Sean O’Pry is the face of high-fashion powerhouses Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Lacoste, among others. Last month, the 20-year-old was named Forbes’ Most Successful Male Model, something other models spend years (until they age too much for the industry) trying to achieve. His public image is that of an honest kid from Georgia discovered by former America’s Next Top Model judge Nolé Marin via his MySpace pics. And yes, if you haven’t already heard the story, we agree. It sounds a little too good to be true. So, as much as we love singling out impostors … there’s nothing to expose on clean-cut Mr. O’Pry. His story’s legit. He’s strikingly good looking, and he’s a normal twentysomething kid. He makes fun of himself when necessary, and he gets the joke. Either way, it’s always compelling to hear what successful (and really, really, really good looking) people have to say.
What’s going on with you now? I’m going into acting, so I have a few projects there. With the modeling thing, it’s busy. There’s nothing to complain about.
Have you always aspired to act? I sort of just fell into it like I did this. I got a lucky break.
Has stardom changed you at all? Luckily, I’m a male model, so stardom is a ways off. If I was a girl model, I’d probably feel it a lot more. As a guy, you don’t get recognized. It’s kind of known in the industry, and that’s about it. I like that part, but I’d aspire for more one day.
You never get recognized? In Korea I get recognized. In New York, I think they’re just way too busy with their own lives.
What are your favorite places you’ve visited for work? I loved Korea. It was snowing while I was there. I’m from Georgia, and it really doesn’t snow much. Then I was in Moscow, and I just got back from Tulum in January. My favorite place so far is Kingston, New York. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We were shooting in this house, and it just had the Catskills wrapped around it.
Have you fulfilled any male fantasies working with female models? The first check in my book was Barney’s, and I kissed Jessica Stam on that shoot. I was like, “Now, if this is what male modeling’s all about, then I’m going to be very excited.” But I haven’t kissed anybody since. I think they were just trying to tease me.
What do your Southern friends think about your profession? My best friend’s a pipe layer, so we’re really quite different. He’s a six-foot redhead named Randy, and he lays pipes for a living. He’s good at his job. He’s a very hard worker. Before this, we built retaining walls for pools together. Going from retaining walls to male modeling … He just makes fun of me most the time.
Do your friends from Georgia come up to visit? Randy’s come up a couple times, and my buddies came up for my birthday last year. My family’s only been once, so my friends must like me more than my family.
Is your family supportive of the career choice? At first, my dad made fun of me a lot, but now he’s proud of me for accomplishing something in my life. My mother’s always been behind me, but I guess any mom would want their son or daughter to be a model. My dad had higher aspirations for me, but you know, this is what happened. I got handed this, and I took the opportunity.
They must be proud of your financial independence at your age. I’m happy about the financial independence ’cause I used to have to borrow money from my friends to go to McDonald’s. I can also help my family out. That’s a blessing.
Do you enjoy the social scene in New York? I choose not to go out anymore. I have a really small group of friends, and I quite enjoy beer pong at my apartment if I do say so myself. There’s way too many people at the places that people go out too.
Did you go through a party boy phase when you first moved? Oh yeah. I think everyone goes through that, if not a two-day phase where they’re finally like, “I can’t do it anymore,” then a year and a half phase like I did.
Did that affect your work in any way? No, I never drink before a job. I never have, and never will. That part of the job was always very professional. I don’t show up late; if I did it once it never happened again. If I ever drank before a job; I did it once and never again. I learned from my lessons and learned that going at it beforehand was not a good thing.
What are your extracurriculars? I do enjoy reading, and they have this great app on the iPhone that I can read books on. Also, the batting cages at Chelsea Piers. I used to play baseball in high school. And I like people-watching.
Where do you people watch? Out my window. There are some interesting people in the East Village.
Were you super nervous before your first test shoot? I never did test shoots. I did it all with my manager, who got me all my jobs off the Polaroid sheets for six months.
Were you ever skeptical that modeling wouldn’t work out? My theory was like, as long as you can suck your cheeks in, you’re gonna be good. That’s not what everyone does, but I did have my Zoolander moments at the beginning.
Did you ever get called out on that? Oh, I’ve been told to do it, too. I think I get called out more by my friends and by people who know me. I stopped sucking my cheeks in, just for reference — I don’t do it anymore.
Noted. Are male models bros with each other, or is it entirely competitive? Do I have a lot of bromances going on? You know, I’ve had a few. What you realize is that no matter what, someone is going out for your job. There are so many good-looking brunettes with blue eyes. It could be a competition in the ways of your looks, but after that, your personality is what you base your job on. After you go to the casting and give them your book, all you can do is be yourself. If they like that, they’ll book you. So, competition-wise, I don’t know if it’s a competition like we’re trying to win, or more competitive like, I’m me, and they’re not. I think that’s the only difference with me getting a job and them not.
Do you think it’s more competitive for girls? I think girl models hate each other. I’d love to just see a girl model brawl. How great would that be?
You want to go to college eventually, right? I definitely do. I’d love to be a marine biologist. I used to like digging shit up — so I wanted to be an archaeologist.
I’m sure you spend lots of time outside, being from Georgia. Yep, I’ve been bitten by a snake twice. On my birthday when I was 13 and when I was 14. A year apart, mowing the grass. And there was this really cute girl across the street watching. I think screaming that you’ve just gotten bitten by a snake isn’t the most attractive quality in a man.
What are the ups and downs of male modeling? My least favorite thing is the perception that if you’re a male model, you either take your clothes off for everything, or you’re gay. And I mean, some people are and some people do, but I don’t like that perception. When you hear these perceptions — let’s say in a blog — when people who don’t even know you decide things about you, that’s the thing I don’t like. The good thing about the job is that I have not met one bad person in this industry so far. Everyone I’ve worked with has been great. I’ve learned so many things, and the travel.
What about bars? I’m 20 so it’s not legal to ask me that question yet. Ask me when I’m in 21 or I could get people in trouble.
Do you look through magazines differently than before you started modeling? The only magazine I really ever picked up was Sports Illustrated. So I only really looked at the pictures until I got to the football articles. I’m not really going to go through a GQ unless it has a really great article about an athlete or something. Usually, I just like looking at the pictures. If the picture draws my eye, then I’m going to read it, and if not then I’m going to pass. I would definitely read an article to explain why they took the picture.
Also, do you have more of an appreciation for fashion as an art form or an industry now? Definitely. You realize that when you’re different behind the camera, you make something look completely different. You could take a pair of pants and you could put them on anyone, and it would take a whole new form. I think you can make fashion your own, and that’s a great thing. And I like a lot of free stuff.
Do you ever plan on moving back to Georgia? Yeah, it might be when I’m 85. As long as I’m still modeling, business is here. If modeling was in Georgia, I’d be the first one to go. I do miss Cracker Barrel and sweet tea though.
Have you heard any good pickup lines from girls in New York? I was dating a girl for two and a half years, so I never really got into the dating scene since I’ve been here. I spend most hours of the day in my apartment. I’m here for my job, I do my job and that’s all I really do. I’m quite boring.