Andy Gotts: Behind the actor's mask

Andy Gotts has been photographing celebrities for more than two decades, often in black and white, but always with imagination and an ability to bring out an aspect of the character of the sitter.

His most recent project, Behind the Mask, has seen him travelling the globe to photograph more than 100 actors and actresses who have won or been nominated for a Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award during the past 50 years.

Here's a selection of the pictures, which are on show at Somerset House in London, from 20 January to 7 February, together with the photographer's own comments.

When Andy met… Helena Bonham-Carter

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Helena at her London home. I was stood outside her house in the rain waiting for her and I got drenched. She turned up some 20 minutes later, as she got caught in the traffic, but we got indoors and dried off while sipping a coffee. I did some soft lit shots where she looked quite angelic but I felt I wanted to get away from that "English rose" label she was given.

I saw she had a collection of hats in the corner of the room, and in the middle of them was a jester's hat. I have always thought that jesters have the same eerie quality as clowns, so I thought it might be fun to do a few shots like that. As soon as she put the hat on she began to clown around and we took some great shots. During her antics she stopped and yawned and this totally spontaneous shot makes me smile when I see it.

When Andy met… Penelope Cruz

Image copyright Andy Gotts

Penelope was a dream and every inch as beautiful in the flesh as she is on film. I was all set up and ready to shoot when Penelope arrived. I could hear muffled talking and laughing as she entered, and following her in the studio was her husband the actor Javier Bardem. I had shot Javier before and we got on very well, so he wanted to come to the shoot to see me and say hi.

My idea for Penelope was a sexy brooding shot. But every time we started shooting Javier kept making comments to her in Spanish. I've no idea what was said but each time her cheeks flushed and she burst into hysterical laughter. I took the chance to take some fun shots during their banter but when I wanted the brooding shots I made Javier stand outside like a naughty schoolboy, which actually made her laugh more. But eventually I got the shot I was after.

When Andy met… Michael Caine

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I have shot Michael a few times, but the first time I had a shoot with him it was at his Chelsea Harbour apartment. During the shoot we were talking about movies and I mentioned how much I loved The Italian Job. Michael said: "Not a lot o' people know this, but there was going to be a sequel that was going to be made not long after the original movie was released, and it would tell the story of what happened to the coach that was hanging over the mountain ledge." He then went on to tell me the plot summary of the movie and what would have happened if it had been made.

When Andy met… Tony Curtis

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I was trying to shoot Tony for many years, but he was either always busy or not feeling well. I had a trip to LA planned, so I dropped Tony a note saying I was on the West Coast and tried again to set up a shoot. To my shock I received a note back saying that if I travelled to Vegas I could shoot him at his house. I was thrilled and literally was counting the days down before I flew to the US.

The day before I left my mobile phone rang and saw it was his number. I answered with a heavy heart, as I was expecting him to cancel the shoot. But instead, in a quiet and humble voice, Tony said: "Andy I know you are coming to photograph me tomorrow and I have seen your amazing work. I'm not in a good way at the moment but can I ask you one thing? Can you make me look like an icon just one more time?" It didn't take me long to think of my flag idea as I knew his nickname was the American Prince. But meeting Tony was one of the highlights of my career, as not only was he one of my icons, but he was also a sweet guy. Little was I to know Tony would die a few weeks later and this would be the very last portrait taken of him.

When Andy met… Nicole Kidman

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Nicole in LA. She had an all-day photo shoot with Vanity Fair and came straight from that shoot to my studio. As I could see she was obviously shattered and just wanted to get on with the shoot, I went for a very understated shot. After she was positioned in front of my lens I walked over and softly whispered I am after a shot that evokes Audrey Hepburn. Immediately she lifted her hand to her face and looked dreamingly off camera. That was the shot.

When Andy met… Scarlett Johannson

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Scarlett in Paris. She had a very long, busy day and our shoot was at 7pm, the last thing on her diary. I knew she would want the shoot to be quick, so I had a plan. I had pre-lit and was all ready to go when she arrived. I made her down two glasses of champagne quickly in succession then asked her to give me 20 of her best faces. After the first eight or so, I started to bark different emotions for her to act to. Which she relished. I love easy shoots with perfect sitters.

When Andy met… Robert De Niro

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Robert, or Bob to his friends, at The Dorchester hotel, London. What struck me from the outset was how quiet and softly spoken he was, so unlike most people that I usually meet. He had been held up in traffic and arrived late, which gave me plenty of time to play with the lighting. I normally shoot with only a couple of flashes but as I had time on my hands I set up five of the beauties. Bob has one of those faces you can really do anything with.

At the very end of the shoot I asked Bob how he feels about people doing impersonations of him, especially his famous quote from Taxi Driver. He asked if I had seen Al Pacino doing an impression of him, to which I said no. All of a sudden, he squinted his eye and with an ever-exaggerated downturned mouth, he started bellowing: "Are you looking at me?" Through my tears of laughter I took only a couple of shots.

When Andy met… Keira Knightley

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Keira in London and I was a little shocked when Keira turned up to the shoot. This was due to the juxtaposition between the US- and UK-based actresses. If I had done the shoot with a 19-year-old American starlet I have no doubt she would have had at least one or two chaperones with her, but this was not the case with Keira.

She bounded across the foyer of the Savoy, on her own, with a big grin on her face. It was like a breath of fresh air during the shoot, and to say Keira was wiser beyond her years would be an understatement. And on a separate note, she is the youngest person I shot for this project.

When Andy met… Thandie Newton

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Thandie in the St James's Hotel in London. This was a shoot where actor and model collided as Thandie has been the face of many luxury and fashion brands. I am not a fashion photographer in the slightest, but it was so easy working with Thandie as she instantly went into model mode, and every shot was a winner.

When Andy met… Kevin Spacey

Image copyright Andy Gotts

I shot Kevin in Los Angeles. He knows exactly what he is doing - he is a very private person who does not let anything slip. He was filming K-PAX. He turned up wearing a bizarre denim and tartan shirt, and I made him get changed. Like most actors he has a range of faces which he must pull for every photographer. I wanted something different, so I told him to close his eyes and think of the most horrendous thing that could possibly happen to him and emote it. We got it in one frame.

Details of the exhibition can be found on the Somerset House website and you can see more of Andy Gotts's work here.