The Reluctant Crossover
Immediately after adult film star James Deen wrapped production of The Canyons in August, the actor returned to porn and has since shot more than 100 scenes for hardcore movies. The 26-year-old dubbed by ABC's Nightline as porn's "wholesome-looking boy-next-door" wouldn't have it any other way.
The Pasadena native is one of a handful of adult stars who has been given a chance to cross over into mainstream work. Deen snagged the lead role in the Lindsay Lohan starrer The Canyons after screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis asked director Paul Schrader to give the porn star a screen test. "It was very clear that James was a serious, smart and conscientious guy," says Schrader, the writer-director of American Gigolo. "If it is possible to have a Calvinist work ethic in pornography, he has it. I am very, very comfortable letting James' performance speak for itself."
The Canyons is slated to be released sometime next year -- the independent film does not have distribution -- and could make a mainstream star out of Deen. In it, Deen plays Christian, who is at the center of a group of twentysomething Angelenos grappling with sexual obsession and ambition. But the actor, who left high school when he was 15 and later took classes at Pasadena City College, says that he wouldn't be disappointed if this were his only mainstream role. It's a stance that runs counter to Hollywood's expectations.
"I don't do porn because I can't make it in mainstream -- I've wanted to do porn because this is what I've aspired to do. I was very happy to get back to work and get back to do regular scenes," says Deen between drags of a cigarette on the roof of a Hollywood photography studio. "Even while The Canyons was shooting, I was like, 'You know, I've got a free day, it's my day off …' "
And eschewing the adult industry's standard practices, Deen doesn't have a talent agent, instead working out deals for himself or involving Woodland Hills-based attorney Michael Fattorosi for the higher-stakes negotiations like The Canyons contract. Deen declined to discuss how much money he makes in adult entertainment, but industry talent agents say that top male stars can command as much as $1,000 a shoot. And Deen is prolific: As of September, he had shot more than 1,300 scenes over the course of his eight-year career.
Deen's success in adult entertainment is, according to industry players, largely because of his boyish demeanor. "James has a look that has resonated with females; it seems his look is less intimidating, if you will, compared to some of the other guys who are perhaps more muscle-bound or have a more imposing look to them," says Dan Miller, executive managing editor of adult industry publication XBIZ. "He seems to be somebody girls feel like they could see at a Starbucks."
Still, Deen considers himself a reluctant crossover, noting that he has turned down offers for other mainstream acting gigs in the aftermath of Canyons. But there would be opportunities that might draw him from the sidelines: "If Spielberg calls me, and he's like, 'Hey, I want to give you millions of dollars,' alright, I can't turn that down."