Feature: Top 10 Celebrity Portraits of 2021, by Photographer Joe Arce

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Star 5. Actor Lana Parrilla

Lana Parrilla
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

I was never a fan of Snow White. For me, it’s always been about the bad girls even from my earliest TV memories. At the age of four, I was already obsessed with Julie Newmar spending countless hours daydreaming and plotting just how I was going to become Catwoman’s youngest and favorite henchman. The following year I was literally running home from kindergarten to breathlessly watch the stunning Angelique (Lara Parker) on Dark Shadows torture the young Barnabas Collins (such a lucky bastard) under her dark evil powers. Yes, Samatha Stevens was Bewitching and Jeannie definitely a dream, but their evil twin sisters Serena and Jeannie II in those horrible brunette wigs … well, those girls really knew how to party and seemed just so much more fun! 

Lana Parrilla flew under my radar till she appeared as Regina/The Evil Queen on ABC’s “Once Upon A Time.” Her seven year reign on that show was iconic, spellbinding to watch and truly magical. As a self described connoisseur of evil witches – which my dating history would easily confirm) – “I instantly knew that her regal face must one day grace my lens a time or two.”

In her most recent staring role as socialite Femme Fatale Rita Castillo on the second season of “Why Women Kill,” Parrilla portrays the face of evil, this time in flawless 1949-era drop dead Veronica Lake glamor. The dark comedy, according to creator Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives”), explores what it means to be both beautiful and to hide the truth behind the facade that people present to the world. Naturally I wanted to capture exactly that in a portrait of Lana Parrilla, but beyond the glitter or glamour, and as always she magically delivered. 

Star4. Actor Rebecca Hall

Rebecca Hall
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

There’s a far better chance of your’s truly falling out of an open window than Rebecca Hall passing unrecognized on this year’s list. How she was robbed from an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for 2008’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” remains one of the crimes of the century. Hall possesses the rare subtle superpower of stealing a scene away from ANYBODY, be it Scarlett Johansson purring about sex, Penelope Cruz screaming incoherently while pumping bullets, or even King Kong in mid rage or exhibiting a case of the sads. For my money she is one of the best actresses working today. She is so good that I completely forget that she’s even British! Her chilling performance in “Christine” (2016), as real-life Florida news reporter Christine Chubback – who blew her brains out live on the air during a 1974 newscast – is like a psychological masterclass into an on-screen descent into madness. 

But the daughter of Peter Hall, the The Royal Shakespeare Company founder, has naturally dreamt of directing since she was a young kid. In her 2021 directorial debut “Passing,” Hall held firm to to her original vision of turning the 1929 novel by Nella Larsen into a feature film. The story about two black childhood girlfriends reuniting as adults, with one now passing as a white woman … which reflected Hall’s own maternal grandfather’s experience also passing as white. Her 13-year passion project, a tale about how all of us negotiate our identity and the struggle of matching our inner truth with our facade, almost never got made. She shot the film in black and white, while producers demanded she deviate from her artistic vision and film it in more commercial color. Hall fought tooth and nail, knowing that black and white atmosphere wasn’t literal “black and white,” but more correctly the thousands of different shades of gray… central to the inclusive metaphor of the story. As a photographer whose celebrity portraits are almost exclusively crafted likewise in those “thousand shades of gray,” I want to salute Ms. Hall on not “Passing” on her correct intuitive vision. It was a gift to us all.

Star3. Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Unlike Donald Trump, my collaboration with Stormy Daniels lasted significantly longer than two minutes, didn’t cost me 130K (plus legal fees) and she actually enjoyed herself. Obviously, even I’m a better businessman.

One of my biggest regrets of the 1990s was never getting the opportunity to photograph former Clinton presidential liaison Monica Lewinsky. The moment the Trump/Stormy Daniels scandal first hit the evening news I swore that I would never let that sad history repeat itself. Having photographed many of the more famous adult entertainment industry stars, I was aware of who Stormy Daniels was pre-scandal, but I had no idea how whip-smart, witty and wonderfully entertaining she was offscreen as well. It’s a sad and sorry state of political affairs when the Commander-in-Chief and leader of the free world can be so easily intellectually outgunned by his blond porn star encounter.

With the release of her number one New York Times Best Selling memoir “Full Disclosure” in September of 2018, Stormy Daniels (AKA Stephanie Clifford) had White House officials by the balls and shaking in their boots … and she soon became the biggest “get” on network news. Unfortunately, all her media requests were then handled by her lawyer and the future convict Michael Avenatti, who was far too busy pocketing her 300K advance and committing extortion to approve any photo shoots where he wasn’t the focus.

Stormy was the first celebrity I captured in 2021, and there wasn’t a better subject to help get my professional mojo back. She was headlining The Exxxotica Chicago Convention in July and promoting her new popular online reality series “Spooky Babes.” The series follows her as part of a team of traveling ghostbusters and paranormal investigators. You might be wondering what Stormy Daniels could possibly know about communicating with the dead … well, anyone who follows her on Twitter is fully aware that she possesses an almost superhuman ability to absolutely murder and bury any soulless, brain-dead Trump troll foolish enough to attack her. She has been zapping them into the ether for the last six years. It’s a battle of wits where they don’t have a ghost of a chance. 

Star2. Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Kenneth Branagh is such a badass actor’s actor that the British Monarchy was forced to confer knighthood onto a proud Irishman from Belfast … that’s how good he is. You just know that if the most celebrated and well known Shakespearean of the modern age was writing and directing an autobiographical nostalgic lover letter to his hometown of Belfast – set in the time of the 1960s Catholic/Protestant conflicts – it just has to stick in the craw of the Queen who knighted him. Now that is a Sex Pistol level punk rock smack down! 

Dubbed the new Laurence Olivier for almost the entire length of his career, Branagh received an Oscar nomination for portraying the man himself in “My Weekend with Marilyn.” He has been nominated for five Academy Awards prior to this year, as well as winning two Emmys and three BAFTAs. His new film “Belfast” seems destined to rack up several more Oscar nominations in 2022, including perhaps Best Picture and Best Director. On the Red Carpet I briefly got to direct the director who directed “Thor” at the 57th Chicago International Film Festival premiere of “Belfast” in October … that’s not exactly “Much Ado About Nothing.” Coming up, Branagh’s long awaited “Death on the Nile” is scheduled for release February 22nd. 

Star1. Priscilla Presley

Priscilla Presley
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

I remember Marcia, one of my favorite cousins, making me watch “Elvis Presley: Aloha From Hawaii” when I was nine years old. Well I was way too young to ever get to photograph Elvis, but in 2021 I finally did get my long-time wish to direct his former wife, the fabulous Priscilla Presley, through an Exclusive Photo Shoot in her hotel suite for her management.

FROM MY POST PRODUCTION NOTES: “Priscilla is pictured lounging on a couch like a modern day Cleopatra. Notice the casual arm up, but the perfect body line. She is channeling Elvis’s relaxed and cool swagger, yet simultaneously she is smolderingly stunning and defiant. Like Cleopatra she is a Queen, an ageless sex symbol and the guardian of an empire.”

As the modern businesswoman in charge of the Elvis image, she has successfully proven that she can in fact have it all. Presley and her partners recently opened “The Guest House At Graceland,” a 450 room luxury resort hotel just steps away from the Graceland mansion. She personally oversaw the detailed decoration of the reported 100 million dollar hospitality project … the biggest in Memphis in 90 years.

Graceland may forever be thought of as the house that Elvis put on the map, but it was his former wife that saved it for all the world to enjoy. Naturally the Hollywood actress knew her perfect camera angles and how to make any photographer instantly feel like a king. 

On Thanksgiving morning I received a text from her publicist. “Priscilla was amazed at the photos! Thank You for making her so happy!” 

Getting to give direction to the Queen of Graceland was definitely my favorite shoot of the year and the one I’m most grateful for. Even thinking about it now part of me is still “All Shook Up.” 
Priscilla Presley recently held court and greeted fans during the Elvis’s birthday bash festivities at Graceland on January, 8th 2022.

Priscilla Presley, Close Up
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com


Betty White, 1922-2021
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Here is a list of celebrity subjects who I previously photographed, that we sadly lost in 2021, in no particular order … Anne Rice, Eddie Mekka. Dean Stockwell. Larry King, Dustin Diamond. Willie Garson, Jane Powell, Ed Asner, Dusty Hill (ZZ Top), Tawny Kitaen, Olympia Dukakis, Johnny Crawford, Felix Silla, Larry Flynt, Mira Furlan, Tempest Storm, James Hampton … and Betty White. RIP.

ANOTHER LIST FOR 2021! Click on 10 BEST FILMS OF 2021 by Patrick McDonald of HollywoodChicago.com.

To directly access the portraits of photographer Joe Arce, of Starstruck Foto and HollywoodChicago.com, click here.

© 2022 Joe Arce, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

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