’SNL’ is back. Here are the stories behind the show’s iconic photos

Actor Jonah Hill plays a small piano in this photo that aired on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” he hosted in November 2018. Matthews said.

Although she is not part of the cast, Mary Ellen Matthews has played a key role on ‘Saturday Night Live’ for the past 23 years.

Since 1999, Matthews has been the show’s official photographer, capturing the photos we see every time the show returns from a commercial break. These celebrity portraits, which feature weekly hosts and musical guests, are as much a part of ‘SNL’ as the opening monologues and ‘The Weekend His Update’.

“I always try to bring joy,” Matthews said. It’s nice to have moments like that, and I think the show has a good balance.”

Singer Adele has been tweaked for her ‘Saturday Night Live’ photoshoot in October 2020. Matthews said no behind-the-scenes shots were planned, but they ended up airing during the show.

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

Each Thursday before the show, Matthews will be able to meet with each host and musical guest to collaborate on different looks and concepts. She comes up with ideas that complement each subject’s personality and public character. Or maybe she’s recreating a famous work of art. Sometimes it’s as easy as putting Charles Barkley’s bald head into a sea of ​​basketball.

“And something organic always happens, so you have to leave room for that,” Matthews said.

Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley poses in front of a basketball before hosting “Saturday Night Live” in March 2018. said Matthews. She said Berkley “played it perfectly” here.

After each shoot, a bit of post-production is required to ensure that the photos have the graphics processing and color they need to “pop” for live broadcast. In recent years, Matthews has also dabbled in still animation.

Due to the hectic nature of the “SNL” production week, Matthews is only available for approximately 90 minutes with each host and approximately 20 minutes with each musical guest. But it’s thrilling and she loves it.

“Every week is like the first week,” she said. “You always want to do better than last week, and you want to provide each of your hosts and musical guests with the same wonderful and creative service, the same fun and make their dreams come true.” I think.”

Matthews said musician Anderson .Paak brought a lot of energy to the December 2018 shoot.

And arguably, even for some of the biggest celebrities, hosting “SNL” is a dream, and Matthews says they usually come to shoots eager to be a part of the tradition.

“I feel excited,” she said. “[They]feel like they’re thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’. There’s a lot of crazy ideas. There’s a lot of interesting concepts. I think it’s time for them to get a little free and drop this kind of trust.” think.”


Adam Driver

On-air date: January 25, 2020

No special camera tricks were used in this image of Driver, who hosted for the third time in 2020. Carefully placing the mirrors took a little patience.

“He’s someone who understands what we’re trying to do,” Matthews said. “It was very helpful to get the right position and position of him in the mirror and the right position of his hands. It’s really cool to be able to get images like this with a camera.”


Oscar Isaac

Matthews often references famous art in her shoots. This is a tribute to Rene Magritte’s painting “The Clairvoyant”.

Magritte’s painting is a self-portrait of a bird looking at an egg.

Matthews, who brought a chicken prop for the shoot with Isaac, said, “I kind of just flipped it over.”


Claire Foy

On-air date: December 1, 2018

Foy, one of the stars of the show The Crown, sits on a swing sipping from a teacup.

“We lean into her Britishness,” Matthews said.

A studio crew installed swings for the shoot at NBC Studios. “It’s true,” said Matthews. “She’s actually hanging on a rafter swing in her Studio 8H.”


chance the rapper

On-air date: October 26, 2019

Chance performs an entire gospel choir all by himself. In this episode, he was both the host and the musical guest, so it was a perfect fit.

“We made him in all these poses and put it together,” Matthews said.

Chance also calls himself a Christian rapper, referring to his faith in music.

“This spoke to him,” Matthews said.


Kim Kardashian

On-air date: October 9, 2021

“I was doing colored gels last year, and it’s a bit like long exposure[photography]playing with the accents on her dress,” Matthews said. I think it’s beautiful, just a little more of what she’s feeling in the moment…

“She understands what we do with light and long exposure, so she is aware of the process, and our collaboration came to fruition beautifully.”


Paul Rudd

“We found a sofa and then our amazing costume designer, Tom Blocker, made this suit for us,” Matthews said.

She said she can’t quite remember if the sofa looked like this or if it was upholstered to match Rudd’s outfit.

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


Larry David

On-air date: November 4, 2017

This was another example of how some of the best portraits aren’t planned.

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

She said this was David’s favorite from their shoot.

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


Jason Momoa

On-air date: December 8, 2018

Matthews often seeks to formulate ideas based on each subject’s public persona. But it’s also fun to go in the opposite direction. Such as putting Momoa, who often plays tough guys, in goofy suits.

“There’s another shot from the same shoot that had him in pigtails, and[his expression]is like, ‘Thank you very much.’ I was.

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

“We talked about it, and he gave me some moves at the end. And the suit worked perfectly in a graphic sense.”


Leger Jean Page

On-air date: February 20, 2021

Matthews remembers the breakout “Bridgerton” star being “so loved” in his week. I was.

As in Foy’s shot above, this plays into his British background.

“Maybe I’m overdoing my teacup,” she said with a laugh. Huh? It was the end of the shoot. Be playful and mess up the set. Why not?”


Daniel Craig

“He’s definitely one of my favorite pictures because he’s Bond,” Matthews said. “And that he stands as a subject, I must say, is a good deal.

“I’m a huge fan. I just thought he would put them together with a glance like this. It took the spy and gave it a little comedy in there.”


Donald Glover

This mirror was never intended to be part of Glover’s shoot.

“I used it to check looks and things like that, and it was a reflective, great moment,” recalls Matthews. “It’s not normal for this kind of fun bumper. But I think it’s really strong.”


Will Ferrell

On-air date: November 23, 2019

It’s a tradition that Matthews incorporates this same turkey prop into his Thanksgiving show each year.

“Anybody who hosts a Thanksgiving show, have them do something else with their turkey,” she said. I don’t think I had one.

“But I thought I’d walk his turkey down Fifth Avenue with Will. It’s not walking the dog, it’s walking the turkey, and this has become something of a ’70s version.”


Dan Levy

On-air date: February 6, 2021

“He’s such a vibrant guy,” Matthews says of “Sitt’s Creek” star Daniel Levy. “So adding some bright color to the candid moment made him look exactly like him. Nothing was forced there. It’s an effortless Dan Levy there.”


Matt Damon

On-air date: December 15, 2018

“Christmas shows are always fun. For this show, we referenced The Beach Boys’ Christmas albums with their Christmas tree up,” Matthews said.

As with any holiday show, Matthews starts thinking ahead about ideas that can make a different impression each year. She thought it was a perfect match for Damon and his clean image.

“Matt nailed it perfectly with this kind of stuck smile: ‘Everything is OK in the world.’ Opportunity arose.



On-air date: February 9, 2019

This photo of Halsey is another nod to the Rolling Stones album cover called “Goats Head Soup.”

“Mick Jagger is just as silky,” said Matthews. I did it and she loved it…and she’s got a lot of presence, such a collaborator, I adore her, her artistry, she’s a painter, she’s a painter. there are many things.”



At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, “SNL” aired several special “at home” episodes, with cast members filming segments from their homes while practicing social distancing.

Matthews had to improvise as he didn’t have his usual host or musical guests to take pictures with.

“We all had to make do with what we had at home. She became my subject,” Matthews said. Took a bubble bath together…it wasn’t easy it wasn’t really that much water it was even a bubble bath but she definitely looks like me Please take me out of here.’

“I don’t know how much she enjoys there. But she’s been very patient and I owe her a big biscuit for that.”

See more photos of Matthews and the stories behind them.

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

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