Fascinating faces of 2021: The year's breakout stars, icons and pivotal artists

·14 min read
Michael K Williams at his home in Brooklyn, NY. 08/16/2021
Actor Michael K. Williams, photographed at his home in Brooklyn, on August 16. (Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)

GREAT PORTRAIT photography is a partnership between photographer and subject. In 2021, some of the year's most intriguing cultural figures partnered, however briefly, with L.A. Times photographers to make a series of compelling portraits. This collection of some of our favorites captures moments of glamour, whimsy, contemplation and playfulness by the icons, breakout stars and artists who helped make this a year to remember.

MICHAEL K. WILLIAMS, photographed by Jesse Dittmar

Award winning Actor Michael K Williams seen at his home in Brooklyn, NY.
Actor Michael K. Williams on Aug. 16, 2021. (Jesse Dittmar/For The Times)

Williams, beloved for his roles in “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country,” spoke with Michael Ordoña for the Aug. 26 Envelope. The stories photos were taken Aug. 16, just three weeks before the actor's death on Sept. 6.

KATE WINSLET, photographed by Greg Williams

Actress Kate Winslet
Actress Kate Winslet (Greg Williams/For The Times)

Winslet spoke about the all-encompassing nature of her Emmy-winning “Mare of Easttown” role with Glenn Whipp for The Envelope, Aug. 12, and with Meredith Blake about her accent on the series for the May 3 issue of Calendar.

OLIVIA RODRIGO, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Actress and pop star Olivia Rodrigo at NoHo Recording Studios, in North Hollywood, CA, Nov. 17, 2021.
Actress and pop star Olivia Rodrigo at NoHo Recording Studios, in North Hollywood, on Nov. 17, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Rodrigo, who is up for seven Grammys in 2022, talked with Mikael Wood about the song “Hope Ur OK” and her debut album, "Sour," for the Dec. 9 issue of The Envelope. Her hit song "Drivers License" was Spotify's most streamed song of 2021 and “Sour”was its most streamed album.

Actress and pop star Olivia Rodrigo at NoHo Recording Studios, in North Hollywood, Nov. 17, 2021.
Olivia Rodrigo (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

CLINT EASTWOOD, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Clint Eastwood, 91, photographed with an 8x10 film camera on the grounds of his Tehama Golf Club in Carmel
Clint Eastwood, 91, photographed with an 8x10 film camera on the grounds of his Tehama Golf Club in Carmel-by-the-Sea, on Sept. 2. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

For the Sept. 12 issue of Sunday Calendar, the five-time Oscar winner spoke with former Times film critic Kenneth Turan about directing and starring in this year's "Cry Macho" and riding a horse on camera at age 91.

KID CUDI, photographed by Myung J. Chun

Rapper Kid Cudi
Rapper Kid Cudi's success has expanded beyond music to acting and to the creation of his own line of fashion. Photographed in Calabasas on Oct. 25. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Rapper Kid Cudi talked with Keith Murphy about his music, working with Kanye West and his role in the Adam McKay-directed film "Don't Look Up" for the Nov. 7 issue of Sunday Calendar.

Rapper Kid Cudi
Rapper Kid Cudi (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

CHLOÉ ZHAO, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Director Chloé Zhao with canine friend in the backyard of her home outside Los Angeles.
Director Chloé Zhao with canine friend in the backyard of her home outside Los Angeles. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Not only did Zhao helm the big-budget Marvel movie "Eternals," which brought in more than $401 million at the worldwide box office, she started the year with a string of awards, culminating in the Oscar for her much more intimate film "Nomadland." She talked with Mark Olsen as part of the director's roundtable for the Jan. 28 edition of The Envelope, with Glenn Whipp for the April 8 issue of The Envelope and to Christi Carras for a Nov. 4 Calendar story.

JON BATISTE, photographed by Devin Oktar Yalkin

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, NOVEMBER 2021 Portrait of Jon Batiste
Jon Batiste in New York, November 2021. (Devin Oktar Yalkin/For The Times)

After Batiste learned he had been nominated for 11 Grammys he sat down with Rob Tannenbaum to talk about his "We Are" album, his contributions to the soundtrack for "Soul" and his day job as bandleader for "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" for the Dec. 9 issue of The Envelope,

Jon Batiste
Jon Batiste (Devin Oktar Yalkin/For The Times)

JARED LETO, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Jared Leto at home, in Los Angeles, CA, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, photographed at his Los Angeles home on Nov. 2. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

For the second year in a row Leto is in the awards conversation for another transformative role, that of the overlooked paunchy, balding Paolo Gucci in "The House of Gucci." Earlier in the year he was nominated for a supporting actor Screen Actors Guild Award for his weight-gaining role as a disturbed murder suspect in "The Little Things," He talked with Michael Ordoña for The Envelope's actors roundtable, Dec. 30.

Oscar winning actor Jared Leto is photographed at home
Actor Jared Leto (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

DUA LIPA, photographed by Christina House

Musician Dua Lipa in downtown Los Angeles on March 1, 2021.
Dua Lipa photographed in downtown Los Angeles on March 1. Styled by Lorenzo Posocco, hair by Chris Appleton, make up by Samantha Lau, nails by Yuka. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Before winning the Grammy for pop vocal album, Dua Lipa talked with music critic Mikael Wood about her album "Future Nostalgia" for the March 7 issue of Sunday Calendar.

Dua Lipa in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, March 1, 2021.
Dua Lipa (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

ISSA RAE, photographed by Myung J. Chun

Issa Rae's of the HBO comedy, "Insecure"
Issa Rae's HBO comedy, "Insecure," highlights underrepresented communities of Los Angeles like Leimert Park. Photographed on Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Issa Rae spoke with Danielle Broadway for the Dec. 12 issue of Sunday Calendar about shooting her just-concluded series "Insecure" in South L.A.

SARAH PAULSON, photographed by Mariah Tauger

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Actress Sarah Paulson photographed on the Fox Studios lot with her rescue dog Winnie.
Actress Sarah Paulson photographed on the Fox Studios lot with her rescue dog Winnie. (Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Paulson talked with Yvonne Villarreal about playing Linda Tripp in the FX series “Impeachment: American Crime Story” for the Aug. 29 issue of Sunday Calendar

ANNABELLE GURWITCH, photographed by Mel Melcon

Annabelle Gurwitch, comedian, actress, and writer, is photographed at Alcove in Los Angeles.
Annabelle Gurwitch, comedian, actress, and writer, is photographed at Alcove in Los Angeles. Gurwitch is the author of the new essay collection, "You're Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility," touching on her generation's lowered expectations, even as they become parents themselves. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times) (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Gurwitch spoke with Margaret Wappler about divorce, Stage 4 cancer, humor and her memoir "You're Leaving When? Adventures in Downward Mobility" for the Feb. 28 issue of Sunday Calendar.

CHRIS ROCK, photographed by Jesse Dittmar

Chris Rock who stars in "Spiral" is seen at the Crosby Hotel in SOHO, NY, NY.
Chris Rock at New York's Crosby Hotel in SoHo on May 6. (Jesse Dittmar/For The Times)

Rock spoke with Sonaiya Kelley about producing and starring in the horror film “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” for Sunday Calendar, May 16.

Chris Rock at the Crosby Hotel in SOHO, NY, NY. 05/06/2021
Chris Rock (Jesse Dittmar / For The Times)

ANDY SAMBERG AND CRISTIN MILIOTI, photographed by Brian van der Brug

Actors Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in a tug-of-war in separate socially distanced photo shoots
Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg at L.A.'s Hotel Covell. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

"Palm Springs" stars Samberg and Milioti spoke with Michael Ordoña for the Jan. 7 issue of The Envelope.

ADDISON RAE, photographed by Jason Armond

Gif of TikTok star Addison Rae
An animated GIF of TikTok star Addison Rae. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Rae talked with Amy Kaufman for the Aug. 30 issue of Calendar about transitioning to an acting career after achieving fame on TikTok.

PIPILOTTI RIST, photographed by Madeleine Hordinski

Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist inside one of her installations at MOCA on Aug. 30, 2021, in Los Angeles
Swiss visual artist Pipilotti Rist inside one of her installations at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) on Aug. 30, 2021, in Los Angeles. (Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times)

Times art critic Christopher Knight called the COVID-delayed opening of Rist’s first West Coast survey show, “Big Heartedness, Be My Neighbor” — at MOCA in Los Angeles through June 6 — “enchanting” and “worth the wait.” The Swiss artist Rist spoke with Carolina A. Miranda for Sunday Calendar, Sept. 12.

RUTH NEGGA, photographed by Jason Armond

Actress Ruth Negga poses for a portrait
Ruth Negga poses in Los Angeles on Oct. 23, 2021. (Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

Negga talked about her role in Rebecca Hall's "Passing" with Sonaiya Kelley for the Nov. 16 issue of Calendar.

QUESTLOVE, photographed by Kent Nishimura

Questlove at the Whitby Hotel in New York on June 15.
Questlove at the Whitby Hotel in New York on June 15. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

Ahmir Khalib Thompson, best known as Questlove, spoke about the prevalence of stories about Black suffering and slavery and why he felt compelled to make the music documentary "Summer of Soul." He talked with Rob Tannenbaum for the July 4 edition of Sunday Calendar.

DAVID CROSBY, photographed by Robert Gauthier

David Crosby at his home in Santa Ynez on February 25.
David Crosby at his home in Santa Ynez on February 25. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Joe Hagan spoke with Crosby for the March 7 issue of Sunday Calendar about the making of his first solo album, 1971's "If I Could Only Remember My Name." He recorded it not long after his girlfriend Christine Hinton was killed in a car accident and friends like Jerry Garcia showed up to support him.

David Crosby at home in San Ynez laying on the grass
David Crosby at home. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

JASON SUDEIKIS, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Jason Sudeikis of "Ted Lasso,"
Jason Sudeikis says arrogance is absent from the intent of "Ted Lasso," the creation of the show and the realization of the show. Even talking about "Ted Lasso" feels weird to him, a little wrong even. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Sudeikis talked about “Ted Lasso” and more with Glenn Whipp for The Envelope, Aug. 19.

SYMONE AND GOTTMIK, photographed by Christina House

Drag queens Symone, left, and Gottmik of "RuPaul's Drag Race." They were photographed in Beverly Hills on April 13, 2021
L.A.-based drag queens Symone, left, and Gottmik, were breakout performers during the most recent season of "RuPaul's Drag Race." Symone won the competition and Gottmik tied for third. They were photographed in Beverly Hills on April 13, 2021. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

It was clear early in Season 13 of "RuPaul's Drag Race" that the eventual winner, Symone, and Gottmik, who tied on the show for third, were breakout stars. The two Los Angeles drag queens talked with contributor Isabelle Kliger for the April 18 issue of Sunday Calendar.

SACHA BARON COHEN, photographed by Russell James

Actor Sacha Baron Cohen in Sydney, Australia, Nov. 26, 2020.
Sacha Baron Cohen photographed in Sydney, Australia. (Russell James/For The Times)

Two movies,”Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” earned Cohen double Oscar nominations in 2021. He talked with Glenn Whipp about playing Abbie Hoffman in “Chicago 7” for The Envelope, Jan. 14.

Actor Sacha Baron Cohen NOVEMBER 26, 2020, SYDNEY AUSTRALIA:
Sacha Baron Cohen

THUNDERCAT AND FLYING LOTUS, photographed by Genaro Molina

Bassist Thundercat, top, and producer Flying Lotus, bottom photo
Bassist Thundercat, top, and producer Flying Lotus, collaborated on the album "It Is What It Is." (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Grammy winner Thundercat (Stephen Bruner)

and self-described "escapist creative" Flying Lotus (Steven Ellison) spoke with August Brown about their collaborations for the March 7 issue of Sunday Calendar.

AWKWAFINA AND KUMAIL NANJIANI, photographed by Mariah Tauger

Portrait of actors Kumail Nanjiani and Awkwafina (Nora Lum) at Beverly Hilton
Actors Kumail Nanjiani and Awkwafina. (Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Awkwafina and Kumail Nanjiani spoke about their respective roles in the Marvel movies "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and "Eternals" with Jen Yamato for the Aug. 29 issue of Sunday Calendar.

ANDRA DAY, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Andra Day
Recording artist and actress Andra Day, at the Viceroy L'Ermitage Beverly Hills on Jan. 14, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Day spoke with Briana Younger for the April 25 issue of The Envelope about playing Billie Holiday in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”

Actress Andra Day
Andra Day (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

STEVEN YEUN, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin and Christina Hous

Steven Yeun is photographed in the driveway, of a Pasadena, CA, home, on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020.
Actor Steven Yeun is photographed in Pasadena. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Yeun, the first Korean to be nominated for a lead actor Oscar, spoke about his role in “Minari” with Glenn Whipp for the Feb. 18 issue of The Envelope.

Steven Yeun, left, and Alan S. Kim, of Minari, are photographed in Los Angeles , January 7, 2021.
Steven Yeun, left, and Alan S. Kim, of the film "Minari," are photographed in Los Angeles on Jan. 7. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

DANNY TREJO, photographed by Mel Melcon

Actor Danny Trejo photographed at his home in Mission Hills.
Actor Danny Trejo photographed at his home in Mission Hills. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

Trejo spoke about his memoir “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood” with Daniel Hernandez for the July 4 issue of Sunday Calendar.

ANYA TAYLOR-JOY, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Anya Taylor-Joy
Actress Anya Taylor-Joy photographed in a Culver City photo studio on Aug. 6, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Taylor-Joy, one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, took time out to speak with Glenn Whipp for The Envelope, Aug. 26.

Actress Anya Taylor-Joy
Actress Anya Taylor-Joy (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

ZIWE, photographed by Michael Nagle

Comedian Ziwe Fumodoh, host of a late night show on Showtime, poses for a portrait on Monday, May 3, 2021 in Brooklyn
Comedian Ziwe Fumodoh poses in Brooklyn on May 3, 2021. (Michael Nagle/For The Times)

Even before Ziwe's much-discussed guest appearance on "Succession" — in which Jeremy Strong's Kendall Roy appears on a show similar to her own late-night Showtime series — she was talking about world domination with Meredith Blake for the May 9 edition of Sunday Calendar.

T.C. BOYLE, photographed by Myung J. Chun

Author T.C. Boyle
Author T.C. Boyle photographed in Montecito on Aug. 24, 2021. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Boyle discussed his 2021 novel "Talk to Me," about an interspecies love triangle and of good intentions pitted against human folly, with contributor Mark Athitakis for the Sept. 12 Sunday Calendar.

SUZANNA SON, photographed by Celeste Sloman

Portrait of actress Suzanna Son
Actress Suzanna Son (Celeste Sloman/For The Times)

Son talked with Josh Rottenberg about her breakout role in Sean Baker's "Red Rocket" for the Dec. 15 issue of Calendar.

JENNIFER HUDSON, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Jennifer Hudson at the Four Seasons hotel, in Los Angeles, Oct. 20, 2021.
Jennifer Hudson at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Hudson, an Oscar contender who participated in The Envelope actress roundtable released Dec. 16, spoke with Lorraine Ali about portraying Aretha Franklin in the film “Respect” for the Aug. 8 issue of Sunday Calendar.

JUNG HO-YEON, PARK HAE-SOO and LEE JUNG-JAE, photographed by Myung J. Chun

Stars of "Squid Game"
Stars of "Squid Game" are Jung Ho-yeon (front), Park Hae-soo, left, and Lee Jung-jae. Photographed on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021 in West Hollywood, CA. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

'Squid Game" stars Lee, Park and Jung talked with Robert Abele for the Dec. 16 issue of The Envelope.

NATANAEL CANO, photographed by Christina House

Natanael Cano is photographed at Jimmy Humilde's home in Downey
Recording artist Natanael Cano is photographed at Jimmy Humilde's home in Downey on Monday, May 10, 2021. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Cano spoke with Suzy Exposito for a profile on Rancho Humilde Records CEO Jimmy Humilde for the May 23 issue of Sunday Calendar. Cano is the label's most popular act but in November he said that he may start his own label.

GEORGE CLOONEY, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Actor and director George Clooney
Actor and director George Clooney. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Clooney spoke with Jen Yamato for the actors roundtable in the Jan. 21 issue of The Envelope.

KATHRYN HAHN, photographed by Genaro Molina

Actor Kathryn Hahn
Actress Kathryn Hahn, triple exposed in -camera. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Hahn spoke about her “WandaVision” role with Margy Rochlin for The Envelope, May 20.

EIZA GONZÁLEZ, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Actress Eiza Gonzalez is photorgraphed in the backyard of her Sherman Oaks, CA, home
"Godzilla vs. Kong" and "I Care a Lot" star Eiza Gonzalez in the backyard of her Sherman Oaks home on March 24, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Former Mexican teen star González talked with Carlos Aguilar for the April 4 issue of Sunday Calendar.

JUSTINE BATEMAN, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Justine Bateman at the New Beverly Cinema, in Los Angeles, CA, March 05, 2020.
Actor, writer and filmmaker Justine Bateman inside L.A.'s New Beverly Cinema before the premiere of her feature directorial debut, "Violet." (Jay L. Clendenin/Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Tim)

Bateman spoke with Amy Kaufman about her COVID-delayed feature directorial debut, "Violet," her path from actor to filmmaker, and Hollywood's view of women for the March 19 edition of Calendar.

COI LERAY, photographed by Mariah Tauger

Rapper Coi Leray at Republic Studios
Rapper Coi Leray at Republic Studios on Aug. 5, 2021. (Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

Leray spoke with Suzy Exposito for the Aug. 29 issue of Sunday Calendar.

KRISTEN STEWART, photographeed by Jay L. Clendenin

Actress Kristen Stewart is photographed in promotion of her new film, "Spencer," at The London in West Hollywood, CA,
Actress Kristen Stewart is photographed at The London in West Hollywood, CA, Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Stewart spoke about playing Princess Diana in the Pablo Larraín film "Spencer" with Glenn Whipp for the Sept. 8 issue of Calendar.

CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER, photographed by Myung J. Chun

Cedric the Entertainer of the TV series "The Neighborhood,"
Cedric the Entertainer of the TV series "The Neighborhood" at his home in Chatsworth, CA. (Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Cedric talked with Chris Vognar for the Aug. 26 issue of The Envelope about his career, his CBS sitcom "The Neighborhood" and hosting the Emmys.

LADY GAGA, photographed by Jay L. Clendenin

Pop star and lead actress Lady Gaga (Stefanie Germanotta) is photographed during promotion of her new film, "House of Gucci,"
Actress Lady Gaga photographed at The London, in West Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

Gaga spoke with Amy Kaufman about her “House of Gucci” role for The Envelope's actress roundtable published on Dec. 16.

Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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