"I'm glad it's happening at this point in my life," Dempsey, 57, told the magazine. "It's nice to have the recognition, and certainly my ego takes a little bump."
Discussing his photoshoot for the magazine on Jimmy Kimmel Live! Tuesday night, the Ferrari star told the late-night host that everyone on set — including photographer Carter Smith — had to sign nondisclosure agreements to ensure the news isn't leaked before the big reveal.
"You're not allowed to talk about it at all. You're not allowed to mention it," Dempsey said. "The lighting is a little different, the energy. It's electric."
Since its first Sexiest Man Alive issue in 1985 featuring Mel Gibson, the magazine has put 35 of Hollywood's sexiest male stars on the top spot. From Sean Connery, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Michael B. Jordan and more, the issue has turned into one of the most anticipated covers of the year.
But what does it take to photograph one of the sexiest men alive? According to one professional who's gotten the shot, it takes patience, lots of planning and really, really good lighting.
Keys to success
"It's about making them feel confident," says photographer Jeff Lipsky, who has shot hundreds of magazine covers over the course of his career, including People's 2016 Sexiest Man Alive issue featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
"Most actors don't like photoshoots because they're used to not looking into a camera and here they are having to stare in a lens. So it can be a little awkward for them," he told Yahoo Entertainment. "As a photographer, I'm always trying to get someone's guard down a little bit and get them relaxed."
That includes the box-office darlings like Johnson, whom Lipsky describes as the consummate professional.
"Dwayne was very easy to work with," Lipsky says of the 2016 photoshoot, which took place on a private beach in Johnson's home state of Hawaii. "We both wanted the same result. We wanted great images, so he brought everything to the table."
For a shoot of this caliber, "it's about finding someplace really private to shoot, which is of the utmost importance."
Similar to Dempsey's cover shoot, Lipsky said Johnson and the entire crew had to sign strict NDAs. "You can't let it get out," he explained, which is why he says it took time to find a beach with minimal visibility, so onlookers wouldn't be able to catch on.
"On that particular day, it was raining, but then it cleared up just in time for our photoshoot," he said. "I wanted it to be as real as possible, so I had him on the beach. I didn't want him to stand there, so I had an outrigger canoe brought to the beach, so we had something to pose with. He was able to pick it up, move it and make it look really natural."
Patience is a virtue on these days, Lipsky added.
"You have to have patience because [the perfect shot] doesn't happen immediately. Sometimes you have to let it unfold, and wait for the moment. That's why you're there, so you need a lot of time," he explained.
That goes for the photographer as much as it does for the celebrity.
"If you're not confident, the subject can pick that up," he stressed. "You need to make them feel good, so your confidence has to come out too."
'It's an attitude'
Photographing sexy doesn't necessarily require showing skin, Lipsky said.
"There's an inner beauty you need to capture. It's not sexy, it's an attitude," he explained. "It's my job as the photographer to get that attitude out of the person."
That can get tricky when dealing with male celebrities.
"When they hear the word 'sexy,' it can sometimes be off-putting. So instead, I try to make guys look cool, because that translates into sexy," Lipsky said. "I always try to put 'coolness' into what I'm doing, and not force it. When someone tries to force sexy, it can become so cheesy."
Fellow celebrity photographer Vincent Peters, who's shot hundreds of stars for magazine covers, including for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, told Yahoo Entertainment that working with some of the world's sexiest people changed his perception around beauty and sex appeal.
"You realize these men and women do not carry their advantages in the obvious appearance," said Peters, who shot one of five 2016 British GQ covers of David Beckham, who was People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2015. "It's not a flag that they wave. It's rather a particular charismatic attitude with class and dignity."
To make his point, Peters shared a famous quote from Sophia Loren describes it best: "The fantasy of a man is the best weapon of a woman."
"For me, sexy is more of a suggestion than a revelation," he explained. "It's something rather subtle, not something obvious, something that happens in your mind and not in front of your eyes."