It wasn't her usual kind of job, but it certainly had Kaley Cuoco flying high.
The female star of CBS' Thursday comedy hit "The Big Bang Theory" played fashion plate for several days earlier this year, both on the ground and in the air. This writer went along as Cuoco began a photo shoot for the new July/August issue of CBS' entertainment magazine Watch! at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, then continued it aloft in the first-class cabin of an American Airlines passenger jet.
The shoot wrapped up at the plane's destination: England, on the grounds of Coworth Park Hotel in Ascot, Berkshire. There, Cuoco proved game for anything asked of her -- even after almost 48 hours with little sleep, and in outside temperatures in the mid-30s -- by veteran celebrity photographer Jeff Lipsky and the Watch! staff. In outfits from a stewardess uniform to the classic blouse and long skirt of a British belle, she enjoyed being the object of such pampering and showcasing.
"I had heard about the idea a while ago, and I actually laughed at it," recalls Cuoco, who even donned roller skates at one point while airborne. "I thought, 'There's no way that's going to happen.' Then, I didn't know if they'd ever really do it with me; I just thought my name was circulating along with other people's, so when it actually happened, I started getting really excited.
"I've worked with the magazine a couple of times, and they always do a great job. I had never worked with Jeff before, but I'd heard from a couple of people who love him. It's hard to know what the photos are going to look like, so you have to trust that the photographer is telling you when things look good. And I believe the team at Watch! would tell me if something was just not right."
Cameraman Lipsky, whose other recent subjects have ranged from Harrison Ford and Julianne Hough ("Dancing With the Stars") to Jerry Seinfeld and Ryan Reynolds ("Green Lantern"), says he "kind of let the location dictate the shots" in photographing Cuoco. Knowing her love of horses, he and his Watch! colleagues arranged for one to be available and prominent in certain shots with her.
"I usually know within the first couple of frames," Lipsky reflects of assessing the experience he has with the person he's capturing. He notes that with Cuoco, "I could tell that she knew exactly what to do. There was a lot of nonverbal communication going on, so I didn't have to direct her too much. That makes my job easier, and it goes by a lot faster. As soon as I get what I need, I can move on and get the next shot.
"She wears clothes really well," he continues, "and we had the best hair people, the best makeup people, incredible stylists and an amazing location. So really, my job was sort of easy. I just had to put her in the right spots and take good pictures."
Since its 2005 debut, Watch! has staged photo shoots literally around the world, with CBS stars from Pauley Perrette ("NCIS") in Paris and Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother") aboard the Orient Express to the cast of "Hawaii Five-0" in the islands where they film. Still, editor-in-chief Jeremy Murphy maintains the Cuoco-in-England assignment was the magazine's most complex undertaking to date.
"It was kind of like, 'What if we did this?' " Murphy says of the idea's genesis and growth. "They are just so media-savvy at American Airlines. They get it, so their eyes lit up. They understand the needs of magazines and journalists, so I instinctively knew they would be a great partner for this. It took a long time, but they were really into it."
An actual pilot and flight attendants "played" themselves in the shoot. "American sent us maybe 20 or 30 employee photos," Murphy reports, "and I sat down with my team and we went through them. I didn't really want to make too many decisions about the pilot, though; I'd rather have had them do that. They wanted to make sure their brand was reflected in a specific way, but they gave us options, which was great. It was very much a collaborative effort."
Indeed, accomplishing the in-flight part of the shoot took two years of coordination between Murphy and Roger Frizzell, American Airlines' vice president of corporate communications.
"This was a first for us," Frizzell confirms. "We had certainly talked about different ways to ignite our brand and put some additional fun into it. When you add in things like CBS and Kaley, who is so well-known, you suddenly have the ingredients of something pretty special."
Cuoco also is serving as a spokeswoman for the American Airlines program Miles for Kids in Need, which contributes travel miles to what Frizzell terms "a charitable effort by our employees to help deliver kids who often are in grave need to destinations for their 'wish trips.' We've worked with Make-a-Wish, and we're broadening it out to become part of other children's initiatives as well, such as UNICEF and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. CBS is a partner in that effort."
In the end, the demanding, tightly scheduled photo shoot made for a happy Kaley Cuoco. "It felt like shooting a little movie," says the actress, whose fifth "Big Bang Theory" season starts this fall.
"I don't think any of us knew what it was going to be like, and all of us just jumped in together. It was quite a process. Some of the scenes involved champagne, and I took the chance to drink some. Then, I was like, 'OK. I can definitely finish the shoot now.' "Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times