Queen of the D-List

Marie Claire, Dec 2014

Think of every internet train wreck and tabloid star in recent years and chances are they’re clients of this woman.

Gina-Rodriguez-and-Tila-TequilaAlso at Marie Claire

It’s a Friday night in June, and on the outskirts of LA, paparazzi are beginning to circle a nondescript apartment building. News has just broken that American footballer Hank Baskett, husband of former Playboy Playmate and reality show star Kendra Wilkinson, has been cheating on his wife with a transsexual named Ava Sabrina London.

Soon, London’s building is swarming with photographers – eight out the front, four to the left and four to the right – all of them chatting and waiting for her to emerge. But one thing the press hasn’t counted on is the arrival of celebrity agent Gina Rodriguez, aka the D-List Diva.

“I had a source who gave me the heads-up on the story, so I was already on the phone with Ava [when the photographers arrived]. She was scared,” says Rodriguez later. “The paparazzi were pounding on her door … I told her, ‘Don’t open the door, don’t say anything. Just pack a bag, we’re going to get you out.’”

After hanging up, Rodriguez speeds to the apartment block accompanied by her future son-in-law, Colton. The escape unfolds with practised efficiency as he is discreetly buzzed into the building by London. Then he sneaks Rodriguez in through the back and leads her up to London’s unit. Finally, they prepare to sneak London out under a blanket. But as they cover her head and lead her to the door, she protests.

“No, wait!” says London, taking the blanket off. “It’s messing my hair and make-up!” Rodriguez rolls her eyes. “Sweetie, the whole point is that you don’t give these people a picture.” She throws the blanket back over London’s head and bundles her into her car. As they join the traffic unnoticed, Rodriguez laughs, “I guess the paparazzi didn’t see my number plate: GR Media!”

While the paps might not have identified the 46-year-old woman speeding away with London, Rodriguez is becoming an increasingly familiar face in certain – scandal-prone – circles. A former porn actress, she has transformed herself into the go-to manager for D-list celebrities. Her specialty? Helping her 60-odd clients (whose claims to fame are often tenuous) milk their fleeting tabloid notoriety for all it’s worth. People like Nadya “Octomom” Suleman, who used IVF to add octuplets to her existing family of six children; Michael and Dina Lohan, the warring parents of Lindsay; Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham; and a few Real Housewives. Rodriguez’s clientele also includes a raft of kiss-and-tell mistresses, including would-be New York mayor Anthony Weiner’s sexting partner, Sydney Leathers.

More recently, she signed Jeremy Meeks, aka “Hot Mug Shot Guy”, the felon whose sultry booking photo went viral in June. When the story exploded, Meeks’s family reached out to Rodriguez to help monetise the attention he was getting. And now, Rodriguez claims to have set him up with all kinds of bona fide modelling work – just as soon as he can get out of prison. It’s clearly a good time to be scraping the bottom of the celebrity barrel.

GR Media is based in a modest, beige home in deepest suburbia, way out in Santa Clarita, about a 45-minute drive north of Los Angeles. It’s here that Rodriguez lives with her 24-year-old son, Chris, plus pregnant 20-year-old daughter Brandi and her fiancé, Colton, all of whom also work for GR Media.

For her part, Rodriguez – a 160cm tall, pneumatic brunette – is up-front about the fact she doesn’t actually make anyone famous, she just helps them capitalise on what little fame they have left as their 15 minutes tick down. When she starts working with her clients, it’s typically a fraught time – if their fame is just breaking, they might be frightened or overwhelmed, or conversely if the phones have stopped ringing, they might be broke and desperate. Either way, they look to her for answers – for rescue, even.

“When they realise that the media aren’t interested in their scandal anymore, I come in and bring them out in a different light,” explains Rodriguez. “Instead of talking about the old story, I’m like, ‘Let’s do something else.’”

That something else could be as simple as a photoshoot, like the one she arranged for “Tan Mom”, a self-described tanorexic from New Jersey who rose to infamy after allegedly taking her five year old to a tanning salon so she could tan herself (charges were later dropped). “I set her up with some pictures on the beach,” says Rodriguez. “Oh my God, she was doing cartwheels and jumping in the waves! But it was comical, and it shot her back into the press in a huge way.”

A popular GR Media strategy is to put clients in an adult video – something of a staple offering, given Rodriguez’s porn connections. Another way back into the spotlight is a “makeover” – and by “makeover” Rodriguez means a boatload of plastic surgery. “I make deals with the doctors and the media,” she says.
Then there’s the musical route. “We like to have our clients do songs,” reveals Rodriguez. Examples include Leathers, who made a Britney Spears parody titled “Weinerizer”, while Tan Mom recorded a rap called “It’s Tan Mom”.

Rodriguez is under no illusion about what purpose her clients serve, nor is she concerned with rehabilitating their sometimes toxic public images: “I tell my clients, look, you need to have a sense of humour. You’ll never be A-list. You just need to be on Any List.”

There was a time in the ’90s when Rodriguez dreamt of making it big in Hollywood herself. She spent her 20s modelling, for Playboy and others, with a few Baywatch appearances to keep her hopes up. But her dream faded over the next decade as she married twice, quit acting for a job with a cable company, and became
the owner of a couple of beauty salons.

In 2006, she married third husband Randy Spears, a prolific porn star about a decade her senior – whose career she was, by that stage, managing. However, money was tight, so she decided to do a scene herself. It’d just be her and her husband. No big deal. “As soon as it came out, people were calling to work with me because MILFs were the new thing.” So she became an adult video star, making 60 or so movies under the name Demi Delia. She says she retired after a couple of years.

“It wasn’t for me,” she reflects on her former career. “And the more I did it, it bothered me how the younger girls were treated. They get eaten up and spit out really quickly.” Parts in non-porn movies were what these girls needed, figured Rodriguez, reckoning she could help them transition out of the adult world. And then the Tiger Woods scandal broke, and Rodriguez’s fortunes changed forever.

It was March 2010, and news emerged that one of Woods’s mistresses was Joslyn James, an old friend of Rodriguez. Within a few weeks, she had flown James to LA, let her stay over, paid her debts, and hooked her up with high-profile lawyer Gloria Allred. From there, she helped James land a porn movie deal and a number of splashy publicity stunts.

After helping her old friend, recalls Rodriguez: “My wheels started turning. I thought, there has to be good money in booking interviews with those girls [who are caught up in tabloid stories].” Soon, more Tiger Woods girlfriends signed with Rodriguez, after which the Jesse James/Sandra Bullock scandal broke, and three of his former lovers came on board, too. So she took them on the road, along with alleged Mel Gibson mistress Violet Kowal, for the “Girls of Scandal” tour – mostly just appearances at porn conventions. (In 2011, she would add Charlie Sheen’s porn star paramour, Kacey Jordan, to her client roster.)

Fast-forward to today. “Now, it’s all about trannies,” enthuses Rodriguez. “There’s also [transsexual] Sofie Vissa, who had an affair with Casper [Smart], J-Lo’s ex. It’s the year of the transsexual. Didn’tTime magazine say that? And I’m right in the middle of it!”

For her part, Rodriguez is a jovial character who appears to genuinely dote on her motley crew of clients. “She might come off as a bit of a hard ass,” comments Leathers, “but in real life, Gina is a motherly figure. I feel like she really cares. She doesn’t judge, she’s accepting.”

Often Rodriguez ends up managing not just her clients’ careers, but their lives as well. When Octomom faced foreclosure on her house in 2012, Rodriguez helped to negotiate a deal with the bank, move her out, find her a new home, and even arranged for staff to stay over and care for the 14 children while Octomom went to rehab, which Rodriguez also organised.

However, she ended up having to let Octomom go as a client. “I got too involved,” concedes Rodriguez, “but it’s the kids you care about.” It’s ironic, to say the least, that the mother hen who wanted to rescue girls from a career in porn should end up encouraging so many to make adult movies for the first time. But, the way Rodriguez sees it, there’s a distinction.

“One porno is OK,” she says. “It’s just a publicity stunt … Anyway, you can’t make the same money on the second movie. It’s really a one-time deal.”

Lately, she’s had a taste of fame herself, with an interview here and a profile there. And like her clients, she’s looking to exploit it, in the form of a reality show: D-List Diva, about the GR Media team, all living and working in the same house. With her train-wreck clients and their salacious tabloid exploits, her show would seem to have all the makings of a hit – albeit in the dumbed-down tabloid market.

“We’re pitching it right now,” she reveals, enthusiastically. “It’s so much fun, this world – because this is the other side of Hollywood. People love the top end, with George Clooney and all them, but they also love the bottom. And I run the bottom!”