Helen Mirren’s acting masterclass is a wonderful way to learn how to become a better actor. It provides an amazing insight into the world of an Oscar-winning actor.
Helen Mirren’s Teaching Style
Refreshingly, Helen encourages her students to do the exercises she provides record themselves and upload those recordings. You don’t have to do it, but doing it opens up the chance to get constructive feedback from your classmates.
As you can see from my full masterclass.com review one of the extras you get with virtually every class is something called “office hours”. Using this resource you can ask your instructor, in this case, Helen Mirren, direct questions.
Helen has actually taken the time to reply to each question. How long ago those questions were asked and answered is not clear. But, the important thing is that students have got answers. The same is true of the questions asked in the comments section.
How to tap into the power of the masterclass.com film and TV forum
When you take this course, you immediately gain access to the Masterclasses Film and TV forum. This is a very, very active community group, which appears to be being used every day. So, potentially you can get pose questions there too. One question got 58 answers in just 2 days. So, help is definitely close at hand.
Lessons from Helen Mirren’s theatre career
Before Helen became a TV and film actress, she worked mainly in theatre. For many years, she was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), in the UK. She has had a long and varied career, including a short stint spent traveling to African hamlets performing contemporary theatre.
It was fascinating listening to how her love for acting was born. But, if you are in a bit of a hurry you can skip video 2 and get straight into the theater acting tips in video 3. Here is a summary of the skills you will learn about there:
- Why and how to train your voice
- How to take control when on stage
- How to accept who you are and use it to become a wonderful actor
- Why you need to own your physicality
- How to decide what acting skill to focus on next
Her acting masterclass is full of surprises, for example, Helen Mirren reveals that she is a little ambivalent about drama classes. She feels that training the voice is more important, at least initially. So, her advice is to learn that skill at an early stage in your career.
How to choose the right roles for you
Selecting the right roles makes a huge difference to how successful you will be, in the long term. Initially, you will need the money and experience, so will have to take on most of the jobs you are offered. But, at some point, you need to stop taking whatever comes along and be selective.
Helen explains how to assess within minutes whether the character you are being asked to play is significant. You do not have to read the entire script to be able to do so.
She also covers the audition process in considerable detail.
Breaking down a script and learning it
Helen’s method for breaking down a script is genius. It is so much clearer than any I have come across before.
Often, your first thoughts about what is on the page are the most insightful. So, you need to capture those impressions and ideas. Helen shows you an effective way to do exactly that.
Breaking down and working with a long script, requires a special skill set. Helen shows her acting students the approach she took to get ready to film the TV series Prime Suspect. By the time they have finished all students will have learned that skill set.
This section is another example of why this course represents such good value for money. Using Helen’s script breakdown method alone will save you hundreds of hours, over the course of your acting career. It will also heighten your chances of succeeding as an actor.
Why all actors should play Shakespeare
“Shakespeare is a great training ground because it’s so difficult. It’s much harder than anything else you’ll ever do.”Helen Mirren Teaching Acting Masterclass.com Course
Before taking this part of the course, I was not convinced of the value of taking on Shakespearean parts. I now see the wisdom of doing so.
The biggest hurdle is learning to think in Shakespeare. Once you learn to do that, you can understand the character you are playing and deliver a believable performance. With Helen’s help, I now feel equipped to tackle a Shakespearean role.
Learn how to find your character
Over the course of 3 fairly lengthy videos, Helen explains how to develop your character. She starts with an overview of the process and then breaks down two, slightly different approaches.
One is for when you are playing fictional characters. The other is for when you are asked to play a real person.
Like most actors, Helen is a people watcher. But, once again, her character development process is a little different. She draws a lot of inspiration from the real world but develops what she gleans from there in a very innovative way.
Her tip to investigate the person not only their profession is a real gem. Importantly, Helen provides you with several relatively easy and effective ways to do this.
I could fill the whole page with tips and tricks I picked up from this section of the course. But, it would be impossible for me to do justice to what Helen taught me about character development. When you take the course you will see what I mean. This is a brilliant acting course.
Tapping into the power of your costume to play your character
Who knew that costumes told stories? Up until this point, I always thought about them as props. Your costume has to serve your character. As an actor or actress, you can often enhance what you are wearing to convey your character more effectively.
Again, her attention to detail shines through. For example, making sure that your deportment fits in with the costume you are wearing. Modern women do not hold themselves in the same way as someone from the Elizabethan era would. The clothes they wore forced them to stand up straight and hold their head high. If you are to wear them convincingly, you have to adopt the same ways of standing and moving.
Oddly, the most revealing bit of the costume video was when Helen demonstrates how she chooses between two cardigans. She clearly has great insight into how colors and textures look on film. Surprisingly, both of those are factors that go into her decision-making process.
Importantly, Helen covers the role of accessories play in character development. She has a bit of fun in this video. Look out for her hot tip for an Oscar nomination that oddly relates to glasses. It will make you smile, but she is actually making a serious point.
The role of hair and makeup in creating your character
Hair and makeup are defining elements. But, I would have never thought that getting the positioning and shape of the eyebrows right would play such an important role in creating a character?
The part about wigs was especially fascinating and enlightening. What Helen had to say about eye color was interesting too.
Helen has a lot to say on the subject of hair and makeup, so covers it across two videos. She goes as far as explaining the difference between the way makeup is used for the stage and film.
Preparing and attending rehearsals
In this section of the course, Helen goes through the pre-rehearsal process in great detail. The subjects she covers include:
- How to learn your lines
- How to research experiences you have not had personally
- How to overcome your creative blocks
- Learning a dialect
- How to stay in accent
- How to overcome creative blocks
- How to start the rehearsal process at home
Learn how to convey the most common human emotions and behaviors
Being able to convey more extreme human emotions and behaviors is an essential skill for an actor. Helen explains how to be realistic and carry on delivering the goods even when you have shot that same scene dozens of times.
She covers many different emotions, but goes over the following ones, in detail:
- Physical pain
- Being naked
- Sleeping and waking up
- Being drunk
The section about being drunk was short, but contained two great, easy to implement tips.
Acting techniques for film
Essentially the skills you use to act on stage and film are the same. But, the emphasis is in different places. For example, for a film, facial expressions are seen more, so they need to be more nuanced.
There are many, many differences that you need to bear in mind when you act for a film. Helen goes through more than a dozen of the step-by-step.
Including things like hitting your mark. Importantly, she also tackles tricky subjects like how to cope with the fact that things are often filmed out of sequence. You need to know what has happened in the film itself in the previous scene to be able to be convincing in the one that you are shooting.
The continuity person will be able to help you with this. But, you have to understand how to approach them and what questions will provide you with the information you need.
Touchingly, Helen also covers the subject of overcoming your nerves, when working with big stars. It is especially interesting to hear about some of the lessons Helen has learned from actors who are currently less successful than she is.
Helen Mirren’s case studies
I have been lucky enough to take several of the masterclass.com acting courses. Many of them include some sort of case study. Some are better than others. Helen Mirren’s are very revealing. She summarizes a lot of what she has just taught and almost unbelievably provides you with even more tips.
By the way, using my all-access pass has enabled me to take about 20 of the 50+ masterclass lessons that are available while only paying $180. In fact, my plan is to take even more of them. Something the all-access pass will enable me to do without paying having to pay another dime.
An inside look into being on a film set
I really like the fact that Helen Mirren has taken a different approach from the other actors when putting together her acting masterclass. Her course is long.
At over 6 hours it is one of the longest ones. But, none of it is fluff. Far from it, there is lots of extra stuff that some of the other actors have not covered in the other courses I have taken.
A great example of this is video 22, where she takes you onto an actual film set and shows you exactly what happens. Everything from finding your mark to seeing what the actor is looking at when they are making a scene. It is very interesting and a great way to prepare yourself for your first film role.
Working with your set decorator and props person to enhance your performance
Helen points out that you know your character better than anyone. So, when it comes to deciding how their home is decorated, how tidy it is, what type of coffee cup they use, you are the one that is best placed to decide that. Most decorators and props people know this, so are very happy when you step forward and have an input.
She also covers many practical points, like being aware of the sound of your props. A cup rattling on a saucer can easily drown out what the actors are saying.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with your writer
Your relationship with the writer is very important. You have to collaborate with and respect each other.
Helen explains how to deal with the different kinds of writers that are out there. She goes through the process of approaching the writer to make changes if necessary.
The same applies to your relationship with your director. You can have an input, but ultimately he or she is in charge. Your job is to make what you are given work. However, if you are working with a director who welcomes input from their actors you need to know how to provide it in a format that works for everyone.
Helen Mirren teaches acting workbook
The workbook is not as long as I was expecting. But, that is actually a good thing. What is in the workbook is pure gold.
Most of the main points are summarized or at least listed out. There are also assignments as well as suggestions of movies, shows, and plays that illustrate some of what has been taught in each chapter.
Who is Helen Mirren’s Acting Masterclass for?
I think you can tell that I enjoyed this course. To be honest this surprised me. I am not a huge fan of Helen Mirren. So, I was expecting to find that she crated on me. She didn’t, far from it.
Helen Mirren is a very good teacher. It does not matter whether you are just starting your acting career or toying with the idea of starting one, I think you will learn something from this course. If you have a family member who is a fan of her work, access to this course would make a wonderful gift for them.
If you are an actor already, I strongly urge you to take more than one of the acting courses that are on offer at Masterclass.com. I’ve taken several of them already and am amazed by how different each one has been. Inevitably, some of the advice is the same or very similar. But, surprisingly, I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from each of the acting courses I have taken, so far.