Crossing Over -- Porn Stars Go Mainstream
Traci Lords did it. But the number of performers who have successfully moved from making films in the adult film industry to becoming recognizable show business names are virtually nil.
That, though, was then. Today, thanks in part to celebutants (who end up having their home sex tapes fall into the wrong hands and eventually released to the public), and a change in the public opinion of adult films, the transition process has become easier.
"Coincidentally, it has become less taboo. It's really easy to cross over to mainstream, the culture is more accepting. Jenna [Jamerson] is a household (name)," said adult actor Johnny Hazzard, who has ventured into both modeling and music, and will be launching his own clothing line
While Hazzard is optimistic, there is still a lingering stigma about porn actors not being able to act.
"Porn actor is an oxymoron. Though they are acting it's not that they would ever do an interview with James Lipton for their craft," casting director Billy Damota said.
Damota has previously worked with Lords on a film project. She was hired at the time for her name value and as a novelty, but the actress ended up surprising the casting director. On the other hand, he says, "[We] considered Jenna Jameson, but she is a terrible actress."
Along with a stigma, actor Matthew Rush says that by working in the industry it's very easy to become stereotyped.
"People get the notion that just because you do porn, you have sex 24/7 and you are a party boy. It's pretty negative and I'm very much aware of it," adds Rush, who is also known for being a bodybuilder. Because of this awareness, Rush says that he is also trying to breakdown the stereotypes surrounding the industry.
While some actors don't play into these preconceptions, many do, according to actor and director Michael Lucas, who sees the stereotypes alive and well today.
"I have worked with adult performers on a regular basis for the past 12 years and there are very, very few exceptions to the rule. But as the rule, [their] only interest is about fucking, what club is open, drugs and partying, and watching American Idol," said the founder of Lucas Entertainment.
While Lucas believes that there are some actors who can make the move and find a degree of success in the mainstream world, he argues that it must be based solely on talent, not off of anything they have previously done.
"Mainstream culture has plenty of morons. I don't think they need more morons who are adult performers and who are exposed in adult movies, known for their dicks and their ass," Lucas said.
Some of those actors who have the talent to back up their pretty faces have been making strides in the last year to really show what they are capable of doing. Dylan Vox and Colton Ford co-star on here!'s The Lair. Matthew Rush appears in theater productions and film, while Johnny Hazzard was asked to walk the runway at Boy George's BRude fashion show and has a single available on iTunes.
In Vox's case, he said the fact that he even was in the porn world is hard for some people to believe when they first find out.
"For me, I am a Goody two-shoes. I never did anything wrong," said Vox, who was known as Brad Benton in the industry. "I did it just to get through school. I didn't know I would be as popular as I was."
He has a rule that anyone who gets into porn should only stay for five years, as to keep from getting stale. When he retired, it was a natural progression for him to stay with entertainment because of his competitive nature and a long time interest in acting. Now that he has made a name for himself by appearing in films, a handful of reality television shows, and most recently on here!'s The Lair, Vox finds himself with an interesting dilemma of trying to move past his former career.
"I feel like Kelly Clarkson when they have to talk to her about American Idol. It's like that's kind of old," Vox said with a laugh. Nor, he adds, has he any regrets.
One thing that has separated Vox from some of his peers is that decided to go by his real name when moving into the mainstream. "I didn't actually choose that name (Brad Benton). My real name is what I want people to know me by," he said.
In this matter Vox, though, is the exception to the rule. Colton Ford has kept his stage name when he returned to the music scene and later into acting after his brief stint in porn. Matthew Rush and Michael Lucas, who are still working in the industry, also use their porn name when they are working in mainstream projects.
"I don't think it's a situation where you can distance yourself from the experience. But depending on how you approach it, with today being so different you can work it," said Ford, who saw his return to music documented in the film Naked Fame. "I kind of feel for me it is working to my advantage."
That advantage, the actors say, is the curiosity factor that the industry gives them.
"People will come to the table with a great deal of skepticism, but I think they will come to the table just out of the curiosity factor. That is really all I needed," Ford explains.
Ford isn't the only who sees it that way. Jason Sechrest, who covers the adult industry on his website JasonCurious.com and has appeared in adult male films in strictly non-sexual roles, has experienced the same kind of treatment. In the end, he says it has actually worked in his favor.
"Usually if a casting director recognizes me they just want to talk about which porn stars are my favorites for hours on end. They want to know who I've slept with behind the scenes. It can get really annoying when you're there to try and do a job," Sechrest said, who also runs the website JasonSechrest.com for his mainstream work, adding, "I guess I should be thankful it's made me stand out. Usually those are the jobs I end up booking. The truth is, over 80% of the mainstream jobs I've had as an actor, host or singer have come from people who saw my non-sexual work in adult (films)."
Whether it's due to the curiosity or not, it is paying off for Matthew Rush, who has appeared in plays and films like Another Gay Movie and Third Man Out. In these films it was the producers that have contacted him. But just because he isn't the one chasing the roles, it doesn't give him a free pass into getting them.
"I still have to go through the audition process. I've never actually pursued [a role] as of yet, which is good. They come to me and we negotiate," Rush said, who actually read for three parts in Another Gay Movie.
Even if working in porn gets you in the door, successful crossover actors like Vox are sometimes hesitant to even do interviews or talk about porn.
"In our case it's a double edge sword. Everyone starts somewhere. The way the world revolves right now, porn doesn't look so bad," Vox explained. "[Compared to] a lot of other people's porn, mine was so clean cut."
With so many of the actors positioning themselves as mainstream entities, has the stigma started to breakdown making it easier for others to follow in these pioneers' footsteps? Well, the answer is still a little murky.
Lucas, who is currently getting ready to film a role in the Another Gay Movie sequel, sees the industry as the hindrance. "I don't think porn will ever be mainstreamed because it is too hardcore to be mainstreamed. I think some actor - some performers - will be able to somehow cross but not completely."
With films like John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus last year, people have said that the line is blurring between what is mainstream and what isn't. But being an independent film, Jason Sechrest is wary to say that it's more than a small step.
"[Shortbus is] a great movie, but it's an indie movie. Kansas has never heard of it, trust me," Sechrest explains.
One trend that has undeniably helping to remove the stigma is that of celebrity sex tapes. Ford says that it's because of this that porn is no longer seen in the same light that it was a decade ago.
"You have celebrities with a sex tape out there. It's not the same novelty it was five or ten years ago," Ford said about how things are changing.
Lucas agrees, adding that even their actions on the red carpet are helping too, "Mainstream actors, singers, etc. are going to the red carpet dressed as whores. That is kind of helping it."
The LGBT-targeted cable channel here!, which produces The Lair and Dante's Cove, said they never had any hesitation about casting anyone who has a porn past because for them it comes down strictly to the talent of the actor.
"I think our mandate at the network is to employ as many openly gay actors as we can. We are really dedicated to work with gay actors. Colton, Matthew, and Dylan turned out to be good actors. Not everyone is a good actor," Josh Rosenzweig, vice president of corporate communications for the network commented. "If you work in gay porn, you are hip to being gay. But I think it's primarily about talent."
In fact Rosenzweig said that Ford has surprised some people with his role because despite playing the non-sexual role of the sheriff in The Lair he said people were waiting for the actor to strip of his clothes.
It's the increased amount of actual acting talent that Sechrest sees as the biggest driving force in helping create the move for the actors.
"I think it's happening because we have some really good actors in porn these days. You know, contrary to popular belief it's not a stigma that has kept porn actors from being hired by mainstream - it's talent. They call it 'porn acting' for a reason," Sechrest comments.
While talent is the driving force for the actors getting noticed, casting director Danny Goldman said that there are limitations as to what they can be cast in because of their past.
"[Having worked in porn] is not so great for the hallmark films because there's a bit of a taboo there. It'd be a problem for Disney's "High School Musical," Goldman said.
Despite Johnny Hazzard's modeling for BRude, It is a sentiment that director Ron Gerard at Next Models mirrors.
"It'd be close to impossible on the level we work," Gerard said referring to campaigns such as Target that he works on. Some of his models have done nudity in magazines such as Playboy or Playgirl, but nothing hardcore.
Even if the mainstream pop culture isn't ready to fully embrace adult actors, people like Dylan Vox, Jenna Jameson and Colton Ford are making inroads about the perception of the actors and consequently the industry. As with many things, the change begins with what the audience wants. If the public is willing to embrace the actors in mainstream roles than Hollywood will also eventually become more accepting.
"It's the fans, their voices and what they have to say and what they buy; that fuels the acceptance," said Rush about where things are moving.
Casting director Damota agrees, "If Joel Silver could make a million dollars because a certain porn actor would sell tickets at a box office [they would get cast]. It's all about the bottom line in terms on marketability; does that actor have the chops to be convincing enough?"
And in the end of the day, Hollywood is a business and everything comes down to the money.