Being John ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Many actors are known for their method acting, a skill in which they immerse themselves in the mind and physicality of a character. 

John Malkovich, an actor known for his ability to play a wide range of characters, has taken his method acting to the world of fine art with help from his friend, photographer Sandro Miller, with “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters,” a new photography exhibit at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, 300 W. Superior St., from Nov. 7—Jan. 31.

The project is a way for Miller to pay homage to some of his favorite iconic photographs and photographers, according to the artist. Malkovich, as the star of the project, is the focal point in each of the pieces, fully recreating each image, down to the last detail.

Miller and Malkovich have a long working relationship, dating back to more than 17 years ago when Malkovich was an ensemble member of the Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where Miller took promotional pictures. Miller said in a statement that his close relationship with the actor made it easy to work with him during the last several years.

“Over the past 17 years, I would approach John with various personal projects, ranging from short films to photographic stories,” Miller said in the statement. “He has never said no and has always been open to my ideas. For me, John is a beautiful, clean canvas ready for paint. He is extremely open-minded, never fearful and always willing to go to places most actors of his caliber would avoid.”

He said the idea for the project came to him two years ago when he decided to pay homage to his mentor, photographer Irving Penn. He said after he started working on the project, he noticed that Malkovich resembled Truman Capote in one of Penn’s photographs and the idea for “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” was born.

“The result was astonishing, and the feedback on the work was so overwhelmingly positive that I decided it would be a wonderful idea to pay homage to all the photographers that have influenced me over my 40-year career,” Miller said.

For Catherine Edelman, director of the gallery of the same name, having the exhibit was a no-brainer even after seeing only one sample photograph, she said.

“It was on faith and understanding that Sandro is obviously a pretty brilliant photographer and John Malkovich, in my mind, is one of the most brilliant actors,” Edelman said. “There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a project worthy of support, so I didn’t need to see any images, which is not normally how I work.”

Edelman said Malkovich and Miller’s relationship is evident in each of the photographs. She said the attention to detail in each photograph comes through in the photo exhibit.

“They thoroughly investigated every single image, down to the type of bees in the Richard Avedon piece,” Edelman said. “Everything is very respectful and meticulous.”

Angela Finney, the set designer on the project, also mentioned the attention to detail for  this project.

“We studied every photograph for almost a year,” Finney said. “We’d try to make it literally exact, which was a really fun challenge. You’re studying history and every single little paint drop.”

Malkovich is the only person who would possibly have been able to take such an intricate project seriously, Miller said. 

“I didn’t want these to be a parody,” Miller said. “I wanted and needed to honor these great photographers. I needed the perfection of an actor who would put everything on the line. I watched John become a boy, girl, man, woman, Marilyn, Picasso, Hitchcock, Betty Davis and Che Guevara.”

Finney echoed those sentiments, pointing out Malkovich’s chameleon-like ability to transform into each character.

“Malkovich is just an amazing actor,” Finney said. “There was absolutely zero ego involved. He doesn’t even say much, and then he gets on set and assumes the character instantly. It’s remarkable because each set, he’s probably only on for about 15 minutes, and he just nails it first shot out of the gate, which is pretty unheard of. He just transforms from one character to the next. He could be naked in one shot, and then hair and makeup in another shot and he morphs instantly.”

Edelman said the mutual understanding and relationship between Malkovich and Miller comes through in each of the 32 photographs featured in the exhibit.

“I think that trust is evident in the fact that you’ve got John taking on all these different personas to what would have been a naked woman or a naked man to posing as various different people, and you wouldn’t get that if there wasn’t a trust between the actor and the photographer,” Edelman said.

Miller said he hopes the project helps people to reexamine the iconic images and find the power the portrait can attain.

“These images are iconic because they invoke a feeling, thought or memory that is unforgettable,” Miller said. “For me, these images were life-changing, inspiring and just left me in awe. This is my way of saying thank you to the masters that created these amazing images.”

“Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters” is running from Nov. 7—Jan. 31 at the Catherine Edelman Gallery, 300 W. Superior St., before traveling to Los Angeles, New York City, Dallas, Paris and Italy.

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