It’s no surprise that Randall Slavin feels like a “Hollywood zelig.”
Through more than two decades photographing Tinseltown’s hottest stars, the 49-year-old Los Angeles native has constantly found himself in the right place at the right time — with the right people.
There was the time he got a random call to take engagement portraits for a woman who turned out to be the editor of the New York Times’ ‘Fashion of the Times,’ and called back a week later about another job – photographing a buzzy dress an aspiring teenage designer had just created. “She said, ‘Everyone’s talking about this dress and it’s coming to L.A. next week. His name’s Zac Posen. Can you shoot it?’” Slavin tells InStyle. “That was the first piece of press Zac ever got.”
Then there was the time, while pursuing acting, that a friend suggested they head to a casting call and video shoot for a “hot new band.” It turned out to be the iconic video for “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows, whose frontman, Adam Duritz, would become one of his closest pals. A lyric in “Mr. Jones” even inspired the name of Slavin’s new photography book, We All Want Something Beautiful.
But the most powerful unplanned gig came when Charlize Theron (one of many actors he had befriended while chasing his own movie star dreams, appearing in films like Legends of the Fall and Primal Fear) invited Slavin to accompany her and a group of friends home to South Africa and document the visit for an InStyle feature. His first paid editorial assignment, the trip left a powerful mark on Slavin, who up until that point had mostly been using his photography hustle to pay the bills until his acting could.
Since then, Slavin has snapped everyone from Jennifer Aniston, Eva Longoria, Sharon Stone and Ryan Gosling to Nick Jonas and Lucy Hale, many of whose unseen images appear in We All Want Something Beautiful, a collection of snapshots and commissioned portraits from the last two decades. It’s the culmination of a decades-long photography journey which started with taking photos of his friend’s band when he was 20, before landing a gig taking headshots at a small Hollywood studio. He eventually branched out on his own and ended up taking headshots for Hilary Swank, among others. Although the work quickly escalated, it wasn’t until Slavin visited a Peter Beard exhibition around the age of 30 that he had an epiphany.
“I saw someone’s life in pictures and it was so powerful,” he says. “I went home, fired my acting agent, and said, ‘I want to be a photographer. This is what I want to do.’”
Within two weeks, Theron’s 2001 South African adventure came up, and as he recalls it, the actress asked InStyle to hire Slavin for the shoot, specifically, so she wouldn’t have to take a stranger home with her for the job.
“That was like confirmation from the universe that I was on the right path – when I was getting paid to go to Africa, meet Nelson Mandela, go on safari, and shoot pictures of my best friend,” he recalls.
In the meantime, Slavin had already amassed a now iconic collection of celebrity snaps, from his time running around the hottest clubs and parties in Hollywood with an Olympus Stylus. Frequenting hot spots like Grand Ville, Viper Room, Opium Den and the Hollywood Roosevelt with his friends, many of whom were about to hit the big time, he was often the only one with a camera.
It was a time like no other. Slavin notes TMZ and the era of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan being paparazzi snapped stumbling out of clubs spelled the end of “a much more A-list” crowd enjoying Hollywood nightlife.
“Hollywood in the nineties was the last good time,” he reflects. “You went out, and things would happen, and no one would know about it, which fostered an incredible sense of fun and party atmosphere. It was a different era, because people could let go and no one would take their pictures … except for me a bit! Now, everyone has a high-def camera in their pocket. Everyone is paparazzi.” Reiterating his best-of-times sentiment, he adds, “It was the last good time where you could fully let go, and I was fortunate to have a front row ticket to most of it.”
To celebrate the launch of We All Want Something Beautiful on November 5, Slavin is sharing an exclusive sneak peek at some of those “front row” looks into Hollywood which feature in his book, as well as never-before-seen outtakes. His time-capsule photos, plus memories of the stars at their center, below.
“In your twenties you have that house that everyone hangs out at, so for one summer our hang place was this house shared by Samantha Mathis, an actress who’s an old friend of Adam’s, and Tracy Falco who was an agent back then,” Slavin recounts. “They might have been the only friends of ours who had a decent house! Jen and Adam had become friends and they were hanging out there. Friends had just exploded and was massive, and Adam was in the biggest band in the country and his record was blowing up, so they were the biggest power couple. The house was on Hillside, and Adam immortalized it in the song, ‘A Long December’ when he sings, ‘Drove up to Hillside Manor sometime after 2 a.m.’ He was referring to that house on Hillside, where we would all sit on the back patio until the wee hours of the morning, talking about how everyone’s going to change the world and make great art. Jennifer was exactly like she’s always been – sweet, approachable, and completely taking everything in her stride. When I run into her now, she’s still very sweet.”
“We all went to the *NSYNC concert at The Forum in LA,” Slavin recalls. “I’d never heard anything so loud in my entire life as The Forum filled with 13-year-old girls. It was at the height of their No Strings Attached, ‘Bye Bye Bye’ era and it was crazy. We were all friends with those guys, and Fergie and Justin were old friends. Fergie had just come out of being a singer for a band called Wild Orchard and this is a pic backstage, with James [Van Der Beek] trying to be lowkey.”
“No it’s not,” adds Van Der Beek. “It’s a pic of Fergie with some assistant in the background. At this point, I was still resisting the fact that I wasn’t a relatively anonymous theater actor, which is what I thought I’d become. I didn’t know what to do with the energy and attention that came with fame, so I took to hiding in plain sight. My friends back then used to accuse me of altering the cells in my body to become invisible. The beard, the glasses, the cap, the posture, the downward gaze – everything about it says, ‘Pay no attention to the confused boy in the too-baggy jacket.’ I just showed this photo to my wife, who met me years after this was taken, and she didn’t believe it was me.”
“There was a long stretch there in the ‘90s that is kind of a blur,” admits Matchbox Twenty frontman Rob Thomas, looking at the photo, which was taken at the Formosa Café around the time his band was starting to blow up. “I remember this time and these hangs fondly, but not with full clarity. Things were really taking off for my band about this time, and hanging out with Adam was a really big deal for me. I really looked up to him as a songwriter. Still do. We have gone on to become good friends, but at this time I was playing it cool and fanboying a bit at the same time. These photos are so special because we were living in the moments we were in. We weren’t posting it on our socials and no one was snapping pics to post on theirs. That’s part of why Randall’s photos of this time are so precious.”
Adds Duritz: “It was a very fertile, creative, wild time. We all worked feverishly trying to make something of our lives and then went out every night and lost our minds. Crazy, wonderful time to be a young idiot in Hollywood. Looking through all these pics now, it’s an incredible document of an insane and exciting time that Randall captured. They’re all so natural and unstudied. You feel like you’re right there as it’s all happening. He really caught a moment in time: Hollywood trapped in amber.”
“This was Matthew with his ex-girlfriend, René, taken at some nameless, forgettable club that probably sprang up then disappeared,” Slavin says. “It was a great era for Matthew. He was still on Friends and very happy. I actually remember being with Matthew previously at the Formosa Café, which used to be our hangout, and he was like, ‘Hey, my pilot just got picked up!’ We were like, ‘Congratulations! What’s it called?’ He said something like, ‘It’s called Friends Like These. We’re premiering after Seinfeld.’ We were like, ‘Oh that’s really good!’”
“A friend of mine, Mary Weiland, who was married to Scott Weiland at the time, was doing an eighties prom-themed 30th birthday party because she dropped out of school and never had a senior prom,” Slavin says. “Before he was a successful actor, Jeremy used to do hair and makeup. I think he was one of those people in the mall putting makeup on women, so before the party, which was at the Sportsmen’s Lodge, we all met at a friend’s house and he did all of girls’ eighties hair and makeup. He wore a ridiculous lime-green tuxedo, had his hair all poufy, and had just spilled his drink all over his lap, which is why he’s laughing in this photo.”
“Who doesn’t love Orlando?” Slavin says. “This was me and Orlando playing backgammon in the back garden of a friend’s house in Malibu. I always grew up thinking backgammon was an adult’s dinner party game. I always felt very adult playing it! I still see Orlando every once in a while. We’ll run into each other and, like everyone else, say ‘We’ve got to get together,’ then we don’t.”
“This was from my birthday party at Chateau Marmont in 2004,” Slavin says. “Desperate Housewives had just started and what I like about this picture is she’s not the Eva we know now, which is very put together – a very spicy Texan! She’s turned into a quite a force and I would be surprised if at some point she’s not Mayor of San Antonio and goes into politics. Mark my words.”
“Oh handsome Channing!” Slavin says. “This is Channing and my dog, Dickie, in an alley behind a photo studio, where we were doing a shoot. It was around the time he did the movie, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, which was one of the first things that got him attention.”
“We were doing a photo shoot on set and this was a candid shot in between shoots. We had a great time and got along well, so I ended up taking photos of her and her son and she gifted me with a beautiful little Gucci keychain which I still have,” Slavin says, pulling the memento out from his pocket. “She sent it to me to say thank you for taking pictures of her and her son, and I still use it to this day.”
“These old snaps make me happy,” says Fillion. “I’m glad we had Randall for a lot of reasons — his gift of photography is just one. Bonnie and I are still in touch, but no one could forget her, anyway. She’s amazing.”
“I can’t tell where we are, but I remember those glasses, that sweater, and that hairdo — which makes it mid-late 1997,” Fillion says of the photo, which was taken while he was starring on One Life to Live and starting to recur on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, and before Somerville broke out with roles on Friends and The O.C. “The kid in this picture had the world by the tail. All his dreams had come true by this point. Honestly. I had to get new dreams.”
We All Want Something Beautiful is available for pre-order on Amazon, and will be released on November 5, 2019.