Porn star James Deen talks about the stigma of working in adult films, transitioning into mainstream entertainment, and the responsibility of celebrity.
James Deen has done a lot of role-playing, and not just in adult film scenes. Recently the recipient of an AVN and XBIZ Award for Crossover Star of the Year, Deen has been wearing many hats. He’s branched out into producing and acting in both mainstream and adult films. He’s got a blog, and a merchandise line, too, and is producing the Steampunk Western film Cowboys and Engines.
How does a man known by his reputation as a porn star manage to balance these careers? How does one enjoy success without being consumed by it?
Evidently, the answer is choosing to do what you love, whether it’s business, acting, producing, or having sex with thousands of women.
Jasmine: Obviously you love being in the porn industry, so what makes you want to venture outside the industry and what attracted you to this particular project, Cowboys and Engines?
James: Well, for a very long time I said I was never going to venture outside of porn; it’s all I wanted to do. Then I had the opportunity to work on that movie with Bret Easton Ellis where I actually had a really good time and tons and tons of fun. Since I had so much fun after that I said I was willing to take more mainstream projects as long as they were something I believed in and had some heart.
So, Cowboys and Engines was presented to me by the director saying he wanted me involved. That was all. Originally, we were talking about me being the lead, but the lead is supposed to be this guy, almost his fifties. He’s supposed to be the Texas Ambassador. We both agreed that I was not right for the part by any stretch, But what we did, since I love to produce and make things happen, I signed on as a producer.
Jasmine: You’re kind of becoming a jack of all trades. How are you balancing all of your careers and hobbies? Do you prioritize one over the other?
James: Not really. I kind of just do what I want; I always kind of have. There’s never been a time when I’ve been prioritizing something above others. I pretty much am able to just kind of do everything that needs to be done just based on whatever project I’m working on. I don’t know exactly how to answer that question. I mean, it’s not difficult to act. It’s basically during the acting process you just kind of, or I just kind of, prepare for a certain role that I’m doing. I do that for one specific role and then move on to whatever’s next .
Jasmine: All right. Just kind of take things in stride?
James: Yeah, pretty much
And then like with my blog and my adult career and stuff like that I kind of just, you know, just do that. And then when that’s done I kind of do the next thing and then when that’s done I do the next thing. So, I don’t know, I just kind of do things and it all just kind of makes sense in my head.
Jasmine: Do you think part of being able to do all those things is because you enjoy what you’re doing?
James: Yes. Absolutely
Jasmine: Aside from the obvious sexual content, what are the differences between producing an adult film and a mainstream or non-adult film.
James: Not much. The whole difference between adult and mainstream thing, everyone always asks me, they act like they’re these two completely different worlds when in actuality they’re both just different strands of the entertainment industry. One’s the adult entertainment industry and one’s just the entertainment industry.
An adult film is, I would say, harder to produce than a mainstream film. [With a mainstream film] you have more money, more time, more leeway and you get away with a lot more. With an adult film you have a limited amount of money, limited amount of time, a limited amount of locations, and a lot of people won’t work with you because it’s adult. There’s a lot up against you when you’re making an adult film; making a mainstream film is a lot easier.
Jasmine: That makes sense.
James: As far as the actual differences, it’s the same thing. You set the cast, you try to get your locations, condense everything to make it as efficient and cheap as possible. While making decisions for what will be best for the project, art versus commerce, you know. Who would be the correct person for the role versus who’s going to bring you the most money or be the most interesting for the audience and stuff. The same things, just some tweaks of priorities based on genre and audience.
Jasmine: You’re working with some iconic figures, such as Malcolm McDowell, for Cowboys and Engines. How has it been working with people like that, do you find it intimidating?
James: Well, I’m not really a fanboy of anyone. So, for me, like when I was in a movie with Lindsey Lohan, I knew who she was obviously because she’s Lindsey Lohan, but I’d never seen a single movie she was in. So, when I was meeting her and doing stuff like that it was like “Okay, here’s a person, what’s up, how are you?”
With Malcolm McDowell, there’s a little bit more of a fanboy-ish thing to him, just because he is Malcolm McDowell and he’s Alex from A Clockwork Orange, and he was in Tank Girl, goddammit! He was in Tank Girl! But for the most part when I’m producing it’s the point to kind of see everybody as chess pieces, not actual people. You kind of have to take yourself out of that situation and non-objectively view the people that are around you in the movie so you can actually get a job done. It also makes it a lot easier to not be super intimidated by the fact that I get to work with Malcolm McDowell.
But at the same time when I get in bed at night and I’m about to go to sleep it’s not like, oh man, I played a good game of Chess! No, it’s like I’m making a fucking movie with Malcolm McDowell, and Richard Hatch and Walter Koenig. That’s pretty fucking awesome. So there is definitely that excitement, and the acknowledgement that I’m working with iconic figures.
Jasmine: Do you realize that you yourself are kind of an iconic figure? I mean, as far as the porn industry goes?
James: I actually never thought about it like that. To me, I’m just me. I’ve always been me and I’m always kind of me and I just live in my world and see everything that happens, so I don’t really see myself as this icon in any way, shape or form. I’m just a guy. I’m just like a normal dude.
Jasmine: Taking that into consideration, are you still aware that other people view you differently, that you are this iconic figure in the porn industry, and in some regards, in the feminist movement?
James: I mean, I think that’s pretty cool. I don’t operate with the intention or goal of being some sort of icon or figure, I just operate with the desire to make myself happy. And get personal fulfillment out of everything I do; I do the best I can and live my life by the principals that I set, stuff like that, and then whatever happens, happens. If people are talking about me and consider me some kind of figure then that’s awesome. If not, then whatever, as long as I’m happy things are good. I’m a big believer in doing stuff for yourself and not for others.
Jasmine: That said, do you feel like you have any responsibilities because some people look up to you as a role model.
James: Um, yes and no. I think that everybody in life has responsibilities as far as furthering education and making sure that people are respectful of fellow humans, but I don’t think I really have responsibilities beyond that.
Jasmine: Here’s an example: You’ve talked in the past about how people shouldn’t be learning about sex through porn, but we know that they are, so how do you reconcile knowing that even though you believe it’s the wrong way to learn about sex, that there are kids who are truly learning how to be sexual partners from you?
James: Well, I would do what I would do my entire life and what I think everyone should be doing their entire lives, which is furthering education of everyone you meet. If anyone spoke to me when I was fifteen or speaks to me now I would say the same thing: porn is not education. I think a big issue from society and the reason why we have these predetermined notions about sex and sexual interaction is the way people are taught things. And I don’t think that necessarily anyone should look to anybody differently, whether they be a big star like Brad Pitt saying something or just some guy that you know. Everybody has a social responsibility to teach everyone else around them about their personal boundaries and how they feel in respecting everyone around you.
Jasmine: There’s a lot of stigma attached to the porn industry, now that you’re working outside that industry as a producer do you find that stigma affects your ability to be taken seriously?
James: Meh. I can see why it would. I’ve had situations where I’ve met people who were really put off by me at first and then once they talked to me for a few moments they kind of realized that “okay he’s just a normal person,” but there is a little bit more involved with proving myself. People for the most part, I believe, are good. There are some bad eggs in the bunch, but for the most part, most people aren’t Jeffrey Dahmer