Donald Trump has one look, and one look only, for photo shoots: Zoolander "blue steel"

Credit: Courtesy Time

What do Donald Trump and a bald eagle have in common? (Hint: It’s definitely not the hair.)

“Donald Trump is an icon, and this bald eagle is an icon,” says master falconer Jonathan Wood, who loaned his 27-year-old American bald eagle, Uncle Sam, to costar in a new TIME photo shoot featuring the GOP presidential candidate.

The move – like the man – may have been controversial but photographer Martin Schoeller knew Trump, 67, would be game.

“Mr. Trump liked that idea,” Schoeller says. “I thought he might be open to it considering he’s a man who loves attention. He likes controversy, and he likes to be in the spotlight.”

That’s the understatement of the election season. The Republican front-runner – who currently has about 25 percent of the vote in the national GOP polls, about twice his closest competitor – has been hogging headlines for months with his inflammatory comments, insults and over-the-top appearances at events like the Iowa State Fair, where he foiled the folksiness by touching down in a $7 million Sikorsky helicopter.

“People don’t understand,” Trump tells TIME of his critics. “You come in on a Boeing 757, and you get out of a helicopter, and you go over to the fair, and you give the kids the rides, which the kids loved. But you land in this incredible Sikorsky, and people like it.”

“Every time somebody says I made a mistake, they do the polls and my numbers go up,” Trump adds. “So I guess I haven’t made a mistake.”

According to Trump, it’s his rivals – both Democratic and Republican – who are making the mistakes. He’s called South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham “a stiff,” Jeb Bush a “puppet” and Hillary Clinton “the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States.”

“I don’t think the people running for office are real,” he says. “They have to throw a lot of consultants away and be themselves. I think it is one of the things that has helped me.”

Say what you will about Trump but he definitely keeps it real. The billionaire real estate mogul knows what works for him in business and in politics – and the same goes for photo shoots.

“Every frame was the same,” Schoeller says of the 28 close-ups he snapped of Trump for the new TIME cover story. “Mr. Trump knows exactly how he looks, and he strikes one pose and doesn’t move.”

“He’s very difficult to photograph,” adds Schoeller. “If you ask him to look up a little bit, he says no or he just doesn’t do it. He literally has one angle. If I ask him to smile, he puts on a big grin and then he goes back to his Zoolander ‘blue steel’ look. And the ‘blue steel’ stays for as ever long as it takes to get the photograph.”

It could be because Trump sees everything through his own personal lens. Even his decision to toss his name in the ring for 2016 was one he made not for the country, but for himself.

“I felt I wanted to do it for myself,” he says. “I didn’t want to look back in 10 years and say, ‘Oh, I could have done that.’ ”

There’s no turning back now, and as one strategist for another GOP contender tells TIME, “At this point we just have to ride it out, wherever he takes us. What else can we do?”