Matt Pais, @mattpais
RedEye movie critic
April 30, 2013
Pitbull, a Billboard Top 20 artist and a spokesperson for Bud Light, can include a song called “Everybody F***s” on an album without incident. Yet visual evidence of that asterisk-altered title often inspires giggles, judgment and scorn.
In an effort to present the people who work in porn as just that—people—Deborah Anderson's documentary, “Aroused,” features interviews with 16 female adult film stars. It begins Friday at Landmark Century Cinemas.
One of the film’s subjects, Kayden Kross, is one of the world's most successful adult film stars, and she has more on her mind than what someone might expect from a person who does what she does for a living.
Kross, 27, has written for Complex magazine, guest-starred in two episodes of FX's “The League” and appeared repeatedly on the G4 Network. She also reads Philip Roth novels, can't handle films like “The Evil Dead” remake, and is writing a non-fiction book about her work to reflect the human side of the business.
“I want it to be no big deal,” she says of her industry on the phone from L.A. “It’s just another facet of life. We’re all sexual creatures.”
Do you feel like you or anyone else involved in “Aroused” had any reservations about participating once it became a platform to go behind the scenes?
No, not at all. Behind the scenes of adult [films] I think almost always puts us in a more positive light than whatever was assumed. So any chance we get to show that world in a way that isn’t slanted or biased toward making it look like the stereotypical thing you expect from porn--any opportunity is good for us. And I don’t think there’s a single girl in the film who has had any reservations or any regrets about being a part of it. I think they’ve only been more surprised and seen more come from it than they expected.
Something you said in the movie was interesting, about how when you were younger you didn’t have the courage to give a book report but now you answer questions you called intimate, personal and almost offensive. Where do you draw the line as far as when something becomes offensive?
Leading questions are most offensive to me. The most annoying and also most common leading question people will ask, and they’re doing it for comedic effect—and maybe it is funny and we just take it personally—but they’ll say something like, “So, when did your uncle molest you?”
Seriously, that happens more than you can possibly imagine. That’s a very, very common thing people say. And of course that’s offensive. Or they’ll say, “So, when did your dad abandon you?” They just assume that there [are] some very serious issues and they want to make a joke of it [for] their audience. It’s petty and it’s mean, and there’s no reason to do that. A porn star, they’re not going out and [trying] to shove their stuff on people. [Laughs.] Our content is taken from us and put on the Internet and downloaded illegally. We’re not pushing it on people who don’t want to watch it; if anything we’re trying to control who watches it because we’re still trying to monetize it. So when people go out of their way to come and attack us where we are ... We’re ignoring you; you should ignore us. [Laughs.]
Maybe I’m naïve, but I find it shocking that someone would be so insincere when bringing up something so serious, whether they want the answer or not. I guess you’re kind of numb to it now.
Yeah, of course. You become numb to it quickly. Not numb; I don’t want to say numb. You learn to just not react because when you do react, you’ve given them exactly what they wanted. And I’ve reacted before. I’ve walked off radio shows where that happened, or they’ll twist it to make it seem like you just can’t handle it or whatever. It happens very, very often, but when you learn to expect it, you just also learn to quickly end that exchange and move on to the next thing. It usually happens where there’s like a barrage of interviews at some convention and there’s always that one or two little news sources or radio shows or podcasts or whatever they were who are just looking for a reaction.
For a while in “The Girl Next Door,” Emile Hirsch's character expects Elisha Cuthbert's character to be the porn star persona he sees on screen. In “Aroused,” an agent says the actresses do become their personas. How much do you think that’s true, and how much do you feel that expectation from people?
Honestly, the movie “The Girl Next Door” is not the one that people bring up in my experience. The one that people bring up is “Boogie Nights.” I think “The Girl Next Door” did a better job of portraying what porn is like, if it’s like anything, than “Boogie Nights.” I think “Boogie Nights” portrayed just a different era, and obviously again with the Hollywood treatment. I don’t know that either of them [is] close to what it’s really like. Really porn is a gathering of very different people. We all come in for different reasons and stay in for different reasons. You don’t have to be an exceptional character in any direction to do porn. It’s a basic enterprise; anyone can do it. So when people expect that there’s some crazy interesting story or character behind every persona, it’s just rarely the case. [Laughs.]
I was reminded about what people used to say about Marilyn Monroe and if her onscreen persona became her real persona—the question of who was the real person there.
I just read this book, a Philip Roth book called “Sabbath's Theater.” It’s about this puppeteer who toward the end of the book, he doesn’t know whether the emotions he’s displaying he’s displaying for the reaction he can get out of the people or because they’re real emotions. He gets to the point where they’re kind of one and the same. Anyone in any industry, whether you’re in sales, you’re in entertainment, you name it, people project a certain thing to succeed and then align their characters with that. There’s always a divide between when people are quote-unquote on and when they’re off. But I think the longer you’re in it and the longer you are something, the more you align in your true, unaltered world with that persona.
Do you ever get the feeling that some of the men you work with deal with the same judgments? It seems like people don’t really judge guys that much and all the pointed fingers are for the women.
Of course, men deal with their own things, but it’s definitely not that because if you look at the general stereotypes, it’s good for men to be virile and for lots of women to want them and want to have sex with them and it’s OK to have emotionally detached sex with people. And you look at women and that’s not OK. The exact opposite. And women should hold back and make people work for it. It’s an old way of being, but it’s the way that little boys and little girls are raised to think, so when they grow up and they become one or the other, it’s just what we stick to for some reason even now.
Can you imagine a time when a woman being in this business would not come with a stigma? What has to happen first?
I don’t think it’s possible to have a man or a woman, anyone or any gender in between to be in any industry in the spotlight and not have a stigma. There will be a stigma in one direction or another. Can I imagine a time when this particular stigma is not attached? Yeah, of course; everything changes. But there’s always going to be something. You’re standing on a stage and people are looking at you and they need to pass judgment. That’s how our brains file things away. We have to have these convenient judgments to land on. There’s too much information in the world not to.
What do you see as the stigma for Hollywood?
The stigma is basically either untalented fame seekers ... or very talented, very serious, perfect people that [other people] then try to find flaws in.
You guested on “The League” along with Seth Rogen. What’s a funny story that comes to mind when you think of doing that?
I was on twice. On the first one—the thing that was funniest was just, [the show incorporates] improv so you never know what they’re going to say. Everyone behind the camera can smirk [laughs], but everyone in front of the camera can’t. And some of the stuff that they say is so sharp and so good and so strong that it takes every fiber of your being not to let the corner of your mouth tilt up. To just do anything [not] to laugh. I remember at one point I turned beet-red in the face just holding my breath trying not to laugh. [Laughs.] You just can’t control it.
On the second one I didn’t actually see what clip made it so I don’t know if they used it. But there was one point where Seth and the other guy were going back and forth and the other guy lowered the boom down into my mouth and starts treating it like a blow job, and so because you’re supposed to keep going with whatever’s happening I started blowing the microphone and it turned into this very long, drawn-out thing. [Laughs.] The [improv] comments that came from that ... They’re geniuses. They’re just comedic geniuses.
Do you think people will be surprised about what you're saying in your book and that it will pull the curtain back? What do you expect the reaction will be?
There’s no sense of [trying] to pull the curtain back and show the little man operating the machine. The porn curtain is pulled back; we’re pretty transparent. [Laughs.] ... The thing that we don’t show in porn is the humanity, the relationships. And I think that’s the thing that people are the most curious about. It’s not just, “How do you be in love in a healthy relationships and it’s just two adults both working in porn?” It’s, “How are you healthy adults in porn going home to your family at Thanksgiving?” and “How are you a healthy adult with healthy friendships or a healthy adult with children or with the intention of children down the road?”
You’re living on the outskirts of society being in an industry like porn. When you look at societal outcasts, it’s almost assumed that any ties that they have to other people are severed when they’re really not. If anything, they’re strong in a different sense because they have to be created that way. They’re not traditional relationships. But for us, the focus of the book is on my relationships, watching close friends and their relationships and trying to help people navigate through life with this big mark on their forehead.
In “Aroused,” some of the women refer to risks and situations that have made them uncomfortable. Have you had situations that were uncomfortable, and do you feel like you can stop that from happening?
It’s hard for me to comment on that because I’ve always been in contract. And being in contract you have certain—how do I put this—I have more power than a girl who is independent over what I’m doing in porn ... I basically can say yes or no to literally any detail of my shoot. And no, it’s never uncomfortable for me because I know that at the end of the day they’re more interested in a long-term relationship with me and creating a name that they can hopefully get a lot of fanbase around for a long period of time. So there’s definitely a [win-win] situation here in making sure I’m comfortable.
With an independent girl, new companies hire her every day and there’s no win-win in the long term with her. It’s just about getting that shoot that day, right then. So I can see how it would be likely that an independent girl might end up in a situation where she’s not comfortable, but the production company wants X, Y or Z.
The places where I’ve been uncomfortable, and this again relates back to what I’m trying to capture in the book, has been the emotional thing. Where you show up to set and you just broke up with your boyfriend and your boyfriend is the person you’re having sex with that day. Or worse, you show up to set [laughs] and your boyfriend’s there and your ex-boyfriend is the person you’re having sex with that day. That gets complicated.
And it’s one of those things where when you’re booking 6, 8, 10 weeks in advance who you’re working with—especially when you’re working with a small group of people, and you’re attracted to those people, it’s very likely that at least a short-term little fling might arise. So you don’t know 10 weeks out, if you say I want to work with this person on this movie on this day, what the emotional aspect of that is going to be. [Laughs.] It can get crazy.
How do you deal with that?
How do you deal with that? I had one scene where I had broken up with this person that I was with for a long time and I hadn’t seen him and I didn’t know quite where we were, and we go to the scene and I think everything’s fine and then it’s not fine. [Laughs.] I started crying. I couldn’t help it. This was a person I was in love with and I still cared very much about him.
I could tell that he was pretty messed up about it, too. So what do you do? Do you call off a day that’s going to cost the company you’re with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars when you’re the one that put yourself in the situation? It’s weird. I have a close friend who she’s dating someone in the industry and works with him on almost every movie that she’s in. One time they got in a fight that morning—not a domestic violence fight, but definitely one of those knock-down, drag-out fights. [Laughs.] And they needed to have an anal scene right then. [Laughs.] So that’s weird. That’s hard. That’s funny, right? It’s funny. [Laughs.] There’s really no way to look at it other than, “OK, you kind of put yourself there.” That’s incredibly awkward and strange, but really [you have to] laugh. It’s funny.
Does that turn anyone off to those relationships?
Does anything ever turn people off of relationships where they’re so crazy about each other that they’re actually sort of temporarily insane? It’s like cocaine. [Laughs.] Nothing’s going to turn you off of a crazy relationship where it’s all sexual attraction.
What’s a reaction you hope people have when they walk out of “Aroused”?
I hope they feel better for porn. For what porn is. My favorite thing to see when people interact with me, especially when they’re women who don’t have any concept of porn, just know that it’s dirty and it’s bad and they don’t want their boyfriends watching it, my favorite thing is when I interact with them and at the end of the day they’re like, “Oh, yeah, porn’s no big deal.” Really, that’s what I want porn to be.
On Chicago: “I have been there a few times. My first time there was just a New Year’s Eve quick vacation. I’ve been there for a couple shoots. I think I bought one of my favorite little art pieces. I’ve been in and out of Chicago a number of times. More layovers than anything.”
On her Philip Roth kick and a book that should be made into a movie: “I just finished 'American Pastoral.' That is by far my favorite of his books. I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately, so they wouldn’t make good movies. I think you could really do something crazy awesome with 'Sabbath's Theater' just because it’s so much in the mind of the main character and you start losing sense not of reality in general but his reality. He doesn’t know what is him and what is him acting in a world because of response. I think we can all relate to that. We’ve all been there where you’ve gotten angry, you’ve been happy or you’ve cried and maybe you’ve bumped it up a little more because there’s an audience. That audience could be your mother because you’re trying to get pity or your girlfriend or your boyfriend because maybe you [bleeped] up or maybe a kid because you want them to know how happy you are that they did something that really is not benefiting your life in any sense but they’re so proud. Then I think there’s a greater question: Is that wrong? Is that a lie? Are we all just manipulative sociopaths who are performing to the world, or are we really genuinely experiencing these feelings?”
Why she had to walk out of the new “Evil Dead”: “When I think something’s going to jump out at me—I tried to explain this to my boyfriend. He’s a big TV junkie. Most people when they watch gore and blood and gunfire, they’re kind of immune to it because they’ve been watching it so much. I don’t watch TV so I don’t have that desensitized ability to just sit through anything. [Laughs.] So when you put me in a movie where [bleep]’s going to jump out at me, I am not going to [sit through it all]. I can’t; I’m way too sensitive to television. [Laughs.] ... Literally if I watch TV it’s because I’m passing it in an airport and it’s on the news or it’s because my boyfriend’s watching it downstairs and I went into the kitchen. Any contact I have with television is accidental. ... I remember watching it a little bit as a teenager and I think part of it--first of all, I’d rather read a book any day of the week than do anything else, or I’d rather write or I’d rather do something that in some sense makes me feel like I’m creating. With TV, I’m so conscious of the minutes that are going by where I'm not doing anything that I stress on that rather than what I’m watching. It’s not enjoyable.”
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U
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