The Digital Journalist
Charlize Theron --- Image by © Andrew Macpherson/Corbis Outline

Andrew Macpherson on Charlize Theron:

By Elodie Mailliet / © Corbis Outline

The first time I saw Charlize Theron was in 1996 in the movie 2 Days in the Valley. She had a smallish part in the film, but I remember being mesmerized, and thinking, "Whoa, who is that amazing creature, and how the hell can I get to photograph her?!!"

There were three years between that first impression and our first shoot together for Miramax's Cider House Rules press campaign. When I saw the rough cut of the film, I was thrilled to see her again on screen, and really excited that I would finally get to shoot her, and for her first leading role!

The film had been made in the apple-growing countryside of the Northeast—true to the book—but as so often happens on publicity shoots, my allotted day was a dusty, dry Californian one at the Disney Ranch just north of Los Angeles. There were no apple trees, no rolling hills, no soft green grassÉ We were faking it, desperately trying to make it look like something that it really wasn't.

There are subjects, and there are subjects, and everyday is potluck as a photographer. You never know what you're going to get. Heroes often disappoint, and it's best not to build up any expectations, but you're always hoping to find that perfect dancing partner--that someone you're in perfect harmony with from the first step. You never step on their toes, and they never step on yours. You can just relax and go, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. My subjects on that Miramax day were Charlize, Tobey Maguire and Paul Rudd. It was hot and no one really wanted to be there, but Charlize took the lead and was fantastic at jollying everybody up. With her lovely and gentle influence, she made sure that we got the best possible images despite the rather incongruous setting, that the boys were at ease and that everything got done without fuss or drama. That's when I realized she was much more than just an actor--she was, and is, a real star.

The next time we worked together was a couple of months later for the U.K.-based magazine Tatler. I told my commissioning editor, Lucy Yeomans, how impressed I'd been with Charlize on that day at the Disney Ranch, and that I really wanted to show her as a new, powerful and dramatic lead. I explained how she was the first actor I'd photographed who had the grace, sensuality, and charisma of legendary leading ladies such as Ava Gardner, Jacqueline Bisset, Ingrid Bergman, Brigitte Bardot, or Liz Taylor, and that she was a force to be reckoned with, a face we'd come to know as an icon of our time.

When I first came to Hollywood in 1989, nobody wanted to be sexy. Everybody thought that being sexy was vulgar and wrong. A chill wind of political correctness bordering on puritanical fervor was blowing through the town. Publicists were enjoying the dawning of their power in Hollywood, and the fear of their clients being perceived as vulgar, cheap, or trashy confined them like a straight jacket. What they would and wouldn't allow in a photograph was always a huge concern for us photographers.

Charlize is such a beautiful woman, and I wanted to do something to celebrate that with the sexiness of a fashion shoot and without the vulgarity of the lad rags like Maxim or Loaded. At that time in 1999, this new wave of men's magazines was steamrollering the traditional men's mag market with their brash new dictum of oiled skin and skimpy bikinis. This, combined with new influences like Victoria's Secret, pushed Hollywood to re-embrace its own sexuality. It started to understand once more that America loves sex and sexiness, and that there's no shame in it.

I was so thrilled when, after explaining all this to Charlize and her team, they were completely open to doing whatever I wanted. Charlize picked out the most daring and exciting clothes, and wore them with an incredible radiance. That was a very special day for me. It was like hanging out with your friends, creating something really unique.

When we did the GQ shoot, Art Cooper, the longtime and legendary editor-in-chief at the magazine, wanted it to be sexy and fresh but not too threatening. Thus, I chose to make this session an homage to the "California Girl" that André de Dienes and Bernard of Hollywood so beautifully captured in their images of the Fifties. It was about being at the beach, being beautiful but accessible at the same time. Once again I was transfixed as I watched Charlize become exactly that through the camera. I saw flashes of Marilyn, de Dienes' most celebrated subject, channeled right into my lens, and of course my eye. It is intoxicating when you get a great performance directed at you, an incredible piece of live theater focused right into your lens for you to capture. You are the entire audience in those golden moments. I often wonder if cinematographers ever get to experience what it is to see such a performance beamed right into your camera and forever seared in your mind. When you see great performances on screen, they're never directed at the camera; the actors always act to each other. That is the greatest magic of being a photographer: experiencing those fleeting moments of harmony with the perfect dancing partner.

The V Life shoot was a very important one for Charlize. It was her return to beauty after spending five months in the headspace and makeup of Monster. Unfortunately, I didn't see Monster until long after doing these pictures, so at the time I didn't quite realize what an amazing return to splendor it was for her. It just seemed like that same stunning Charlize back in front of my camera again, but somehow brighter than before. Charlize's team, Enzo doing the hair and Janine Lobelle doing the makeup, did some of the most amazing work I've ever seen, and when Charlize stepped out of the changing room I was speechless. She seemed not just to reinvent herself, but to reinvent beauty itself.

I feel that this black-and-white close-up from the V Life story is the most iconic picture that I've taken of her so far. I liked it so much that I used it as my promo card for a while. I think it captures just how incredibly beautiful she is as a face, a woman, a person, and an icon of our time.