Photographer who shot Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s 2006 wedding shares what it was like ‘on the inside’

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Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes tied the knot in “the wedding of the century,” 17 years ago.

While it’s unclear exactly who officially gave it that title — a term used by the media, including CBS News and Fox News, at the time the pair married at an Italian castle on Nov. 18, 2006 — it continues to be used, for example, most recently in Leah Remini’s recent Scientology lawsuit.

While the union wasn’t forever, the wedding certainly was an extravaganza — costing more than $3 million, according to E! News — with multiple days of events, A-list guests and gawkers hoping to get a glimpse of the famed movie star and his Dawson’s Creek actress bride outside Castello Orsini-Odescalchi in Bracciano. A wedding photo, snapped by photographer Robert Evans, showing the pair cheek to cheek against a vined castle wall confirmed it was official.

Fireworks explode over the castle where Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise got married.

The wedding, which reportedly cost $3 million, included a fireworks show over the 15th century castle. (Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images) (Elisabetta Villa via Getty Images)

The lead-up

The public had been hyped up about the coupling after the pair went public in April 2005. They were outwardly so in love, as evident by Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch while gushing over “Kate.” For her part, she revealed that Cruise, who was 16 years her senior, was her childhood crush. They cruised into a premiere with her on the back of a motorcycle like a real-life Maverick and Charlie from Top Gun. Not two months after they started dating, he proposed at the Eiffel Tower, which was announced at a press conference.

It all seemed too much to believe — and there was skepticism. Was it a publicity stunt? Had she really auditioned to be his third wife? Holmes fired her agent and publicist and started having Scientology handlers sit in on her interviews. There was the ultrasound machine flap and speculation Holmes would have to have a silent birth. But, more pressing, was she even pregnant at all? The rumors quickly spun out of control, so much so that they hid away baby Suri for months after she was born in April 2006.

By October 2006, however, the baby had made her world debut in Vanity Fair. And the couple publicly confirmed they had set a date to wed. So by Nov. 18 of that year, when Cruise, who had previously been married twice, and Holmes were ready to say “I do,” the world was eagerly following along. On the guest list were A-listers Jennifer Lopez, David and Victoria Beckham, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy and it was a who’s who of Scientology (church leader David Miscavige was Cruise’s best man), making it a spectacle impossible to look away from or avoid hearing about.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, who is holding baby Suri.

Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and baby Suri leave a restaurant in Rome the night before their wedding. (Giulio Napolitano/AFP/GettyImages) (GIULIO NAPOLITANO via Getty Images)

Brooke Shields and her husband, Chris Henchy, leave a luxury hotel in downtown Rome on Nov. 18, 2006.

In a bizarre twist, Brooke Shields, with husband Chris Henchy, was invited to the wedding shortly after Cruise publicly slammed her for taking antidepressants while experiencing postpartum depression. (Tony Gentile/Reuters) (Tony Gentile / reuters)

Jennifer Lopez and her then-husband Marc Anthony leaving a hotel.

Jennifer Lopez attended with then-husband Marc Anthony. (Salvatore Laporta/Getty Images) (Salvatore Laporta via Getty Images)

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith leave the Hassler Hotel prior to the wedding of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise. (Salvatore Laporta/Getty Images) (Salvatore Laporta via Getty Images)

Victoria Beckham.

Victoria Beckham outside the hotel before leaving for the wedding. (Salvatore Laporta/Getty Images) (Salvatore Laporta via Getty Images)

Then-couple Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey sitting in the back seat of a car arriving for the wedding.

Then-couple Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey arriving for the wedding. (Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images) (Elisabetta Villa via Getty Images)

Actress Jenna Elfman leaves a hotel in Rome.

Jenna Elfman in Rome for the wedding. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters) (Giampiero Sposito / reuters)

The firsthand account

While the world was watching — and crowds lined the street outside — it was just another day of work for the couple’s wedding photographer, Evans.

Evans recalled to Yahoo Entertainment being asked — along with other wedding photographers with experience capturing celebrity weddings (he shot Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt’s 2000 nuptials) — to submit his work for consideration. He had never met the bride- or groom-to-be. Cruise ended up being the one to hire him — and was very enthusiastic while doing so.

“When I met him for the first time, he was very excited to meet me,” says the author of The Secrets of Spectacular Wedding Photography. “It was around the time he was kinda getting the bad press for the couch-jumping thing. But he was super-nice. He was like: ‘I’m so happy to meet you! When I saw your book, I was like: That’s my guy! That’s my guy!’ He was excited about it. I’m meeting Tom Cruise for the first time, this is within the first minute of us meeting, and I was like … ‘Thank you?’ I’m not great with compliments.”

Fans and media outside the castle.

Fans and media outside the castle on Nov. 18, 2006. (Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images) (Giuseppe Cacace via Getty Images)

Evans and another photographer flew to Rome for the festivities, though not by private plane. They stayed next door to the hotel Cruise, Holmes and their guests, approximately 150 total, were in. Evans covered two days of events prior to the wedding, so he was ready for go time on the big day.

“It seemed very real and natural to me,” he said of the vibe between the bride and groom, who both wore Giorgio Armani and were serenaded by Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. “They just seemed like they were having a great time and they were in love. Obviously I’m not thinking about that [while I’m working], but you are observing and you see it. But then the pictures reflect it. I guess they’re actors; they could have been faking it. But I just go there and do my job and shoot what I see.”

As for the celebrity guest list, he says the “wow factor” of being among a star-studded crowd wears off quickly when you’re busy trying to capture a couple’s big day. When we list some of the guests — like Lopez and the Smiths — he says, “It’s funny, I was like, I don’t even remember them being there.”

Actress Katie Holmes can be seen looking out a window of the castle where she and Tom Cruise got married.

Holmes watches from a window as Cruise arrives for their wedding in the Italian lakeside town of Bracciano. (Fabio Serino/Reuters) (STRINGER Italy / reuters)

Evans says one thing he’s learned being “on the inside” for famous weddings — including Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s 2011 wedding — is that “the stuff that gets reported after is usually not very accurate. People are speculating because they don’t know the truth.” And because of nondisclosure agreements, “obviously, you can’t tell anybody that the flowers were pink or the cake was this, so they all speculate, and a lot of stuff you hear, that’s not what happened. It gives a little insight into what it must be like to be a celebrity and having no privacy. Yes, I realize that’s the job that they chose, but that’s the con that goes with the pro.”

Tom Cruise arrives at the castle prior to his wedding.

Cruise arrives at the castle prior to his wedding. (Elisabetta Villa/Getty Images) (Elisabetta Villa via Getty Images)

As for the wedding photos that get released, Evans says they’re never ones he’d pick himself from his batch of approximately 3,000 to 5,000 photos snapped at an event like that.

“If it were up to me, although I liked that photo of them, I would choose different images,” he says. “I mean that it’s kind of true with every celebrity that I’ve ever [shot].”

That’s because the magazines that buy the pictures — which People magazine did back in the day for this wedding — “want certain things: the traditional walk down the aisle, the cake photo.” Today, there aren’t the same bidding wars over celebrity wedding photos because publications are selling fewer magazines. And social media has made it so that stars share their own first pic directly with fans.

It’s also not lost on him that when a celebrity couple splits, the wedding photos are “the same images that get flashed all over again” in the press and online, “and it kind of tears it all apart.” So sometimes Evans is not that sad that the world doesn’t get to see some of the more beautiful and intimate moments he captures.

The uncoupling

In 2012, Holmes filed for divorce from Cruise after nearly six years of marriage in what was called “a calculated breakup.” Eleven days later, it was ironed out in a shockingly quick divorce settlement. Holmes got primary legal custody of their now-teen daughter. Mother and daughter moved to New York City full-time; Cruise — who also has two children with actress Nicole Kidman — hasn’t been spotted publicly with Suri in years.

The exes have said very little about one another since, but in a lawsuit deposition in 2012, when Cruise sued over a report that claimed he “abandoned” Suri, he said yes when asked if Holmes told him one of the reasons she was leaving him was to protect their daughter from Scientology. He also said that Holmes left the Church of Scientology and that Suri was not a member. Meanwhile, Holmes told Ocean Drive in 2015, “I don’t really regret anything that I’ve done. I’ve learned from everything, and everything sort of leads you to the next place. I just keep going.”

It’s unclear who Cruise may or may not be in a relationship with. (There are always rumors.) Holmes was in a longtime relationship with actor Jamie Foxx and later dated NYC restaurateur Emilio Vitolo and musician Bobby Wooten III.

The aftermath

The TomKat wedding was back in the news this year amid Remini’s lawsuit against Scientology.

The King of Queens actress, who left the organization in 2013 and has become a vocal critic, claimed she had been “stalked, surveilled, harassed, threatened, intimidated” since she left. Within the lawsuit were multiple mentions of Cruise, because she claimed her life as a Scientologist changed after his “wedding of the century.” The church has called her lawsuit “ludicrous” and “frivolous.”

Among Remini’s claims was that she asked where best man Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, was and it caused drama. She also claimed she witnessed other behavior at the wedding “that set off red flags,” including unethical contacts between various Scientology executives and others at the wedding, and when she spoke up about it, she was admonished. As a result, she claimed she was held at a Scientology facility for four months after the wedding. She also claimed she had to make amends to the newlyweds by donating money to name a seat in a theater after Suri.

Leah Remini leaving a pre-wedding dinner with Marc Anthony.

Leah Remini leaving a pre-wedding dinner with Marc Anthony. (Salvatore Laporta/Getty Images) (Salvatore Laporta via Getty Images)

Remini previously claimed, in 2015, that her invitation to the wedding came with a request to get her high-profile friends to attend, including her BFF Lopez and Lopez’s then-husband Marc Anthony. She said the church wanted to recruit them. (Lopez has denied being a Scientologist but said her father is.) She also claimed baby Suri was at one point crying on a bathroom floor and that nobody picked her up. Remini said at the time that Holmes accused her of “disrupting the party” and submitted a report to the church about her.

While the church has denied Remini’s claims, Holmes said at the time, “I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future.”

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