Appearances by porn performers in mainstream movies usually fall into one of three categories: one-shots (like “Behind the Green Door” star Marilyn Chambers, who starred in David Cronenberg’s “Rabid” before returning almost exclusively to adult fare), stunt-casting (for instance, porn veteran Nina Hartley’s turn in “Boogie Nights,” a movie about the golden age of adult film) or random cameos (gay icon Steve Hammond’s wordless appearance as a personal trainer on the run from a nuclear holocaust in “Miracle Mile”).
While director Steven Soderbergh has been getting lots of publicity for his new film “The Girlfriend Experience” thanks to his casting of 21-year-old porn starlet Sasha Grey in the lead role, it’s too early to tell whether this role will mark Grey’s first of many mainstream projects or not.
What is clear, however, is that in an era when stars like Paris Hilton and Colin Farrell can emerge unscathed from the emergence of secret sex videos — to say nothing of all those next-door neighbors posting their naughty shenanigans on Web sites like XTube — working in porn no longer means that you can’t still aim for a career in mainstream movies and television.
Traci Lords, for instance, has turned up everywhere from John Waters comedies to episodes of “Gilmore Girls,” while Ron Jeremy has become a near-ubiquitous figure in film (especially schlocky straight-to-DVD fare) and TV.
And then there’s actor Dylan Vox: After a successful career in gay porn under the name “Brad Benton,” he’s managed to find work on the campy cable horror soap “The Lair” and in various independent feature films.
“I think people get hung up on where you came from as opposed to where you’re going,” notes Vox, 30, about his unusual entrée into show business. “Elisabeth Hasselbeck was on ‘Survivor,’ and like it or not, she actually has something to say, and it’s been intriguing for people to watch, but they never would have hired her for ‘The View’ if she hadn’t been on ‘Survivor’ first. The industry wasn’t open to her.”
Better than waiting tables
For Vox, entering the world of adult entertainment wasn’t originally part of the Atlanta native’s game plan. But in 2001, when Vox was juggling competitive figure-skating alongside studying for an MBA, the prospect seemed much more attractive, not to mention more lucrative, than waiting tables. Falcon Studios, generally considered the MGM of gay adult moviemakers because of their big budgets and glossy production values, happened to be making a film in Colorado, where Vox was attending school and training on the ice.
In a scenario out of “42nd Street,” one of the performers dropped out, and Vox was approached in a bar by the president of the company to take his place. “And at that time, they actually paid,” recalls Vox, “because the movies were a big deal. Now there’s so much internet and all that stuff, and everybody’s a dime a dozen.”
So he said yes, and for five years, “Brad Benton” won GayVN awards (the adult film industry’s analog to the Oscars) and traveled between Colorado and L.A. to make gay porn. It was an experience that wound up giving Vox his first connections to mainstream show business: “The people behind the scenes were in the industry, they were editors and filmmakers. I remember I did one (film) and one of the sound guys worked on ‘Will & Grace,’ and this was just something he was doing while they were on hiatus, it was just a paycheck for him.”
When the time came for Vox to move to Los Angeles to try to break into more mainstream avenues of acting, he discovered that there were plenty of parallels between erotic filmmaking and the tamer kind. It was only later that he realized, looking back on his first porn shoot, “It was pretty much like any other set — you walk on, and there’s craft services, people were doing makeup and taking care of you, and a lot of sitting around. It was making a movie.” He pauses and chuckles. “With penetration.”
And the lessons he learned making titles like “Blades” (which allowed him to show off his skating prowess alongside the standard porn skill set) and “Camp Freshmen” carried over as well.
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“If you’re willing to work, people like to work with you,” says Vox, who continues to pay his dues waiting tables and acting in L.A. stage productions between film and TV gigs. “(Production can be) a very lazy environment, and it’s very easy to say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that.’ I work really hard when I’m on set, I put in a lot of time and effort — it’s not just about showing up. People want to see that you’re professional and that you know your lines. I think a lot of it is just about being nice to people. I was successful as an adult actor not because I’m the most beautiful person on the planet but because people liked me, they liked working with me, I was excited to be there and I took every job seriously. A little bit of hard work goes a really long way in Los Angeles, no matter what you’re doing.”
Following in the footsteps of Sasha Grey
The publicity surrounding Sasha Grey’s recent venture beyond porn only confirms Vox’s belief that his past career can only help him as an actor. “Do I think it was really brave for Steven Soderbergh to hire an adult actress to play a prostitute in an indie film? No. But do I think people will go see it because he did? Yes. So from a business standpoint, it’s brilliant.”
As Vox often tells casting directors, “I have a following — it may not be a conventional following, but I have one.”
With two seasons of “The Lair” behind him and two new movies — the comedy “Homewrecker” and the psychological thriller “Pornography” (“Love the movie, hate the title,” says Vox) — hitting the festival circuit this summer, the adult film biz isn’t Vox’s favorite topic, but he acknowledges that people will always be curious about it. “If you go on IMDB, they have all my mainstream stuff and all my other films on the same page,” notes Vox. “And at first I was all, ‘Why did they do that?’ But then I later figured, ‘Well, I did it all. I can’t really say that I didn’t do it.’” He laughs, adding, “Plus, it gives me a really large body of work.”
The idea that anyone might be scandalized, in Vox’s eyes, only calls up society’s hypocrisy when it comes to issues surrounding sexuality. “Winona Ryder shoplifted, and she still gets cast,” Vox notes, going on to name various other working performers guilty of everything from bad parenting to vehicular homicide. “I’ve never done anything bad or anything illegal, so that moral high horse amuses me. I’ll never understand why people in this country are so hung up on sex, whereas drugs and violence, they’ll let it slide.”
For someone just three years out of the adult industry, Vox — who just finished shooting the creature feature “Megaconda” opposite Hollywood veteran Stella Stevens — is still just getting started as an actor, but he’s optimistic about his prospects. “I’m running the same race that everyone else in Hollywood is running, I’m just doing it with one shoe off. Everybody roots for the underdog, so hopefully audiences can root for me to succeed at this.”
Follow msnbc.com Movie Critic Alonso Duralde at http://www.twitter.com/MSNBCalonso.
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