What’s better than being John Malkovich? Well, nothing… but photographing him can be pretty great too. This is just what Switzerland-based portrait photographer Stefan Jermann recently had the opportunity to do. Being both a fan of the actor, as well as Stefan’s photographs, I got in touch to learn more about shooting John Malkovich. Enjoy!
– Maria Luci
Who was this John Malkovich assignment for?
The assignment was for the feature article of 128 — Berliner Philharmoniker Magazine. I actually suggested doing this story, as I am also the art director of this magazine and I have previously shot Malkovich for another client. At the same time, Malkovich was performing a classical piece at the Philharmonie in Berlin, so the timing seemed perfect.
How would you describe your portrait style?
My photography style is at times truly realistic and a direct reflection of my own reality. When I shoot portraits, I like to direct and control my subjects in a very strict way as opposed to when I am shooting reportage or travel, where I try to solely focus on catching the moment instead of controlling the moment.
Were you a John Malkovich fan?
I am not a fan per say of the actor, but I am very impressed by the real persona. I was very excited to shoot Malkovich. I love to shoot true personalities and characters; Malkovich happens to be one.
What was it like directing Malkovich?
John is a very nice and humble man, but he has a huge presence, he fills the room once he enters it and he is probably well aware of that. He has an uncompromising presence, he is charming and very warm hearted. He did everything I had asked him to.
What was involved in production?
It was a very simple shoot, I was the only one there with the journalist and I didn’t even have an assistant. John is a renowned fashion designer himself, so he was wearing his very own collection.
How did you incorporate your own style into the photographs?
I think I very much shoot in my own style every time I pick up a camera, especially when it’s editorial work, so I had all the creative freedom and I basically let the moment and the mood of John decide how far I could go.
Which shot is your favorite?
I really like quite a few of those shots, but I love the one where he is sitting and kind of leaning backwards, his knee is tweaked in a weird way and I love that. I also really love the one where he is holding the coffee mug close to his face, he just did that on his own for some reason and it was a very magic moment, very intimate. It felt like he was building up a relationship with the mug, I know this sounds weird, but it was such an intense moment… all I told him at this moment was: please continue doing that John!
Did you learn anything on this assignment?
I learn with every new assignment. The day I stop doing that should be the day to quit. I learned that it is very important to always remain who you are, even if you have a celebrity in front of you who is literally larger than life. I have to admit, I was probably not as relaxed as I normally am, but I just tried to do a good job and I think he realized that. He made me feel really comfortable, I mean the guy is really nice and humble, so there wasn’t anything to really worry about.