Kate Upton is one of a few select models who has graced the cover of the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue for two years in a row. (Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley, Tyra Banks and Kathy Ireland are among the others in this rare group of models.) Upton, who is the cover model for Sports Illustrated’s 2013 swimsuit issue, is the first to land the cover from a Sports Illustrated photo shoot done in Antarctica, since it was the first time that the magazine did a photo shoot in the continent known for its subzero temperatures.
People can get a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoot in the Travel Channel special “Sports Illustrated: The Making of Swimsuit ’13 – 7 Continents, 17 Wonders,” which premieres Feb. 17, 2013, at 8 p.m. EST/PST. Upton talked to journalists via telephone conference call for an interview while she was in Las Vegas on Feb. 14, 2013, to promote her Sports Illustrated 2013 cover and the Travel Channel special.
Can you elaborate on the challenges you face in modeling, particularly with this Sports Illustrated issue?
I think that modeling is not as easy as it seems. It takes a certain person to be able to feel comfortable in front of a camera, especially being in a vulnerable state, like freezing in Antarctica. It’s quite difficult physical terrain. I was there. We were the first fashion magazine to ever shoot own near the South Pole. We went to places like an active volcano, where penguins had their summers there, some amazing places but things we never expected. It takes a certain kind of person to change and be able to feel comfortable where obviously you wouldn’t unless you were wearing layered clothing.
How aware were you when you were doing the photo shoot in Antarctica that you were about to make Sports Illustrated history?
I definitely knew that it was the first [Sports Illustrated photo shoot] in Antarctica, which put more pressure on the situation. We didn’t know if we were going to go down there and it would be a blizzard the entire time, or if we were going to be able to get one photo. The first day, one moment it was sun, and when we finally got to land, it was a full-blown blizzard. We weren’t able to get a shot that day. The weather is unpredictable, and the pressure was on, but we came out with a cover shot.
You’ve gotten a lot of attention for your Mercedes-Benz ad. What kind of car do you drive? And what was your first car?
I actually live in New York City, and I don’t own a car. I’ve never had a car. I was a horseback rider. I saved up all my money for my horses.
Where do you hail from originally?
What kind of horse riding did you do?
English and Western. I did 12 different events and traveled on the national circuit.
You’re known for your curves. Do you ever take any precautions before a Sports Illustrated shoot to make sure that you don’t lose too much weight or gain too much weight?
Yes. I have a personal trainer, David Kirsch, and I try and stay healthy and work out as much as possible. I feel like I’m constantly shooting. There’s no down time. It’s very important to me to have a healthy lifestyle. My curves are natural. They’re not going away no matter how hard I try!
Can you talk about going against some of the myths and negative stereotypes about modeling? For instance, there’s a stereotype that models starve themselves or have eating disorders.
We try to be a good inspiration to other women by looking healthy and eating and having a healthy lifestyle and being confident with our bodies.
How hard is it to separate your personal life from what you reveal to the public?
I try to be very open with my life. I feel like I don’t really have anything to hide. I’m very confident and honest with everything. Obviously, just like with any other people, there are personal things that happen that I want to keep private, but that has nothing to do with whether I’m in the spotlight or not.
You’re single. Do you have any specific Valentine’s Day plans?
Yes. I am launching my cover for Sports Illustrated here in Las Vegas.
What advice would you have for people who may want to go to Antarctica as tourists?
I would say, “Keep your clothes on.” It’s definitely the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The mountains turn pink, the water is glassy. It’s indescribable. I could go on and on. You really have to watch the Travel Channel.
One thing I do want to say though is when we first got on the boat, the expedition leader said, “Make sure you spend as time as possible outside, because no matter how many videos or pictures you see of this place, it is nothing like it is in person. It’s more magnificent.”
In the weeks leading up to a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, do you change your diet or exercise regime?
Yes. Before a big shoot I definitely amp up my working out, but honestly, before this shoot, I was gone two weeks straight working, and was only back home for half a day before I took off for Antarctica. After my first Sports Illustrated cover, they keep me pretty busy. So it’s very difficult while traveling. I just really try to watch what I eat and stay dedicated and work out, even on the go.
Are your Sports Illustrated pictures Photoshopped?
You can look at the video and you’ll see they’re very similar. You can almost screenshot it.
In terms of difficulty, how would your rank this Sports Illustrated photo shoot, compared to all the other photo shoots you’ve done?
It really was one of the most difficult shoots I’ve ever been on. It’s very difficult for a Floridian to go in a bikini whenever it’s below 70 [degrees]. So whenever it’s freezing out, it was extremely hard, but mind over matter. I was thinking warm thoughts. The whole team was there to help me and support me by bringing me blankets and heaters and hot tea, so it ended up working out.
How would you describe the public’s reaction to you being on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2013 swimsuit issue?
I’ve been so busy here in Las Vegas and celebrating it that I haven’t really paid attention to the reaction. I know that I’m so happy about the accomplishment that our whole team was able to go out there thinking that we weren’t going to get our photo and then come back with a cover.
How did you first react when you saw yourself on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s 2013 swimsuit issue?
I wasn’t really sure if it was the real one! I was like, “Is this true? Is it not?” I was just so happy to see a photo from Antarctica. It was such an amazing shoot. I just wanted to see the final outcome, and that it was on the cover was even more amazing.
Did you have any idea during you photo shoot that it would make the cover?
No, I had no idea.
Have you heard from any other models who’ve been on the cover of Sports Illustrated?
Yes, a few of them have congratulated me.
Who are your model icons?
That’s what’s so special about getting back-to-back covers, because my model icons are people like Christie Brinkley, Elle Macpherson, Kathy Ireland and Tyra Banks. To have something in common with those people is a real special thing to me.
You were recently on the cover of Vogue Italy. You’re mostly known for modeling swimsuits and lingerie. Are you nervous about doing more high-fashion modeling?
The thing is, no matter who you’re shooting with, it’s always a different shoot, a different crew. Everything is different. If it’s lingerie or a bathing suit, it’s targeted toward different people, because it’s depending on the client. So, for me, [Vogue] was another shoot, a different crew. I had a lot of fun. I was in very good hands with the likes of Steven Meisel, Pat McGrath, Oribe. I felt very confident.
A lot of supermodels end up doing things outside of modeling, such as acting, hosting TV shows or having their own fashion lines. Do you have any such aspirations?
I feel like the path my career has taken is unfolding in a way I really like. And I’m very happy with it, so I’m just going to kind of go with it and see where it takes me. I’m only 20, and we’ll see how it all turns out. I have an interest in all of that, but time will tell.
For more info: Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue website