Mr. Bailey, would you swear in front of the Queen?
No, if you’re going to accept the Queen you have to accept the tradition. You know, I’ve got nothing against the monarchy. I think there are too many hangers-on, but that’s also a cliché thing to say. I doubt she’d be too shocked. She’s been around; she’s not stupid.
You recently took the official photo for her 88th birthday.
Yes and I think she looks incredible for 88. I had never photographed her before.
I wouldn’t photograph anybody if they only give you five minutes. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if God phoned me up and said, “I want a picture, I’ve only got five minutes.” I’d say, “Well, work some of your magic and make it longer!” Even though I’m actually quicker than most and I usually get bored before they get bored.
What kind of people are the most difficult to photograph?
Lots of politicians are so full of themselves. Sports people too a bit. But actors are the most difficult because you never know who you’re photographing. They could be Hamlet or Lassie. But the fewer people they come with, the more interesting they usually are. Johnny Depp came with nobody so I knew it was going to be all right. Jack Nicholson never came with anybody, but Jack’s different because I’ve known him for so long.
You once said Jack Nicholson is the smartest actor because he knows something nobody else does. What is it that he knows?
I don’t fucking know. If I knew, I’d be as smart as him. (Laughs)
One of the things that fascinated me when I met him was his grin and the sparkle in his eye when he talked about women.
Yeah, with Viagra. He’s the first person that told me about Viagra.
When was that?
Oh, years ago. Before everyone knew about it! (Laughs)
“Actors are the most difficult because you never know who you’re photographing. They could be Hamlet or Lassie.”
When you know someone very well like you do Jack Nicholson is it easier to take a great portrait of them?
It depends. It’s one of those abstract things. We had a difficult bloke this week, what was he called? Van Morris or somebody… He was so grumpy. But I loved him being grumpy because I could use his grumpiness. I got a great grumpy picture out of him. If I see another picture of a rock ‘n’ roller against some graffiti… It drives you mad, the same old picture! Can’t they ever think of something different to do? So I don’t mind people that are difficult. I quite like that. It amuses me because there is always a way around it. I mean, no one could be more difficult than Van whatever he’s called, Van Morrison.
It seems pointless to have your picture taken if you’re not going to cooperate though.
Well he left really happy, Van Morrison. But it is kind of pointless to come here if you’re not going to help me. They might not like the picture, but one day they will. One day that’s what they’re going to look like – whether they look like that or not. Medici said to Michelangelo, “That sculpture doesn’t look like me.” Michelangelo said, “Listen, you’ll be dead in 20 years, but this will be around for 2,000 years. So, that’s what you look like!” You could say that a bit with photography.
Does it often happen that people aren’t happy with their portrait, but then years later change their mind?
Yeah. 10 years later usually. We had one recently, I won’t mention his name, I shot him 30 years ago and he said, “I hate the picture.” But his wife bought one for him as a birthday present recently. (Laughs) 30 years later and come get the picture.
Are celebrities more difficult nowadays than they were 30 or 40 years ago?
Well, I avoid celebrities. I’m not really interested in people that come with PR. That’s probably why I can’t work in America, because I don’t take all that bullshit. I don’t know how people like Bruce Weber manage, because it would drive me mad. All these silly people who don’t know anything that come with celebrities and try to tell you what to do. It’s madness! They brought it on themselves, the magazines. They should have been stricter. They should have said, “No, we’re not showing you. We’re doing the interview and that’s that.” But instead they pander to them and in the end they end up owning you. Those magazines are owned by the celebrities, really.
You don’t strike me as the type to pander to anyone.
I never really read what people write about me, but the comments people made when doing this exhibition recently at the National Portrait Gallery are so stupid. “Oh, Bailey panders to these people.” I don’t pander to anybody. I just do the picture I do. I don’t care who it is. And I won’t do pictures if people want approval. It has always seemed stupid to me that they ask you to do something and then want to sort of tell you how to do it. What madness!
Source: The Talk