And Now For Something Completely Different: John Cleese

_MG_0102

Click on any image for Full-Size

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…

bts

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

john_cleese_1430

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

john_cleese_1438

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

john_cleese_1443

Much better…now just add one Python…

bts_1

…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

bts_4

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…

2014_11_15_cmyk_NA_04

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

bts_3

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…

bts_2

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

Advertisements

Rick Masters + Jesus + Sgt. Elias = Willem Dafoe

willem_dafoe_1078

Click on any image for Full-Size

As a young photographer, I had this very dreamy, romanticized idea of what it must be like to shoot celebrities. One of my early photography idols was Bert Stern, and I just figured every shoot with a celebrity might end up like his famous session with Marilyn Monroe where they locked themselves in a suite at the Bel-Air Hotel for three days with a case of ’53 Dom Perignon, a couple of cameras and a few props, and emerged totally spent but with a collection of amazing photographs. But I moved to New York a couple of decades later…just about the time when shoots like that were becoming increasingly controlled by managers, publicists, agents and the studio P/R machine. Ideas had to be pre-approved and even then it didn’t mean you would get to do them. And three days? More like five minutes after your writer got to ask his five questions, thank you very much! But if you’re smart you learn how to work the angles, you keep a few tricks up your sleeve when you don’t have the cooperation you had hoped for, and occasionally, you get lucky…

Ronnie Weil called me at 5:00PM on a Thursday and asked if I would be available the next morning to shoot Willem Dafoe for the Wall Street Journal’s ‘Weekend Confidential’ section. His new film, “A Most Wanted Man”, was coming out in a week and they were given a last-minute opportunity interview him. Now I don’t know about you, but there are very few actors that I can remember from the first moment I saw them on screen, and Willem Dafoe is one of them. His performance as the slick criminal Rick Masters in “To Live and Die in L.A.” burned into my brain. I immediately knew this was a seriously great actor. So yes…of course…just tell me where and when and I’ll be there with a big grin on my face…

The Journal likes the portraits for the ‘Weekend Confidential’ section to be all about the personality, and not prop or location-driven, and so we typically keep things very simple…seamless backdrops or locations that don’t distract from the subject. And it’s not a fashion show, either. What you bring with you is what we shoot. Willem arrived…early, I might add…alone and ready to go. He was wearing black jeans, a black t-shirt and a wonderfully disarming smile. After a few minutes of me heaping gobs of fanboy praise on him and a little light grooming, we were ready to go…

willem_bts__DSF0414
(Groomer Amy Komorowski)

Willem Dafoe was made to be photographed. He has one of the most expressive faces in the business…whether he’s playing a silent film Vampire (Max Schreck in “Shadow of the Vampire”), a Viet Nam-era Marine (Sergeant Elias in “Platoon”), a cartoon character arch-villain (the Green Goblin in “Spider-Man”) or Jesus Christ himself (“The Last Temptation of Christ”)…and I wanted my portraits of him had to capture the depth he conveys through the characters he portrays. I had a few ideas I wanted to try…and we were told Willem would give us about an hour…so here is how it went…

willem_bts__DSF0419

willem_bts__DSF0426

willem_bts__DSF0424

willem_bts__DSF0431

I started this first setup as a 3/4 body shot, but allowed myself to move in and out as his poses and mood changed…

willem_dafoe_1083

willem_dafoe_1090

William Dafoe

willem_dafoe_1114

willem_dafoe_1123

willem_dafoe_1149

willem_dafoe_1153

willem_dafoe_1166

willem_dafoe_1178

Then we sat down and came in for a tight series of darker, more intimate portraits…

willem_bts__DSF0435

willem_bts__DSF0438

willem_dafoe_1263

willem_dafoe_1198

William Dafoe

Now, I was already thrilled with what we had done and that Willem had given us so much time, but I kind of liked the white brick wall in the studio, so I asked him for a few more minutes to put up a fresnel spotlight and play around with the shadows…

willem_bts__DSF0444

willem_bts__DSF0449

willem_bts__DSF0443

William Dafoe

William Dafoe

In the end, the Journal chose one of my favorites for the article…

2014_07_26_cmyk_NA_04

…and once again, I find myself surprised at how lucky I am to be able to do what I do…

bt_willem