The Digital Journalist
ca. 2002 --- Actress Nicole Kidman with Curly Short Hair --- Image by © James White/Corbis Outline

James White on Nicole Kidman:

By Elodie Mailliet / © Corbis Outline

Nicole Kidman was the first really, really big star whom I was offered to shoot. I had taken a four-year break from portraiture, shooting more fashion stories, and had recently started up again. So I was a little nervous about how everything was going to go.

On December 19, 2002, the day before the shoot, I was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, working for Vanity Fair. When we got to the airport to head back to Los Angeles, we discovered that all the flights were delayed because of rain. We had to fly to Atlanta, and then from there to Los Angeles. When we arrived in Atlanta, the flight we were supposed to take was cancelled. I got on the phone with Art Mix, my agency, trying to figure out how I could make it in time for the shoot. My agent was on the phone with the travel agency, and it started to look like there was no way I would be able to get a flight out. My agent checked with Nicole's people to see if there was something we could do. There was no way they could delay the shoot. At that point, everyone was sweating bullets, praying...

Suddenly, my assistant saw on the board that there was a flight leaving for Las Vegas in five minutes. I took off running for the gate. When I got there, I told the woman at the counter, "You probably don't care, but tomorrow I'm going to photograph Nicole Kidman. If I don't board this flight, I won't to be able to do it. It's hugely important for me." She looked at her chart and said, "Okay, go ahead and board."

When I got to Vegas, it was about one in the morning. The next flight to Los Angeles was not leaving until five a.m. That meant that if all went well, I was going to make the shoot, but just barely. I ended up sleeping on the floor at the airport. This was around Christmas time and there was non-stop noise in the airport -- Christmas carols on the loudspeakers and slot machines continually going off. It was a nightmare.

I arrived at the studio just before nine, a few minutes before Nicole did.
It was pretty insane, but I made it. Thankfully, I had been in constant contact with my guys. They had already built the set, adjusted the lighting, and everything.

I had no specific brief from Entertainment Weekly. At that time, Nicole had a lot of movies coming out, so the shoot didn't need to refer to any one film in particular. They just wanted some beautiful photographs of her. I always enjoy doing that. We had decided to make it a nice, rich-looking room. We used some curtains that were available, and decided on a simple black background for the other setups. We were able to do a lot in a very short amount of time--two hours of hair and makeup, and two hours of shooting at the most.

Nicole has a real star presence. She's tall, commanding and really beautiful. She knows her body so well and is very comfortable with it. If I said, "Okay, go lie down on the couch," she would immediately find a pose where I'd just want to start shooting. She was a total pro. But, sometimes she would giggle to herself. I didn't know what to make of it, whether it meant that things were going well or whether she was laughing at me.

After we finished, I walked her out. She was on her way to do a Larry King interview and looked AMAZING. She was radiant. Everyone came out of the studios to watch her walk by. When we got to the door, she said, "I hope you got what you wanted."
And I did!

But the rush was not over. We had to keep the lab open over Christmas to print, and I had to personally scan the contacts to send to the magazine. The issue would be coming out the week after the session.

Shortly after that shoot, I remember my agent negotiating a job on the phone, saying, "You know, he just shot Nicole Kidman." That's when I realized, "Whoa, this is a really big deal. This will have an impact on my career."