October 5, 2001
Picture Editor: Denise Sfraga

Estella Warren. March, L.A.

Having Mary Ellen Mark take photos on the set of Planet of the Apes is a little like John Updike writing an episode of Alf. She's arguably the most renowned photojournalist of our time, and her award‑winning pictures –such as her portraits of Seattle street children‑ are among the most keen images of American life ever put on film. (Many can be seen in 1999's American Odyssey, Aperture.) But then, that's exactly why EW sent her to the Mojave Desert to snap shots of actors in monkey suits: We knew her lens would see something no other photographer would.

"Taking pictures on a set is like documentary photography," says Mark. "You're capturing the mood that the director has established." And nobody does it better than Mark, whose images from Apocalypse Now and Marathon Man are as searing and vivid as the films themselves. Given the uncompromising tone of her work, it's no wonder that Mark, 61 (who lives in New York City with her husband, director Martin Bell), says, "Photographing celebrities is very difficult -to get something more than what they show to the public."

What Mark manages to do with those celebrated profiles, though, is astonishing. “Photography is like a big puzzle," she says. "I'm always asking myself, 'What are the elements of a great photograph?' I still haven't figured it out. I guess that's why I'm still taking pictures."

MELANIE GRIFFITH & DON JOHNSON (1973) "Melanie was 15 when I shot this on the set of Night Moves. Don was in his early 20s. I knew when they broke up that they'd eventually get back together."

JEFF BRIDGES (1991) "Jeff's one of the few people I've shot who became a friend. This became the poster for American Heart [directed by Mark's husband, Bell]."

"She was very impressive. I was surprised that she picked me to shoot her, because I'm not really a glamour photographer."

“When you photograph a celebrity, they’re either working with you or against you. Martin Landau will make the picture for you. He acts for the camera. Martin was just so energetic and active.”

“She’s really a very stunning woman, but she doesn’t feel like she has to look like a pinup. She showed up with no makeup, no hair person, no stylist. She has many sides –and she isn’t afraid to show them.”

MARLON BRANDO (1975) "This was on the set of The Missouri Breaks. Brando was difficult. You had to ask his permission before you took any picture. For two weeks, he kept saying no. Finally, on the last day, he let me. All (that] frustration is in this photo."

100C-063-04A DENNIS HOP­PER (1979)
“I shot this on Apocalypse Now. So many things had gone wrong with the film, and when I got there things were finally starting to go right. Hopper was getting ready for a scene when I took this ‑he played a crazy photographer."

SEAN PENN (1983)
"This picture is of Penn in a dressing room for a play he was doing in New York at the time. He was just a young boy back then. No, he didn't punch me in the face or anything ‑he's got that reputation. But I found him wonderful to work with. Really sweet."