“SNL” is back.Here’s the story behind the show’s iconic photos

Actor Jonah Hill plays a small piano in this photo from an episode of “Saturday Night Live” he hosted in November 2018. “We talked about his favorite movie being ‘Amadeus,’ so we just ran away,” said photographer Mary Ellen Matthews.

She’s not part of the show, but Mary Ellen Matthews It’s been a staple of Saturday Night Live for the past 23 years.

Matthews has been the show’s official photographer since 1999, taking the pictures you see every time the show comes back from a commercial break. Pictures of these celebrities Highlight the weekly hosts and musical guests who have become part of “SNL” as much as the opening monologue or “Weekend Update.”

“I always try to bring joy,” Matthews said. “That’s the motto of how I operate: bring playfulness, keep it light. It’s also very introspective to have these occasional quiet moments. I think it’s a good balance on the show.”

Singer Adele is gearing up for an October 2020 ‘Saturday Night Live’ photo shoot. Matthews said there were no plans to film the behind-the-scenes footage, but it ended up being aired during the show.

The portraits have been part of the sketch comedy show since 1975, the year the show premiered. Edie Baskin was the photographer at the time, and Matthews picked up where she left off.

Every Thursday before the show, Matthews is able to meet with each host and musical guest to collaborate on various looks or concepts. The ideas she presents may affect the personality or public image of each subject. Or it’s recreating a famous artwork. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting Charles Barkley’s bald head into a sea of ​​basketball.

“And there’s always something organic going on, so you have to make room for that,” Matthews said.

Hall of Fame basketball player Charles Barkley poses on the basketball court before hosting “Saturday Night Live” in March 2018. “I don’t watch basketball that much, but as far as the host goes, I think he’s definitely one of everyone’s favorites,” Matthews said. She said Barkley “just gave the perfect expression” here.

After each shoot, some post-production needs to be done to make sure the photos have the graphics and color they need in order to “pop” for the live broadcast.In recent years, Matthews has also Animation stills.

Due to the busy nature of the “SNL” production week, Matthews has only about 90 minutes with each host and 20 minutes with each musical guest. But it was exciting and she loved it.

“Every week starts over like the first,” she said. “You always want to do better than last week, you always want to provide the same great, creative service to every presenter and musical guest, Make it fun for them and (make) their dreams come true.”

Matthews said musician Anderson Parker brought plenty of energy to his shoot in December 2018. “I think two are better for him than one,” she said.

Make no mistake: Hosting “Saturday Night Live” is a dream even for some of the biggest names, Matthews said, and they’re usually eager to take part in filming traditions.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I think (they’re) thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ There’s a lot of hilarious ideas. There’s a lot of fun concepts. I think it’s time for them to relax a little bit and let that trust go down.”


adam driver

Air Date: January 25, 2020

This image of Driver hosting the show for the third time in 2020 did not use any special photography skills. Just placed the mirror carefully and a little patience.

“He was a guy who got what we wanted to do,” Matthews said. “It’s very collaborative, getting him in the right place and the right place in the mirror and the right place for his hands. It’s great to be able to get these types of images in the camera.”


Oscar Isaac

Matthews often references famous artworks in her shoots.It’s a tribute to Rene Magritte’s painting “clairvoyance.”

In Magritte’s painting, this is a self-portrait of him painting a bird while looking at an egg.

“I kind of thought, flip it over,” said Matthews, who brought a prop chicken to shoot with Isaac. “It’s fried eggs, chickens don’t like it very much.”


Claire Foy

Air Date: December 1, 2018

Foy, one of the stars of the show “The Crown,” sits on a swing and drinks from a teacup.

“We’re kind of leaning towards her Britishness,” Matthews said.

Studio crews prepare the swings for filming at the NBC Studios. “That’s true,” Matthews said. “She’s actually hanging from the rafters in the 8H studio.”


chance rapper

Air Date: October 26, 2019

Chance played the entire gospel choir by herself. It’s fitting because in this episode, he’s both the host and the musical guest.

“We had him do all these poses and put them together,” Matthews said.

Chance, who also labelled himself a Christian rapper, mentioned his faith in music.

“That said to him,” Matthews said.


Kim Kardashian

Air Date: October 9, 2021

“I was doing colored gel last year, and it was kind of like a long exposure (photo), and it complemented the accent on her dress,” Matthews said. “I just thought it was beautiful to her. A little more she just felt the moment. …

“She understands what we’re doing with light and long exposures, so she understands the process, and we work very well together.”


Paul Rudd

“We found the sofa and then our incredible costume designer Tom Brock made the suit,” Matthews said.

She said she couldn’t be sure where the sofa came from or if its upholstery matched Rudd’s outfit. But it’s perfect for naughty Rudd.

“He’s very expressive,” Matthews said. “He’s the best, right? We all love him.”


Larry David

Air Date: November 4, 2017

This is another example of not planning some of the best portraits.

“We just started playing, and, you know, sometimes when you hand someone a pipe, a character evolves,” Matthews said.

She said it was David’s favorite on the set.

“I think he was asked to use it as a headshot or something. He liked that too,” she said.


Jason Momoa

Air Date: December 8, 2018

Matthews often tries to formulate ideas based on the public profile of each subject. But it’s also fun to do the opposite — like putting Momma, who often plays tough guy, in a goofy suit.

“There is another photo of the same photo Where I let him braid, And (his expression) was like ‘thank you so much’ or something – that’s right against type,” Matthews said.

She originally wanted to animate the photo, but she unfolded it as a still image.

“We talked about it and he ended up giving me some moves. The suit worked perfectly in a graphic sense.”


Reggie Jean Paige

Air Date: February 20, 2021

Matthews remembers the breakthrough “Bridgeton” star being “so beloved” during his week. “It was amazing to work with him, it was amazing,” she said.

Like Foy photographed above, this also blends into his British background.

“Maybe I drank too much from the teacup,” she said with a smile. “But we’re doing something and we’ve all just decided, why don’t you just break through to the other side? That’s at the end of the shoot. Just having fun, ruining the set. Why not?”


Daniel Craig

“He’s definitely one of my favorite people to photograph because, you know, he’s Bond,” Matthews said. “I must say it was a big thing for him to be a subject.

“I’m a huge fan and I just feel like he’s giving these looks and putting them together, it takes the spy and gives it some comedy there.”


Donald Glover

This mirror is not intended to be part of Glover’s shoot.

“We just used it to examine the look and stuff, and it became this reflective, amazing moment,” recalls Matthews. “This kind of fun bumper isn’t common. But I think it’s really strong.”


Will Ferrell

Air Date: November 23, 2019

Every year, Matthews has a tradition of incorporating the same turkey props into a Thanksgiving show.

“We let the people who host the Thanksgiving show do other things with the turkey,” she said. “I think Matthew McConaughey was in the steam room, They were all wearing small towels.

“But with Will, I just want to walk his turkey on Fifth Avenue. I just made it up, don’t know like I’m not quite sure where we’re going. You’re not walking the dog, you’re walking the dog Turkey, somehow, it became the ’70s version.”


Dan Levy

Air Date: February 6, 2021

“He’s a dynamic guy,” Matthews said of “Schitt’s Creek” star Daniel Levy. “So adding that vibrant color in that candid moment, it just looks like him. There’s no compulsion in there. Just there, Dan Levy has no trouble.”


Matt Damon

Air Date: December 15, 2018

“Christmas shows are always fun and I found a reference for that beach boys christmas album They’re decorating the Christmas tree,” Matthews said.

As with other holiday shows, Matthews will start thinking ahead about ideas that can make each year feel different. She thought it suited Damon and his clean-cut image.

“Matt nailed it perfectly with this sticky smile, ‘all is well in the world’. …I hope every shot of him here is the same, he’s come forward. “



Air Date: February 9, 2019

This photo of Halsey is another tribute to the album cover: “Sheep’s Head Soup” by the Rolling Stones.

“Mick Jagger was covered in silk in the same way,” Matthews said. “We were playing the Rolling Stones and I was talking about the Rolling Stones and I made the suggestion and she loved it. … She was so present. She was such a collaborator. I love her, her art. She’s a painter. She has so much.”



During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, “SNL” aired some special “At Home” episodes where the cast will be filming segments from home while practicing social distancing.

Matthews didn’t have a normal host or musical guest to take pictures, so she had to improvise too.

“We were all just barely making use of what we had at home, and she became my subject,” Matthews said. “So I put her in a bubble bath with a shower cap and a rubber duck. … It wasn’t easy. There wasn’t actually that much water. It was more of a bubble bath. But she definitely looked like : ‘Please stop. Take me out of here.’

“I’m not sure how much she enjoys there. But she’s patient and I owe her a big cookie.”

The new season of “SNL” premieres Saturday at 11:30pm ET/8:30pm PT on NBC and Peacock. This weekend’s host is actor Miles Teller and the musical guest is Kendrick Lamar.

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