Nigel Barker Talks ‘ANTM’ and ‘Wicked’ Natalie Portman

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America’s Next Top Model cycle 16 kicked off Wednesday night and noted fashion photographer and author Nigel Barker is back in the saddle as the shows resident British  shutterbug. The veteran Top Model judge, who is sporting a head full of luscious locks these days, recently sat down with Celebuzz following his appearance on MTV‘s The Seven to discuss the new season of the smash reality series, his Oscar predictions and his big screen debut alongside Russell Brand.

Since season 3, Barker has judged and photographed the gorgeous models in the making around the world, but assures fans that this season ANTM will be better than ever. Besides a trip to Morocco and the biggest weekly prize in the history of Top Model, Barker reveals that this season is more emotional than past cycles.

“It’s a very emotional season. We haven’t had this kind of emotion on Top Model ever, maybe season 2 and 3 were similar, but there are times when the entire crew cries, all the girls and even the judges and that’s unusual. We have some serious Top Model therapy happening. It’s one of my favorite seasons in a really long time.”

It’s hard to believe that the show has existed and has been a runaway hit for the CW for 8 years. Even more surprising is that it has managed to stay relevant and entertaining. Barker chalks this success up to the honesty of the show.

“I think the funniest thing about everybody is that we are all exactly how we are on TV in real life. It’s not a performance. One of the reasons Top Model’s been so successful is that there’s believability of the judges.”

The show is currently casting cycle 17 and producers are scouring the country for the next fresh-faced fashion superstar. Barker has a few tips for the young ladies who want to make it past the casting episode next season (and being ‘pretty‘ is not one of them).

“One of the biggest mistakes people make in casting it that they thinks it’s all about being pretty and they think it’s all about being a certain size, or height or weight. We go on about personality being key. We want to see your individuality, your unique element to who you are. There’s a lot of pretty girls in the modeling business, but what cuts one person from being a top model and just a model is the fact that they’ve got some special kind of vibe about them, some passion, motivation, energy, spontaneity, confidence and those are the things we’ve got to see.”

Barker has made his mark on the silver screen, but he will make his big screen debut alongside Russell Brand, Jennifer Garner, Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte this April in the Dudley Moore reboot ‘Arthur.’ Barker plays himself in the film and photographs a magazine cover shoot for Brand and Nolte.

Check out the trailer for ‘Arthur.’

Barker remarks that Brand’s boundless energy and fearlessness make him impossible to ignore. “Russell [Brand] is pretty scandalous,” says Barker about the funny Brit. “He stripped on set while we were outside and was basically loitering around in his tightie whities the whole time. But he was fabulous to shoot because he’s got such character that you don’t have to push, it’s just there.”

Although he is not banking on movie stardom, Barker has hedged his bets on this year’s Oscars. He has his money on “The Social Network” for best picture and Natalie Portman for best-dressed. “I think she’s just stunning and she’s got that special edge to her,” says Barker. “I love the character she plays [in Black Swan] and I feel that she’s still kind of in that zone a little bit. When I see her eyes when she’s being photographed, there’s a wicked side.”

Tune in to America’s Next Top Model Wednesday nights on the CW and see if Barker’s Oscar predictions come true when the Academy Awards airs Sunday night on ABC.

Tags: Nigel Barker