psyche. Or his mom did something to him, so he can't handle family life. And he doesn't know how to be a father because he didn't have a father or the father he had had no idea how to treat him or he watched him treat his mother a certain way or didn't do this. All kinds of things that you can make up about that person, but what you need is a whole person, which is something Lloyd Richards imposed upon me, Douglas Turner Ward imposed upon me that says whenever you're onstage, you're coming from somewhere. And you're going som...

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.

Awesome. Practical Tools you can start to use. Thank you Samuel!

This class is very informative and can teach a young actor/ actress just about everything they need to know about acting.

Very interesting and compelling class. I probably don't have what it takes to act and this course has shown me that - but the advice is so good in a general vein anyway. I'm a writer and I feel like everything he said can relate to my work as well. So inspiring and what an opportunity just to listen to a master talk.

I learned how to create depth in a character, and how to make a performance more convincing while using my own variation of a character. I learned what to do when auditioning, and how to approach the business in a professional manner.



Very thorough, methodical, and insightful. This class shows why Samuel L. Jackson is one of the best and favorite actors in Hollywood today.

Stan P.

Enjoyed these insights into Character creation. As an beginning author, I think it will help in creating compelling characters on the written page.

Charlie G.

Hello class, I am a writer and I think this class, with Master Jackson, elevate my skills.

Jo B.

This lesson has really solidified the technique for breaking characters way down to their fundamentals and working them back up into the world that they're set in. I feel far more confident now, having enjoyed this lesson, to build characters from the ground up in my mind and really begin to connect with them, which has been one of my biggest struggles.

A fellow student

thankyou! what a legend you are. I am auditioning for a role right now and will use this to base my research/ prep on.

Antonia T.

Breaking down the character: "What you need is a whole person". Wonderful masterclass. You're so cool, Samuel!

Henry B.

i'm a big fan. and i like mr. j's approach. but they're coming too fast, too general, too abstract. i want to know or to have a little more information. i sense he's got specific examples in mind when he's discussing but i'm not sure. and i'm trying to imagine in order to keep up but then it's something else. i guess it would be good to have examples, maybe even real examples from films, when he's describing these things. it's a little rushed, a little compacted as it is. please slow down. i love you, man.

A fellow student

Great lesson. Did anyone do the assignments that are listed in the workbook? If so, do you have any recommendations on where to find good material to use as an audition piece as required in the first assignment? Thanks for any help. I'm a total newbie to this so not sure where to look in terms of resources. Thanks again.

Jonathan S.

Very informative, and is a great introduction. The fact that actors have the ability to create particular aspects of their character (that's unknown of course) is just awesome!!

Shirleen L.

im amazed at the countless of possibilities and choices he can say in just a couple of seconds! like why would a character do this, or this, or what made him want to do etc. He is just able to effortlessly think of them!