You saw this classic, unique picture of Michelle Pfeiffer, you knew that it was photographed by the talented Herb Ritts! You knew that Michelle’s into the character from a Noel Coward play, Laurence. But you may not clearly know the story behind.
A great interview has been found from the official site of photographer Herb Ritts, one of Michelle’s work-mate since the 80’s and close friend. The guy behind the camera explained the ideal of this classic picture of one of the most beautiful actress in Hollywood.
Tell me about the picture you did of Michelle Pfeiffer. Although she is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood, she appears as a man in your photographs. Was the idea yours?
Yes. I knew Michelle a long time before I took that picture, and the one thing I knew about her was that she did not like to be Michelle Pfeiffer —at least at that point in her life, over ten years ago. She wasn’t comfortable with being herself and doing pictures in front of a still camera. I think she wanted to break the stigma of being so beautiful, and the idea that being beautiful was all she was about. This was a shoot for American Vogue, and I decided to do her playing different roles, thinking this was a way of taking her out of herself. The photograph we’re speaking of is actually a character from a Noel Coward play; it’s the last picture we did because she was very hesitant. We’d done her in various female theatrical roles throughout history, and I suggested that it would be interesting if she played a man. She had read the play and had the idea of the Noel Coward character, Laurence. We put her in an Armani men’s tux. I didn’t want to do anything with her face. We literally wet her hair and parted it and drew on a little mustache. Now, that’s a tough role to pull off in the two-dimensional facade of a photograph. You’re going to be a man, you’re going to be “Laurence’ in Private Lives, and all the guise you have is a little mustache, your hair back, and a tuxedo. And to top it off you’re known for being a gorgeous actress. She walked down the steps and sat down, and she was suddenly Clark Gable. She was in the twenties mode, down to the hand gestures and all. And I didn’t tell her what to do. When I say Clark Gable, she reminded me of him, but she became somebody else, she became a character. I love the unexpected nature of this photograph. You don’t get those moments every day, but when you do it’s very rewarding.
Interview by François Quintin
This interview was conducted prior to the Herb Ritts exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain in Paris, December 11, 1999—March 12, 2000.
On the other hand, the creator of the men’s tux, Giorgio Armani also adores the picture. From the March 2010 issue of Instyle magazine, it shows a picture of Armani’s house and this classic picture of Michelle could be found on the portrait wall of the designer’s house.