The typical male adult-film star can work for decades without gaining name recognition, his head usually sliced off by the camera, his true role to serve as a “cock prop” for his popular female counterparts. James Deen, at the age of 26 and with some 4,000 film appearances to his credit (he also directs and produces), has managed to break out as one of the few name-brand male porn stars. His notoriety has reached beyond the adult-film community and he’s even been credited with attracting to the genre the unlikely audience of young women (see admiring blogs such as worldofjamesdeen.tumblr.com). Deen’s magnetism may have something to do with his decidedly unsculpted physique and old-fashioned, next-door-neighbor handsomeness—rare qualities among porn’s beefcakes. But whatever potent blend of charisma and sex he exudes, it’s landed him a crossover role in a new film by writer Bret Easton Ellis, whose own interest in glamour and debauchery has defined his career. Directed by Paul Schrader and featuring Lindsay Lohan and Gus Van Sant, The Canyons is set to be released next year and depicts decadent living in contemporary Los Angeles. While the L.A. native initially had no interest in acting in mainstream films, Deen took the role because it sounded “fun,” a word that unsurprisingly dictates most of his life choices. I spoke to Deen on the phone while he cruised around Pasadena, California, in his GT-R.
ROSS SIMONINI: Has your acting in adult film prepared you at all for acting in your first feature film?
JAMES DEEN: Absolutely. It’s not that much different. In adult film, the hardest thing isn’t having sex in front of a stranger or a large group of people. That’s actually not that difficult. There are a lot of people who can do that or who are into that. The hard part is going from a dead stop in a conversation, like you and I are having, to immediately getting yourself into an aroused mind-set. It’s the same switch with all acting, though I suppose Method actors don’t have that problem. But I’m not a Method actor. My technique is, I read the script—I read every word on the page—and then I try to do what it says on the page. The coaching I had before this role actually hasn’t helped me at all.
SIMONINI: In adult film, is the arousal always there? Or are you conjuring it up?
DEEN: In the beginning it was like that, but now I’m picky and I work with the same production companies over and over. The job of a director is basically to play matchmaker and find two people who have good sexual chemistry. When I direct, that’s what I do. I ask, “Will this guy and girl look good together? Will they have a good time?” My theory is, “Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.” The people I work with have a similar mentality.
SIMONINI: What’s your role in The Canyons?
DEEN: I play a guy named Christian, a trust-fund kid in his twenties. I get off on power control and I always have to be the most controlling person in the room.
SIMONINI: Is the role connected to your work in adult film? Is that why you were chosen?
DEEN: It has sex in it, but it’s not very sexual. It’s like a lot of Bret Easton Ellis’s work. In American Psycho, the sex is really about narcissism. In the film version, there’s that great scene where Christian Bale is having a three-way and he spends the whole time looking in the mirror, making faces and flexing his muscles. It’s like that. Classic Bret.
SIMONINI: While filming The Canyons, have you experienced any of the Lindsay Lohan paparazzi mania?
DEEN: They’ve been pretty respectful on set. I’ve also dealt with them where they haven’t been respectful. One night I was trying to pull out of a parking spot and they were standing in the way of the car to get their shot. So I had to nudge them with the car to get them to move.
SIMONINI: This is with Lindsay?
DEEN: Yeah. I mean, paparazzi can’t get a picture of me doing anything interesting. I’m untouchable. Here’s James Deen peeing in public, making out with a girl in a bar, drunk and puking. Yeah, I’m a porn star. What do you expect?
SIMONINI: I read that you’ve wanted to be in porn since kindergarten.
DEEN: For as long as I can remember.
SIMONINI: And that you’ve been “practicing” for porn since age 14. What does that mean?
DEEN: I was listening to Loveline with Dr. Drew on KROQ and Jenna Jameson was on the show. I listened to that and thought, That doesn’t sound too bad. So I started going to parties and meeting girls and having sex with them in front of crowds. I was nurturing my exhibitionism, enjoying what it felt like to be naked in public. That was my practice.
SIMONINI: How often do you work?
DEEN: When I was younger, I did two or three scenes a day. Now I do one scene a day, pretty much every day. I book myself for 30 days, one scene a day, and usually get a few cancellations.
SIMONINI: How long does an average scene typically take to film?
DEEN: It depends. There are a lot of different types of porn—or, er, adult film . . . trying to be tactful here—but sometimes it’s 45 minutes and sometimes it’s a 23-hour day.
SIMONINI: Do you have any limitations in your work?
DEEN: I’m not attracted to dudes, so I don’t work with dudes. Or clowns. They make me uncomfortable.
SIMONINI: You were recently in the video Paul and Damon McCarthy made in conjunction with James Franco’s “Rebel” project for MOCA. What was that experience like?
DEEN: You know, I haven’t really seen much of Paul McCarthy’s work—some sculptures online, but I haven’t seen anything in person. It seemed like shock art to me. There was a scene where an actress playing Natalie Wood was in this bath, and Paul McCarthy was playing the director, and she was lying in the bathtub and he was naked above her squatting in the bathtub, pushing stuff all over her to make it look like he was defecating on her chest. It was like they were shooting a scene of a director shooting a porno scene with Natalie Wood, I think.
SIMONINI: Did you understand the context of any of this?
DEEN: It was all very vague. They treated me as if I was part of the art. They told me very little. They just threw me into the pool and told me to swim, so to speak. They interviewed me three times, asking me what I thought of the project, what I thought James Franco would think of the project, and what I thought James Dean would have thought of the project. I was playing three roles—just layers upon layers upon layers of meaning. But I haven’t been able to see it yet.
SIMONINI: Are you a James Dean fan?
DEEN: Not really. Never seen any of his movies. Not one. Never. [pauses] Wait, hold on, I need to order some food real fast. [talking to a drive-thru cashier] Could I get a double bacon cheeseburger meal and a large Dr Pepper? I’d also like a chicken sandwich with no mayo or tomato. Thank you.
SIMONINI: Where are you eating?
DEEN: I’m eating at Carl’s Jr. It’s on the way home. I just realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day.
SIMONINI: Do you watch much porn these days?
DEEN: [eating french fries] I do, but I stick to amateur stuff so I don’t recognize people. It’s a little difficult to stay aroused when it’s like, “I know that guy. I had lunch with him the other day.”
PHOTO: JAMES DEEN IN LOS ANGELES, JULY 2012. SWIMSUIT: PARKE & RONEN. GROOMING PRODUCTS: CHANEL, INCLUDING HYDRA BEAUTY. STYLING: DAVID THOMAS/ OPUS BEAUTY. GROOMING: FRANKIE PAYNE FOR CHANEL/OPUS BEAUTY.