Last Word with Michael Muller

December 1, 2011

By RF Staff

Michael Muller didn’t amass a portrait portfolio of A-list celebrities overnight. In fact, it all started more than 20 years ago when Muller moved to Los Angeles to attend Otis Parsons, but ultimately left after a semester. He started shooting actor friends of his—Leonardo DiCaprio, David Arquette and Alyssa Milano—and slowly his images made him a go-to guy in the entertainment industry.

His stunning portrait of actor Jon Hamm, most known for his turn as Don Draper, the advertising executive with a dark side on the award-winning TV show Mad Men, was done during a shoot for Entertainment Weekly magazine. The mysterious mood lighting and the hint of blue smoke was Muller’s wink to the ‘60s era of the television show. Comments Muller, “I always love working with smoke. It adds layers and allows one more tool to alter the light.” The James Bond-esque pose and furrowed brow combined with the crisp tuxedo and starch-white bow tie adds an additional allure to Hamm’s portrait. Muller wanted to show another side to the actor, who he says is just an ordinary guy, “in fact, really humble.”

Actors are often photographed thousands of times yet Muller’s images of them are quite arresting. It’s like you’re seeing this person for the very first time, which may be due to the fact that Muller always wants to make his next shoot different than the last. Working with celebrities may seem like a tough gig (tight schedules mixed with interesting personalities), but Muller approaches his work calmly. He and his team create a peaceful atmosphere. “I am just myself and my team is themselves. The energy in the studio is chill and relaxed with music playing. I don’t really do anything out of the ordinary. I try to skip the bells and whistles.” 

What resonates in this image is how Muller is able to distill an entire character and television show in one shot. Looking at this portrait of Hamm, one is immediately pulled into the debonair yet dark nature of Don Draper and the smoke is a nod to the smoke-filled offices Don inhabits. His image-as-story skill has been perfected over time since Muller has done a huge amount of work in television and film, photographing popular shows like Dexter, True Blood and Spartacus as well as big-budget movies such as Iron Man 2, X Men: First Class and Spider-Man 3. As one of the 12 working photographers in L.A. creating movie posters, Muller knows he must tell a story in one single frame. “My goal is to tell a story and capture emotions. I feel the more organic the shot is, the more it translates to the viewer,” shares Muller. “I also like to try and do things I’ve never seen before and have never done before. With so much competition out there, films need every edge they can get. I try to deliver that every time.” Much like the hard-working advertising exec Don Draper, Muller knows exactly what sells.
View Muller’s work at

Jennifer Chen is the photo and associate editor for VegNews magazine. She has written for Everyday with Rachael Ray, Natural Health, Bust, VegNews, and Audrey. She is currently working on a photography book with Bambi Cantrell to be released summer 2013 by Amphoto. She blogs at www.type