Esquire, Aug 2013
The Ryan Gosling of Porn: Adult entertainment’s biggest male star is the first of a new breed: a soulful, sensitive, soft-eyed boy next door who also happens to bang babes for a living. As his female fanbase swells, can James Deen cross over to mainstream movie success? Does he even want to? Esquire’s Sanjiv Bhattacharya watches Deen at work and play and tries to tell the difference.
Also at Esquire
Sex is about to happen. It happens a lot out here in Woodland Hills. You take the 101 Freeway north out of Hollywood and twenty minutes later you’re deep in the gusset of Porn Valley, the sunbaked suburbia where they make all the filth. Wood land is about right.
Today’s location is the Remmet studio, a crouched featureless building on a side street, noticeable only by the crowd of smokers hovering at the door. And you can tell it’s sexy time because the crowd just got bigger – all non-essential crew have been kicked out. Even on porn sets, not everyone gets to watch.
Meanwhile, inside, America’s #1 male porn star, James Deen, is having a quick pre-sex confab with his co-star and producer – namely Tara Lynn Foxx, a pouting 22 year old blonde, and a middle-aged Korean man called Kim Nielsen, the owner of the production company, AMKingdom. Kim has some sort of checklist to run through. He also has a voice as flat and dismal as a damp day in the Fens.
“For the foreplay,” says Kim – Bueller, Bueller – “we need you to suck on her tits.”
“Whatever you need!” says Deen, brightly.
“Eat her pussy.”
“I will do that!”
“Lick her asshole.”
“I will do that!”
Kim consults his clipboard. “We also want two different doggies.”
“OK, so what we could do,” Deen says, springing into action, “and Tara, tell me if this is painful. We could – depending on where the camera is – do a leg up here, if I just keep my hand like that. Or…” And he leads Tara over to the sofa, angles her just so and looks over to Kim. “We could also go this way, so you get this whole view. But it’s totally your call. I’m here for you, so whatever you need for the scene…”
He sounds like a contractor giving his client options for the plumbing. Strictly business. Your service guaranteed. And Kim’s clearly a satisfied customer. He taps his cameraman on the shoulder and drones, “Let’s make sure that we shoot James’ ass while he’s pumping away.”
Now, this is unusual. Given that porn is thought of as principally for straight males, you’d think there was little profit in shooting a gentleman’s crevice. And you’d be right – the camera’s job is typically to drool over the girls. That’s why male stars are often described as the props of porn, the pump dispensers who provide the wood and the pop and not much else.
But this isn’t your average porno. And Deen isn’t your average porn star.
The film’s called Saving Humanity, and as the title suggests, it’s not short of ambition. The year is 2054, and the world is controlled by The Corporation which has somehow withheld recreational sex from the people of Earth. Deen is the evil overlord of this dystopia, and only a select army of sluts can stop him.
“Our inspiration was 2001 Space Odyssey and Logan’s Run,” Kim told me straight-faced, when I arrived. “We cover five different eras of mankind, from the caveman right up to the future, and we have different stories going on between the eras, kind of like Lawrence Kasdan or Robert Altman.” Come the final credits, Kim promises a dance number “like Slumdog Millionaire”. And since this is porn, he intends to pull this off in 10 days, on a budget of $300,000, numbers which might sound paltry but in porn terms are epic. So Saving Humanity is a cathedral in a wasteland and a bold move on Kim’s part. He’s reaching, if not for the stars, then at least the chandeliers. And critically, it’s “couples porn”, that much-hyped sliver of the porn pie that caters to girls. Kim reckons it’s growing, and he’s not alone (New Sensations is another major studio chasing the couples dollar).
That’s why the sex today will be soft-serve vanilla, no rough stuff. It’s why the girls are silicone free and the heroines of the story, and it’s why the camera will linger on Deen’s caboose as he goes to town. In fact, it’s why Deen was cast in the first place. Because he’s that rare male porn star with an actual following. The girls, they love their James.
At five eight, and 140lbs, Deen is the anti-macho stud, a slender, nerdy boy-next-door with cheekbones and big blue eyes. He’s a stark reprieve from the anabolic sex brute who became the porn norm somewhere around the 80s – and about time, too. That spray-tanned wrestler look was always a boy’s idea of what a girl wants – big pecks, big tats, big yabba-dabba-doo. But tastes have changed. It’s a nerd’s world now. And so we have Deen, the non-Neolithic, fraternity type with the nine-inch bratwurst in his trousers. “I’m not a dude’s dude,” he says. “I don’t like sports, I’ve never done a keg stand.”
His fans aren’t shy. The Deen tumblr is a swoon wall of pics and gifs for the freshly pubescent. But alongside the standard teen idol stuff – the shirtless pin-up, or the cute boy goofing around with his cat – there are clips galore of our man vigorously pistoning a delighted young thing with one hand around her throat, muttering filth into her earhole. Girls offer themselves to him on his blog, underage or not. They palpitate on YouTube. And somewhere around early 2012, news of this phenomenon started to trickle into the mainstream, notably to the news magazine show, Nightline, which ran a hysterical segment about how Deenmania was bad for America – lock up your daughters! Of course, it only brought his fame to full tumescence. As one of his fans said on the segment, “he’s the Ryan Gosling of porn.”
Now, after nearly ten years in the bango business, he’s about to cross over, playing a porn star in The Canyons, the much talked about Paul Schrader film written by Bret Easton Ellis and starring Lindsay Lohan. The last adult star to attempt the transition out of Porn Land was Sasha Grey, who segued from Ass Eaters Unanimous 19 to The Girlfriend Experience by Steven Soderbergh. And it’s a tricky bridge – no one has made it so far. Grey has come further than anyone else, but even her effort remains a work in progress.
The difference between Grey and Deen, however, is profound. She wants to leave porn, while Deen wouldn’t dream of it. “I’m not giving up porn, no way,” he tells me later, incredulous. “Porn is what I do. I want to be performing it and making it for the rest of my life.”
OK, so now sex really is happening. Deen has Foxx bent over an armchair and his face buried in her cooch, his eyes peeking over her hills and down her back as though keeping watch for advancing infantry. While he slurps and snaffles like a horse in a feedbag, down below, out of shot, he’s covertly yanking himself into readiness. After which there’s a perfunctory blowjob. After which, we have the main event which Deen performs in his signature style – lots of intense eye contact and sex mumbling, often punctuated by a rhythmic “yes, yes, yes” which, through a clenched jaw sounds like “jess, jess, jess”. First this position, then that – he’s ticking off every item on Kim’s checklist, all but one.
And here it is, merry Christmas – Deen’s on his feet and Foxx is on her knees, it’s time gentlemen please ….
Because that’s how porn sex goes – you have to stop before the pop, and take it once more from the top for the close-ups, and sometimes again for the stills. So Deen does it all again, blow by blow, only this time, the cameras are within sniffing distance, and Kim’s directing the action in his monotone. “Keep rolling and lick her butt… Keep rolling and onto doggie…” And at the moment of truth, he checks with the cameraman and the director before giving Deen the final thumbs-up. That’s all it takes. Within seconds, Deen’s done – he’s popped his yoghurt all over Foxx’s chops, she’s applied it like lip balm, and a round of applause has gone up in the studio. Towels are rushed to the stars as the grips reel in the cables.
Foxx retires to her dressing room, to wipe the goo from her chin. At 22, she’s been in porn for four years now, but she’s had enough. “This is my second last movie,” she says. “It’s time to do my cooking site: Foxxy Chef!”
As for Deen, he’s in the shower, with the door wide open, already thinking about his next job. “I’ll probably go home, watch some cartoons,” he says. “But I can’t stay up too late, because I’ve got a gonzo scene tomorrow on a different movie. And the day after that, I’m doing a scene for Digital Playground.”
Three days on the trot? Sounds like a busy week.
“No, that’s normal. I work pretty much every day. Weekends too. Why not? My job’s fun. It’s not even really a job.”
This is how it’s been since he was 18. He reckons he’s shot 4000 or so scenes in his career, but can’t say for sure. “ I just say that because it’s one a day for nine years.” He shrugs. “What can I say? I like to bang.”
The following evening, Deen and I head to Pasadena in his 2011 Nissan GTR Skyline, one of the fastest road cars in the world. “It does 0-60 in 2.6 seconds,” he says. “The new Maclaren beats it, but I’m not spending $250,000 on a car. That’s a house.”
The plan is to hang out where he grew up, and chat about his childhood, the making of the porn star, that sort of thing. It was Deen’s idea – he wants to help me get my story, the way he wanted Kim to get a good scene. He’s a nice guy basically. Everyone in the business says so.
But first, I have some rookie questions. Like how, James – how in a room full of people, does a man get Percival to stand and deliver like that?
“The hard part isn’t getting hard in front of people, swingers do that all the time,” he says. “The hard part is getting hard when you’re told to. So you need to be able to switch your mind from your cat Fluffy who got hit by a car, and oh I miss Fluffy, to ‘hey James, come here and get your dick hard’.”
Like his car, he has no problem going 0-60 at a moment’s notice. It’s about focus, he says, not boner pills. He tried half a Cialis once but to no avail. Then there was the time he couldn’t function because the girl’s perfume smelled like the flowers outside his grandmother’s house. Oh, and clowns.
“I won’t fuck a clown,” he says, seriously. “Clowns terrify me.” And yet, he’s such a trooper that when a production company insisted that the girl wear a clown costume, he still struggled through it. “I walked into the room, eyes closed. We only did positions where her face wasn’t towards me. And it was softcore. No sex. For a minute and a half. And as soon as they said cut, I ran out of the room.”
One more rookie question, James – this business of coming on cue. “That’s just a weird talent I’ve always had,” he says. It’s no biggie. He’s often thought of his climax as an anticlimax anyway. “For me, the feeling is slightly less awesome than when I pee after holding it for 30 minutes,” he says. “Coming is for her. If she doesn’t ask for it, then what’s the point? I don’t need to come to be satisfied. When I’d masturbate as a kid, I’d watch porn for hours before I went to sleep, and a lot of the time I wouldn’t come.”
This level of Jimmy control is rare indeed. It makes Deen a physical outlier, not unlike Michael Phelps or Yao Ming. As with those men, there just happens to be a lucrative industry that rewards his specific and freakish abilities. Porn’s tight budgets don’t permit hours of idly standing around while the talent fails to either find wood or muster the custard. So the few men who can perform reliably tend to work as often and as long as they choose. They may earn less than the girls but they work more often; they’re not as well known, but their careers last longer, often into their 50s.
Currently Deen’s peers at the top of porn mountain include the Europeans, Manuel Ferrara (France), Nacho Vidal (Spain) and Rocco Siffredi (Italy); and a handful of north Americans like Evan Stone, Lexington Steele and Erik Everhard. All are veterans with at least a decade in the game – Deen is the youngest by some distance – and most have on their mantlepieces at least one porn Oscar – the AVN (Adult Video News) Male Performer of the Year. Deen became the youngest ever winner in 2009 (he was 22), and has added two more since, in 2010 and 2013.
And by the way, the boy next door is a brute. All that fuss about Fifty Shades and here he is: Christian Grey with bells on. When he’s not making tepid couples porn for Kim, he’s shooting savage BDSM for Kink.com, a San Francisco studio right out on the grisly edge of hardcore.
Certainly, the verdict among the girls on the Saving Humanity set yesterday was unanimous. “He’s an animal,” said Foxx. “A beast,” said Skin Diamond, a beautiful black performer from Scotland. And Andy San Dimas, a sweet goth-looking girl from Baltimore, had this to say about her first scene with Deen, six years ago: “I’d never been dominated by a man like that, I literally had the wind knocked out of me. It was really rough, like slapping and spitting in my face. I gave him permission beforehand, but I was surprised at how hard it was, you know? I had a big mark on my face. I didn’t talk to anyone for the rest of the day.”
Porn has been getting rougher for years. Deen’s idol is Rocco Siffredi, a legendary punisher who once sodomized a girl while jamming her face into a toilet bowl and flushing. But Rocco is a sensitive savage, and this is also the dichotomy of Deen – the cheerful Jewish boy with the teenage fanclub is perfectly at home in the dungeon.
One production manager I talked to, named Shylar, told me about a shoot on which Deen directed a well known BDSM submissive in a series of gut-churning gang bangs. “There were five men on one day, seven on the next,” he said. “And they did everything. They tied her up, whipped her and waterboarded her while filling every hole. It was just… I don’t know why these girls do it. But after her first anal, she started bleeding. So they decided to do double anal instead, because with two up there, she’d be so jammed up, the blood wouldn’t seep out.”
When I tell Deen the story, he is quick to clarify. The actress owned the website they were shooting for and the scene was all her idea. “The double anal and double vaginal was her choice,” he says. “I can’t speak for her motivations. But she had a safe word, ‘red’, she could use at any time and we would have stopped immediately. The more extreme things get, the more careful everyone is.”
We pull into a parking structure, and he grabs a ticket from the machine. “But yeah, that’s the trouble with doing so many guys in one day. You do get the possibility of tearing.”
Pasadena, the home of the Rose Bowl, is as manicured as it sounds. And it’s where Deen grew up, just a half hour out of LA, a story that he tells me as we wander about the old city. It’s a strange story, as it is, but even more so for the way that Deen tells it, as though he can’t see what’s so strange about it. “I really don’t get why people are interested in me,” he says at one point. “I mean, I do, but I think they’re going to be disappointed when they discover I’m not interesting in any way, shape or form.”
He was born Bryan Matthew Sevilla, the son of two rocket scientists from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in town – not entry level geeks either, but proper leaders in the space program. But young James didn’t want to be an astronaut. He wanted to fuck for a living, it’s the only career he’s ever considered. The Damascene moment came one day, on a local horse track, when he found a jazz mag splayed open in the dirt. And his first thought was: “That’s the life for me.”
But here’s the thing – he was six.
It was the early 90s, and porn was on the cusp of a revolution. Having escaped the confines of the 70s, and proliferated through the VHS boom of the 80s, it was well on its way from the margins to the mainstream, from fringe to ubiquity, a passage that the Internet would make complete while James was still in junior school. His is the first generation to emerge whole from this online ocean of smut, a whoregasbord schmorgasbord as far as the eye can see. It’s also the first generation for whom the Internet is how sex is discovered. So for Generation Y – or better yet P for pish and tish to your parentally protected passwords – it all starts earlier. The discovery, the experiments, the bang bang club.
But still – six?
“I’ve always been kind of hypersexual,” he says. “I got in trouble for kissing the girls at kindergarten.”
In any case, sex was just part of what made James a memorable kid. By his own telling he was an “angry, angsty child”, immensely stubborn and prone to violent tantrums, one of which left his school principal with a broken hip. Where his anger came from, however, is a mystery. Deen is quick to dismiss any speculation of trauma, as is often the suspicion with porn stars.
“I had a really good upbringing, my parents are really awesome,” he says. “I was just the type of kid, where if you said, ‘don’t stick your finger in that electrical socket’, I’d be like, why? ‘Because I said so.’ Fuck you!” He pokes his finger into an imaginary socket and smarts. “Oh, that’s why! OK – it’s because I’m going to get electrocuted. But why? ‘Well, let me explain to you how electricity works….’”
His point is that yes, he was a nightmare, but if adults approached him with reason and logic, he was fine. Over the three days that I spend with him, however, he repeats the point over and over. I hear the electrical socket story three times. And there’s another about being rewarded with ice cream for getting A’s which gets very convoluted, with Deen talking faster and faster as he goes. Here’s a short section: “If I’m doing well then you’re going to trust me when I say I’m done with my work, and you’re going to want to get me ice cream, because when I say I’m done you’ll say ‘yeah, cool, because you’re done with your work when you say you’re done and you’re proving that you know what you’re doing by getting good grades…’”
It’s as though he’s re-litigating the arguments he had with his parents and teachers. There’s still a glimmer of the tantrum-throwing child.
Certainly, his relationship with his parents is unusual. They divorced when he was fifteen, and he responded by leaving home to join a community of local punks for two years, dossing in warehouses and so on. Yet he insists his parents were fine with it – they’d learned how to reason with him by that stage. He merely explained that he’d keep a cellphone with him and come home every so often, and that was that. The same went for his announcement that he would enter porn.
“Once we talked, they realized that ‘oh, he’s not going to get carried away with the glitz and the glam, he actually has a real career plan and goals. OK, cool! So health and safety – how are you protecting yourself?’”
“It sounds so matter of fact. I’d have thought they’d be pulling their hair out.”
“No, they already knew it’s what I wanted.”
“But they’re brilliant scientists and their teenage son is both living on the streets and going into porn – it sounds like every parent’s nightmare.”
“I wasn’t actually on the streets that much. I did sleep in the park for a while, but most of the time I shared an apartment with ten other people. And I didn’t tell them I was entering porn until I was 18, when I was back living with my dad.”
(Today, he says, he’s very close to his family, and they fully support his career choice, aunts and uncles included. None of Deen’s family have ever gone on the record about their son.)
We walk past an alley. “I had sex down there,” he says. He points to roof. “Had sex there. And in those bushes.”
It started at Jewish Day Camp when he was 12, and a 16 year old girl took his man-cherry. Then, it accelerated. This was his career choice after all, a position he’d held since kindergarten with characteristic resolve. When his teachers asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said “porn star.” And when they sent him to the principal’s office, he said “porn star” there too.
Here’s how he explained it to his careers counselor at 13. “I said, ‘I like to eat, I like to sleep, I like to have sex and I like to watch TV.’ So he said, ‘why not be a film critic?’ I said, ‘no, I don’t like writing. If someone could pay me to eat, then I’d do that, but that’s not a profession. If someone could pay me to watch TV, then I’d do that, but that’s not a profession. Sex is one of the things I enjoy, and everyone should engage in a profession that they enjoy doing.’”
At 17, a plan started to come together. He had moved in with his dad, and was working at Starbucks while going to community college in the evenings. And at nights, he would listen to the popular sex advice radio show Loveline, hosted by Dr Drew Pinsky, of Celebrity Rehab fame. One night the guest was Jenna Jameson, so guys were calling in and asking how to get into the business. She said, “if you wanna do porn, go sit in a room with twenty people and jerk off for an hour. And if you can keep hard, and come when they say “come”, then you can do porn.”
For Deen, a lightbulb went off. Right away, he started schtupping in public – more than he already was anyway. “It’s never really been a private thing for me, it’s something I like to share with people,” he says mysteriously. He’d go to parties in Hollywood to see if he could shag his way into the business – which is about the only way in for a guy. According to Mike South, a porn industry blogger, “the industry is extremely wary of new men because so few can walk the talk. Usually, the only way in is if a girl brings you in and says, ‘I’ll only work with this guy.’”
For Deen, it was different, but only slightly. He met a stripper called Holly who helped him get pictures of his hardness in front of the balloon-chested actress Pamela Peaks. And Peaks was so enamored, she made some calls. Within weeks, he was shooting his first movie, Art School Sluts Are Easy. And once word got out about this young, hung, Jewish kid, with the Jimmy control, he was off. The name “Clint Cunnilingus” quickly gave way to James Deen, a school nickname he’d acquired on account of his smoking style. And his reputation grew. He studied his heroes, he honed his technique. Sexual libertine though he is, he’s always been a grafter, not a hedonist. Deen doesn’t party. He’d sooner go home, watch some cartoons and work on his clothing line.
“Yeah, I have my T-shirt company, my online store, my blog, I’m producing and directing,” he says. “I like to be productive.”
We eventually find a rudimentary bistro and settle in. But it’s an awkward meal. Deen seems tired of talking about himself, and starts changing the subject, talking about passers-by whom he thinks he recognizes. His body language tightens. He says he gets nervous around large numbers of people, and that may be what’s happening here. “Look at me right now,” he says. “I’m horribly uncomfortable. But that’s because I’m in public. I’m weird.”
The meal isn’t helping. The salad dressing makes him gag (“I can’t do eggs”), and he won’t touch his Bolognese (“it came out of a can”). Clearly a man of particular tastes, he spends a long time with the wine list, asking to try things, and then rejecting them. “I like the science of wine,” he says. When the bottle comes out warm, Deen looks repulsed.
I wonder if maybe it’s my fault for pressuring him into this evening. It was my idea to go out for a drink and loosen up, but now I’m not sure that this how Deen loosens up. On the way here, he told me that even in the full bloom of teenage rebellion, he’d never much taken to drink and drugs. His experimental phase quickly passed.
“I was drinking responsibly by the age of 13,” he said. “You know, the way we’re going to have maybe one or two adult beverages tonight, but we won’t get drunk?”
This is why Deen intrigues. He’s happier having sex in public than dinner; he’s supremely confident, as all male porn stars must be, and yet when it comes to talking about himself he’s shy and awkward; and, even though he’s had more sex than most men twice his age, he still talks about “adult beverages”. There’s something profoundly teen about Deen.
The way he argues, for example. He likes to appeal to the arid, emotionless domain of logic and reason, sometimes, as his career counselor realized, to an obtuse level. It serves him well at times – he makes a persuasive lobbyist for porn, a fluent defender of his industry, which he sees as safe, professional and consensual. Give him a chance and he’ll rail happily against the myths that girls are mistreated or victims of abuse, and he’ll explain how healthy it is to break the taboos of sex and shame.
But equally, he reminds me of computer geeks, who are superbly bright but emotionally removed somewhat, perhaps on account of a hint of Aspergers. Deen’s bright too – he graduated from high school two years early, sailing through mathematics. And as for the emotional remove, I’m hardly the first to wonder whether porn dissociates sex from the heart, or whether a porn career might deepen that dissociation. As the evening progresses, Deen’s interests in cartoons and the “science of wine” make more sense.
He even gets giggly when talking about sex. “I guess it’s a paradox,” he says. “I love sex, but to speak graphically about it is different. Like when I read sex stories – ‘he sticks his loveshaft in her wet sticky honeypot’. I’m like ‘ewww, that’s gross!’”
To some extent, we’re all arrested adolescents. The difference is that Deen is actually leading the life his inner teen dreamed about. All those honeypots, the mind boggles. So, if I can ask one more rookie question…
“How much sex do you have?”
“Um… depends what you mean by sex,” he says. “Let’s say it’s penetration, and then there’s a break between sexual sessions for a decent amount of time? So well…” He thinks. “I could wake up, have sex with a lady. Then go have a cup of coffee. Have sex again. I haven’t had an orgasm yet, but maybe she’s had one or two. Then I go to work and have sex there. We do the soft core, the hard core, the stills – so that’s three times. Then I might have sex in the shower again after the scene. Then when I go home, the lady I woke up with comes over and I have sex again.”
“That’s seven times. That’s mental. That’s twice as often as eating.”
“What can I say? I like to bang.”
“Does the porn sex affect sex in your personal life?”
“It makes it more special and personal.”
“But you’re doing it so often – how can it not get mundane?”
“Most people like cake right? But sometimes you eat a lot of cake and you can’t eat anymore. But then, when you’re able to eat more cake again, you want to eat more cake, right?”
“Only if you really really love cake.”
“I do. I love cake. Cake is awesome.”
The waitress hovers. “You gentlemen feel like dessert?” she says.
“No thanks,” says Deen. It’s time to go.
Is he a sex addict? Bret Easton Ellis thinks so. “During the filming of The Canyons,” he says, “there were times when James – who had promised to be on call for the duration of the shoot in case we needed him – he would leave to do porn. It drove the director crazy. And another time, I wanted to take him to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, because I thought, ‘it’ll be good publicity for the movie, and it’ll be fun to have James mix with Hollywood types’. But he said ‘I can’t go because I’ve got to shoot a scene.’”
Whether this makes him a clinical addict is hard to say, but even if he were, he’d be that lucky junkie whose compulsion leads not to ruin but to riches. Certainly, he’d shagged his way onto Ellis’ radar in December 2011, as stories emerged about this porn star next door with the teeming female fan base.
“I found him very intriguing,” says Ellis. “His look was so new for heterosexual porn. Not gay porn, though – James has a big gay following. And this idea of technology, women’s sexuality and James all coming together, struck me as very interesting.”
He wondered if Deen was right for this movie he was writing. So they met for dinner at Soho House. Deen wore a suit and was clearly nervous, but as they chatted, Ellis saw something. “Here’s a guy that’s very politely eating a bowl of spaghetti, and then later, he’ll get into some extremely hardcore S&M. And the character that I was working on also had the dark side and the light side.” So he went home and wrote the script with Deen in mind. And when Paul Schrader, the director, objected to casting a porn star, Ellis went to bat. In the end, Deen was not only the first to be cast, but was even asked: “would you be OK with working with Lindsay Lohan?”
At the end of the meal, Deen hung around Soho House. He’d had a couple of drinks, he wasn’t ready to drive home just yet, so he lingered at the bar.
“This one person asked me what I did and so I told him,” he says. “And then I was the center of attention. All these people surrounded me – Cedric the Entertainer, someone from House and one of the Kardashians, I think… I don’t know. The only Kardashian I recognize is Kim because she made a porno! They all asked me their questions, and I gave them their answers, and that was it. Ten minutes later, they all turned their backs and didn’t want to talk to me anymore. So I went out and had a cigarette and waited a while. Then I went home.”
It sounds lonely, the way Deen tells it. As though there’s a gulf between porn people and what they call “civilians”. On the set of The Canyons, the New York Times reported that Deen was something of a loner, the object of curiosity and wonder.
But Ellis dismisses all this as a reflection of our archaic attitudes towards porn. “You know when the Times describes him as a ‘pornographic film actor’, they already disapprove,” he says. “Let me tell you, James was the least neurotic, most professional person on that set.”
There’s a tendency he’s noticed, in articles about James – particularly when the writer’s male – to depict him as somehow “other”, not one of us. “There’s a wistfulness, perhaps even envy. Just the idea that James is getting to do this, while some people are having a hard time meeting anybody on Match.com. So there’s always this balm given to the male reader that ‘yeah, he’s having a lot more sex, but you really don’t want this life.’”
So perhaps he’s not lonely in Soho House. Perhaps he’s just quietly taking in what was a momentous evening for him. And if he’s estranged on The Canyons’ set maybe it’s not because he’s from Planet Porn, but because he’s under pressure as the film’s lead, making his first mainstream movie, having already been stigmatized by the director who quite publicly opposed his casting. Perhaps it’s time to retire some of the assumptions we’ve inherited about porn, much as Deen’s generation has done with most of the old bastions of sexual judgment. Sex before marriage. Gay marriage. Bisexuality. All are normal now. And porn has never been so mundane or so extreme. Our horizons are broader. Bit by bit, the old stigmas are fading.
“There’s still so much handwringing about porn,” says Ellis. “But I think we’re past that now. We’re moving into this other phase where sex isn’t legislated as this moral thing any more. What James does is confront these barriers that we have. He’s the face of this new acceptance of porn. And I see nothing wrong with it.”
OK, sex is happening. It’s my last day with America’s #1 porn star, and we’re up in the Republican enclaves of Ventura County this time, a hundred miles north of Porn Valley. Thanks to a daft new law in LA County mandating the use of condoms in porn, studios have been forced further afield to find locations. So today, we’re in a grand old ranch home belonging to the estate of an author I’m sworn not to reveal, but he wrote one of the best known children’s books of the 20th century. You follow the long corridor past the wall of family photos which go back to a sepia time when men wore ties and hats, and there at the end is the master bedroom, where within earshot of the ancestors, you can hear the mating call: “jess jess jess”. It’s Deen plunging merrily into a young girl.
Digital Playground is one of the glossier studios, known for swish sets and hot girls. And today is a slick operation. Robbie D, the director, is a commanding presence and his crew is a bunch of no-nonsense guys in cargo shorts, tats and black T-shirts, who chat between takes about football and cars. It’s not Deen’s crowd, in other words, but still, this is where he feels most at home – on an adult set, doing the do. And especially today, since he’s working with his girlfriend, a sprightly porcelain brunette called Stoya.
I asked him earlier that afternoon, how porn sets compared to mainstream sets, and he made an argument in his porn-lobbyist way. “There’s more professionalism and discipline here,” he said. “Those stories of mainstream actors who don’t know their lines – and didn’t they have to hold up cue cards for Marlon Brando? That wouldn’t fly on a porn set. They’d be replaced and never used again. We don’t fuck around in porn.”
It’s not only more professional, but more ethical too. “I guarantee you if I was uncomfortable about something on The Canyons set, then a lot of people would try to make me comfortable. But on an adult set, the minute I say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable’, that’s it, we’re not doing it. There’s more respect for people’s personal boundaries.”
So whatever comes of this mainstream notoriety he’s enjoying – interviews like this, and the release of The Canyons this autumn – Deen will always return here, to the comfort of porn. It’s a world he knows, a world that doesn’t change so much either. Even Deen’s rate per scene has stayed the same, despite all the fuss that’s been made of him outside of adult. What’s more, he has no plans to raise it.
“I’ll only raise it if I’m turning down more scenes than I’m accepting, like 30-60 scenes a month,” he explained. “It’s supply and demand, like if I was a roofer or something.” He won’t say what he makes, but an accomplished male star can make in the region of $1000 per scene.
“I’m just waiting for my 15 minutes to end. Hopefully people won’t forget about me, but if they do, that’s OK. I had my moment.”
For now, though, another moment. The crew has left the bedroom, the action is over, and it’s time for the stills, the last shots before the drive home. So Deen and Stoya are tangled on the bed, alone, as an old dude called Fenster shambles in with a camera and leans over them.
“Fetski!” says Stoya.
“Hey beautiful,” says Fenster. “So what we doing here? Tell me what I got to shoot.”
“We’re going to do the spoon anal,” says Deen, idly lubing up Stoya’s dug out. “Then a kind of doggie on the stomach, with the leg up.” He’s the contractor again, running through the checklist. “And then onto her back with her legs behind her head.”
“OK cool.” Fenster clambers onto the bed, and stands above them. Click. “Throw your head back there baby.” Click. “Now look back at James.”
Men clatter around in the corridor, and march in and out of the bedroom rummaging through flight cases and packing up tripods. James and Stoya lie on the bed, slow-grinding, their eyes locked, inches apart. He leans into her and mumbles something. She laughs, delighted and starts stroking his arm.
“That’s beautiful,” says Fenster. Click.
[Check out my blog post about this story: Porn Set Cherry Pop]