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Catching Up With Nigel Barker

By Jay Schwartz

Oxygen’s The Face premieres tonight—a roadblock on Oxgen, Bravo, and Style—but it's not just Naomi Campbell's face we'll be looking at but the former America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker. We caught up with the model, photographer, and all-around-handsome guy to give us an inside look at The Face.

SLIDESHOW: Photos from the premiere party of THE FACE

Out: With your previous TV shows, you’ve been on the hunt for the most beautiful women in the country, so what do you look for in a face?

Nigel Barker: The interesting thing about The Face is that we cast from all over the world. Even the judges are international. They’re from everywhere, and it’s a good look at what the modeling business is like. We’re looking for a face. The business is always looking for someone new, fresh, and can change; it has the ability and the potential to morph with the changing fashions and seasons. Sometimes you’ll find a girl who is just perfect for the moment, but then it’s all over.

How does The Face work?

It’s similar to how The Voice is to American Idol. It’s a show that pits Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, Karolina Kurkova—three of the world’s most famous super models—as supermodel coaches with their own hand-picked teams of aspiring models. They go head-to-head as each supermodel coach teaches their models their secrets. But only one face, one model will actually win the competition.

What do the models win?

The winners each week are picked by real clients from real jobs and actually get published, while the eliminated are picked by the supermodels so there’s a lot of rivalry there. Super models don’t like to lose. The final winner of The Face becomes the face of ULTA Beauty and they will become the only face of that brand across all stores in the United States and international advertising for their Fall 2013 campaign, which is a massive prize for them.

We assume it gets catty, but what are your relationships with the coaches Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, and Karolina Kurkova?

I’ve photographed Coco many times, you can’t open a magazine without seeing her face… I’m working on a spread with Karolina, and we’ve been friends for many years… I actually modeled with Naomi Campbell in the late '80s, early '90s. They are like stallions, the most extraordinary women and perfect creatures. Working with Naomi 20 years later, she just looks identical. She still just walks into a room and the room goes silent.

How will this modeling show be different from America’s Next Top Model?

It’s really a very different show. There’s a certain sensibility and certain production value. When you do a show like Oxygen’s The Face, it's very hard work—but in all the right ways. Everyone was 100-percent invested in the show, and we had real clients there the whole time.

It almost felt like we had a crew following us around on a real shoot, versus a television show. I’ve been on a lot of reality TV, and often times it feels like I’m on a reality TV show, but this didn’t.

You were there when Tyra flipped out on Tiffany in cycle four, which is one of my favorite moments of TV. Do you remember your thoughts at that moment?

Tyra is very invested in the people she picks. Models really fight for positions on that show, and the fact that some young model was disrespecting the situation just really took us by surprise. Certainly [Tyra] shocked all of us when she blew up, but she blew up because she cared. She could have pulled that clip from the show, but she never did that kind of thing. She’s very honest. It’s one of the reasons why people love her. She is real, and she does care. It’s one of my favorite moments because it was real. There's no shortage of that sort of stuff happening on The Face. You’re gonna see a lot of realness there.

You receive a lot of support from the LGBT community. Why is that?

That community has always been very close to me. The fashion business as a whole is run by people from the gay community. I imagine the community as a whole is interested in what I’m doing because I’m so open about everything I do. It’s a weird question for me. I like to think of the gay community as not the gay community. I just see people. I’m blessed to have anyone support the work that I do.

Can you tell me about the film you’re working on now?

I’m working on new film about a man named David Mixner. He’s a human rights activist and a gay rights activist and he is one of the most prolific men in the gay community. He’s become a friend of mine through Alan Cumming. We’re creating his life into a film and it’s really going to tell the story of the gay community and HIV through the '80s and up until now. One of his protégés is Jeremy Bernard who is the social secretary of the White House on the Obama administration. I’ve directed four films, but this will be the first feature film.

SLIDESHOW: Photos from the premiere party of THE FACE

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