Contrary to its title, the film Being John Malkovich is not about John Malkovich. It’s about identity crises, and the desire to become someone else. A bold new series from photographer Sandro Miller is also about the desire to become somebody else–specifically, Miller’s desire for John Malkovich to become the subjects of the most iconic photos ever taken.
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters consists of 120 portraits, which should look familiar to modern art patrons as well as fans of Con Air. These images are authentic recreations of works by legendary artists such as Diane Arbus, Herb Ritts, and Annie Leibovitz, with the actor filling in as subject. Malkovich brings a master performer’s simultaneous intensity and playfulness to these characters, be they Marilyn Monroe or John Lennon, transcending the idea of mimicry–and the results are uncanny.
Miller began working with John Malkovich in the late-1990s. The two hit it off during a photo shoot, and have remained friends and collaborators ever since. It is clear from the images that the subject and artist are friends, however, just by noting Malkovich’s level of commitment to Miller’s direction, and his willingness to look utterly ridiculous for the sake of meta-art.
“Over the past 17 years I would approach John with various personal projects,” Miller writes in a 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.”
The series that became Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich began gestating two years ago, when Miller realized that his friend looked something like Truman Capote. As an intended tribute to Irving Penn, Miller recreated Penn’s famous photo of Capote with Malkovich filling in for the author. Although Miller had been aware of his friend’s powerful ability to slip into another person’s skin, when he saw it firsthand in the service of his art, he was blown away.
Six months later, Miller officially pitched the project to Malkovich, who obviously accepted. The pair went through 30 celebrated images by 28 of the most accomplished portrait photographers of the last century, and then Miller went off to research his approach to recreating the photographs. The process took him eight months. He and a team that included wardrobe, make-up, and set builders went through every single detail to ensure the most faithful possible reproduction. Of course, this team also included Malkovich himself, whose fingerprints are on every part of the process, from styling to making a wax nose for the Salvador Dali and Picasso shots.
“My biggest fear was that people wouldn’t take this project seriously,” Miller writes. “I didn’t want these to be a parody. 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.”
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich will open at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago on Nov. 7 and run through Jan. 31. The actor’s exclusive interview with French publication 7-Post and French newspaper Liberation will be out soon. In the meantime, have a look at more images in the slides above.