We all like to have good stories from our career work, and Ed Harris gave me one of my favorites. I was doing stills on an independent film back around 2000 that Ed was in.
To be on set with this highly-regarded actor was an opportunity I relished. His steely gaze and focus were intense -- his gestures and phrases carried power and precision that naturally commanded respect. The film's distributor commissioned me to do portraits of the actors for possible advertising and publicity use and, to this end, I had a backdrop and lights set up on the stage next to where we were filming. The actors came over in between their setups. It was Ed's turn, and he didn't seem thrilled. Some of the greatest actors are just not comfortable in front of a still camera, something I do my best to alleviate by keeping the mood one of acting as opposed to modeling or posing.
We shot about half a dozen frames close up when Ed just walked away, saying, "That's it, I'm out of expressions." My assistant Don and I just looked at each other and smiled. And I understood it as part of Ed's economy, of not doing anything that isn't necessary, of staying focused and defined.
Cut to seven years later on National Treasure 2. I greet Ed his first day on set and recount this episode. He laughs as if saying yup, that's me. That week, we're filming in the Masonic Temple in Alexandria. The mezzanine level is lined with large curtained windows by which there is beautiful portrait lighting. Ed's just been wrapped for the day, and I position myself by one of the windows knowing he'll have to walk past me on his way out. "Ed," I venture, camera ready, as he walks into the light, "Would you give me just one expression?" He smiles and indulges my chutzpah. Keeping my word, I click one frame and, true to his way, the result is pure Ed -- clear, on target, nothing extraneous, nothing held back.
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