And Now For Something Completely Different: John Cleese

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Even considering that I’ve had the good fortune to photograph some pretty impressive people over the years, when Ronnie Weil called from the Wall Street Journal and offered up John Cleese, it really knocked the wind outta me. People toss around the word ‘iconic’ a lot, but John Cleese is a true ICON. What he and the rest of the Pythons did to comedy in the early 70’s forever changed how people laughed. He is a manic genius who…to quote a famous Monty Python sketch…is a true master of sarcasm…dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire!

And I was getting 15 minutes with him…

Mr. Fawlty was in New York as part of a tour to promote his new book, “So Anyway”, and we met him in a midtown hotel where we set up two situations in a room slightly smaller than an average walk-in closet…

For our first shot, I wanted to do a tight portrait…just his face…to capture a range of expressions…

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We started with just a gridded Profoto beauty dish on the grey seamless…

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…then added a 4′ x 6′ Chimera over my shoulder for fill and a small strip light on the background for separation…

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But something didn’t look right…the 80mm lens perspective was a bit uninteresting…so we swapped it for the 150mm…

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Much better…now just add one Python…

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…and let the rat-faced fun begin!

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

I began calling out various characters of his and sketches he was known for and he immediately knew where to take it…

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

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And because we had a wealth of great expressions, I made the suggestion that we do a montage of them. Here is how it ran in the Journal…

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Then we turned 45 degrees to the left and played around with some 3/4 shots…

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It was like shooting fish in a barrel…

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

Then he started doin’ this…

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John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

…and like that, our 15 minutes were up. But I had a fantastic time with an honest-to-God ICONand checked off one more Bucket List item!

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

John Cleese - November 4th, 2014 New York City

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20 thoughts on “And Now For Something Completely Different: John Cleese

  1. Very nice work. So you were using only two lights and one reflector from the right as i can see. Is that correct. 🙂

    Three lights…the Profoto Beauty Dish, the 6′ Chimera behind me for fill and a small Chimera Strip Light on the far left side to light the background. The ‘reflector’ in front of him is actually a flag used to cast a shadow on his face. BT

  2. Great behind the scenes shots, and excellent front of house shots, as always Brad.

    I missed out on getting tickets to the Python shows in London the other month, gutted.

  3. Perfect. How much more could you have done in the allotted time? No more, you KILLED it. How many hours were you in that shoebox before Mr Fawlty arrived? Was there an art director, makeup, handlers, or just you and JC?

  4. Nice expressions and captures, and I really like your direct beautylight / shadow result – and in 15mins wow!
    For me, the quite special reflection pattern in the eyes disturbs the expression reflecting the actual setup instead of “eyes”.

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