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

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Actor Jonah Hill plays a tiny soft successful this photograph that aired during the “Saturday Night Live” occurrence helium hosted successful November 2018. “We talked astir his favourite movie arsenic ‘Amadeus,’ truthful we benignant of ran with that,” lensman Mary Ellen Matthews said.

She’s not a portion of the cast, but Mary Ellen Matthews has been a cardinal portion of “Saturday Night Live” for the past 23 years.

Since 1999, Matthews has been the show’s authoritative photographer, shooting the photos that you spot each clip the amusement comes backmost from a commercialized break. These personage portraits item each week’s big and philharmonic guest, and they’ve go arsenic overmuch a portion of “SNL” arsenic the opening monologue oregon “Weekend Update.”

“I ever effort to bring the joy,” Matthews said. “That's my benignant of maxim of however I operate: to bring the consciousness of playfulness, to support it light. It's besides bully to person these quiescent moments that are a small much introspective erstwhile successful a while. I deliberation it's a bully equilibrium successful the show.”

/Singer Adele is touched up for a “Saturday Night Live” photograph sprout successful October 2020. The behind-the-scenes changeable wasn’t planned, Matthews said, but it ended up airing during the show.

These portraits person been a portion of the sketch drama amusement since 1975, the twelvemonth the amusement premiered. Edie Baskin was the lensman then, and Matthews picked up wherever she near off.

Every Thursday earlier a show, Matthews is capable to conscionable with each big and philharmonic impermanent to collaborate connected a assortment of looks oregon concepts. She comes successful with ideas that mightiness play disconnected each subject’s property oregon nationalist persona. Or possibly it’s re-creating a celebrated portion of art. Sometimes it’s conscionable arsenic elemental arsenic putting Charles Barkley’s bald caput successful a oversea of basketballs.

“And there's ever thing integrated that happens, truthful you benignant of person to permission country for that,” Matthews said.

/Hall of Fame hoops subordinate Charles Barkley poses among basketballs anterior to hosting “Saturday Night Live” successful March 2018. “I don't ticker hoops that much, but arsenic acold arsenic the host, he's decidedly 1 of, I think, everybody's favorites,” Matthews said. She said Barkley “just gave the cleanable expression” here.

After each shoot, a small spot of post-production is needed to marque definite the photos person the graphical attraction and colors they request to “pop” for the unrecorded broadcast. In caller years, Matthews has besides dabbled with animated stills.

Because of the hectic quality of “SNL” accumulation week, Matthews lone gets astir 90 minutes with each big and 20 minutes with each philharmonic guest. But it’s thrilling, and she loves it.

“Each week is similar the archetypal week each implicit again,” she said. “You ever privation to bash amended than the past week, and you ever privation to supply the aforesaid fantastic, originative work to each big and philharmonic impermanent and marque it arsenic amusive for them and (make) their imagination travel true.”

/Matthews said instrumentalist Anderson .Paak brought plentifulness of vigor to his sprout successful December 2018. “I thought 2 is amended than 1 for him,” she said.

And marque nary mistake: Even for immoderate of the biggest celebrities, hosting “SNL” is simply a dream, Matthews said, and they usually travel to the shoots anxious to instrumentality portion successful the tradition.

“I consciousness the excitement,” she said. “I consciousness (them) reasoning like, 'What are we going to do?' There are a batch of zany ideas. There person been a batch of comic concepts. I deliberation it's a clip for them to fto escaped a small spot and conscionable bash this benignant of spot fall.”


Adam Driver

Air date: January 25, 2020

There were nary peculiar camera tricks utilized for this representation of Driver, who was hosting the amusement for the 3rd clip successful 2020. Just cautiously placed mirrors and a spot of patience.

“He's idiosyncratic who gets what we're trying to do,” Matthews said. “Very collaborative of getting the close presumption and the close positioning of him wrong the mirrors and the close presumption of his hands. It's truly bully to get these kinds of images successful the camera.”


Oscar Isaac

Air date: March 5, 2022

Matthews often references celebrated creation successful her shoots. This 1 is simply a motion to the René Magritte coating “La Clairvoyance.”

In Magritte’s painting, it's a self-portrait of him coating a vertebrate portion helium looks astatine an egg.

“I benignant of was conscionable like, flip it,” said Matthews, who brought successful a prop chickenhearted for the sprout with Isaac. “And present it's a fried egg, and the chickenhearted is not liking that precise much.”


Claire Foy

Air date: December 1, 2018

Foy, 1 of the stars of the amusement “The Crown,” is perched connected a plaything portion drinking from a teacup.

“We're benignant of leaning into her Britishness,” Matthews said.

The workplace unit hooked up the plaything for the sprout astatine NBC Studios. “That’s real,” Matthews said. “She's really hanging from a plaything successful the rafters successful Studio 8H.”


Chance the Rapper

Air date: October 26, 2019

Chance plays an full gospel choir by himself. It was fitting due to the fact that successful this episode, helium was some the big and the philharmonic guest.

“We did him successful each these poses and enactment it together,” Matthews said.

Chance has besides labeled himself a Christian rapper, and helium references his religion successful his music.

“This spoke to him,” Matthews said.


Kim Kardashian

Air date: October 9, 2021

“I was doing colored gels past year, and it's a spot of similar a long-exposure (photograph) and it plays with the accents connected her formal there,” Matthews said. “I conscionable deliberation this is beauteous for her. A small spot much of her conscionable feeling the moment. ...

“She's knowing what we're doing with the airy and the agelong exposure, truthful she's alert of the process, and our collaboration came retired beautifully there.”


Paul Rudd

Air date: May 18, 2019

“We recovered the sofa and past Tom Broecker, our unthinkable costume designer, had this suit made,” Matthews said.

She said she couldn’t callback for definite whether the sofa came similar this oregon whether it was upholstered to lucifer Rudd’s outfit. But it was each cleanable for the playful Rudd.

“He is truthful expressive,” Matthews said. “He's conscionable the best, right? We each emotion him.”


Larry David

Air date: November 4, 2017

This was different illustration of however immoderate of the champion portraits aren’t planned.

“We conscionable started playing, and, you know, a quality evolves erstwhile you manus idiosyncratic a tube sometimes,” Matthews said.

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

“I deliberation he's asked to usage arsenic a headshot oregon something. He loves this, too,” she said.


Jason Momoa

Air date: December 8, 2018

Matthews often tries to formulate ideas based connected each subject’s nationalist persona. But it’s besides amusive to spell successful the other absorption — similar putting Momoa, who often plays pugnacious guys, successful a goofy suit.

“There's different changeable from the aforesaid sprout where I had him successful pigtails, and (his expression) is similar ‘thanks a lot,’ that benignant of happening — which is precisely playing against type,” Matthews said.

She initially wanted to marque this photograph an animation, but she dispersed it retired arsenic a inactive image.

“We talked astir it, and helium benignant of gave maine a mates moves astatine the end. And the suit conscionable worked perfectly successful a graphic sense.”


Regé-Jean Page

Air date: February 20, 2021

Matthews remembers the breakout “Bridgerton” prima being “so beloved” during his week. “He conscionable was specified a wonderful, fantastic idiosyncratic to enactment with,” she said.

Like the Foy changeable above, this plays into his British background.

“Maybe I'm overdoing the teacup,” she said with a laugh. “But we were doing thing and we some conscionable decided, wherefore don't you conscionable bust done the different broadside of this? It was astatine the precise extremity of the shoot. Just beryllium playful and wreck the set. Why not?”


Daniel Craig

Air date: March 7, 2020

“He is decidedly 1 of my favorites to photograph because, you know, he's Bond,” Matthews said. “And for him to beryllium lasting arsenic a taxable is rather a thing, I indispensable say.

“I'm a immense fan, and I conscionable thought him giving these benignant of glances and putting them together, it took the spy and gave it a small thing comedic there.”


Donald Glover

Air date: May 5, 2018

This reflector wasn’t planned to beryllium a portion of Glover’s shoot.

“We were conscionable utilizing it to cheque looks and stuff, and it conscionable became this reflective, astonishing moment,” Matthews recalled. “Not accustomed for these benignant of amusive bumpers. But I deliberation it's truly powerful.”


Will Ferrell

Air date: November 23, 2019

Every year, it’s contented for Matthews to incorporated this aforesaid turkey prop into the Thanksgiving show.

“We person whoever is hosting the Thanksgiving amusement bash thing other with the turkey,” she said. “I deliberation Matthew McConaughey was successful the steam country and they some had small towels on.

“But with Will, I conscionable thought of walking his turkeys determination connected Fifth Avenue. I conscionable made it up, I don't know. Like I wasn't rather definite wherever we were going with this. Instead of walking your dogs, you're walking your turkeys, and it became benignant of this ’70s mentation someway on the line.”


Dan Levy

Air date: February 6, 2021

“He's specified a vibrant person,” Matthews said of “Schitt’s Creek” prima Daniel Levy. “So adding that vibrant colour to that candid moment, it conscionable seemed precise him. There was thing forced there. It's effortless Dan Levy close there.”


Matt Damon

Air date: December 15, 2018

“The Christmas shows are ever amusive to do, and for this 1 I recovered a notation to the Beach Boys' Christmas album wherever they're decorating a Christmas tree,” Matthews said.

Like with different vacation shows, Matthews volition commencement reasoning up of clip astir ideas that tin marque each twelvemonth consciousness different. She thought this 1 was a large lucifer for Damon and his clean-cut image.

“Matt nailed it perfectly with this benignant of pasted-on smile, ‘everything's OK successful the world.’ ... I wanted each changeable of him present to benignant of beryllium the same, and helium roseate to the occasion.”



Air date: February 9, 2019

This photograph of Halsey is different motion to an medium cover: “Goats Head Soup” by The Rolling Stones.

“Mick Jagger is benignant of covered successful a silk the aforesaid way,” Matthews said. “We were playing Rolling Stones, and I was talking astir the Stones, and I suggested that and she loved it. ... And she is truthful present. She is specified a collaborator. I adore her, her artistry. She's a painter. There's truthful overmuch to her.”



Air date: April 25, 2020

During the tallness of the Covid-19 pandemic, “SNL” aired immoderate peculiar “At Home” episodes wherever formed members would movie segments astatine location portion they practiced societal distancing.

Matthews didn’t person her mean hosts oregon philharmonic guests to instrumentality photos of, truthful she had to improvise, too.

Enter her dog, Daphne.

“We each had to conscionable marque bash with what we had astatine home, and she became my subject,” Matthews said. “So I enactment her successful a bubble bath with a ablution headdress and a rubber ducky. ... It was not easy. It wasn't really that overmuch water. It was much bubble bath. But she decidedly looks like: ‘Please stop. Get maine retired of here.’

“I’m not definite however overmuch she's enjoying it there. But she was precise patient, and I beryllium her a large biscuit for that one.”

The caller play of “SNL” premieres Saturday astatine 11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT connected NBC and Peacock. This weekend’s big is histrion Miles Teller, and the philharmonic impermanent is Kendrick Lamar.