The Men of Porn: Thespians and Heartthrobs

The July 2018 issue of AVN magazine is devoted to the Y factor in XXX: those performers with Y chromosomes who labor in a field dominated by women. In the second part of the list, we focus on adult stars whose métier is the feature film: the Thespians and the Heartthrobs. (To read about the industry’s Gonzo Gods and Shot Callers, click here.)

THE THESPIANS

Part of the appeal of films made during the Golden Age of Porn—roughly between 1969 and 1984—was that audience members could justify them by referring to them as “real” movies that just happened to contain sex. Among the first was Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie, which featured heavy dialogue about the Vietnam War in addition to sexual intercourse. Blue Movie was followed by porno chic classics such as Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss Jones and The Opening of Misty Beethoven. And the success of those films demanded talented actors: Jamie Gillis, Richard Pacheco, Herschel Savage and Tom Byron are among some of the adult stars who were celebrated not only as performers, but as thespians as well. In the late ’80s and 1990s new talents came in, among them Randy Spears, Steven St. Croix, Dale DaBone, Kurt Lockwood and Evan Stone.

Today, many adult companies are tackling complex subjects in their scripts, and new talents are stepping up to turn in stellar performances. But just as a big dick doesn’t guarantee you a career in adult, just being able to recite words doesn’t guarantee landing a role in one of today’s plot-driven adult features.

“To the outside world, porn stars are not regarded as skilled thespians but rather walking and talking dicks and vaginas,” AVN Hall of Fame director Will Ryder said. “It’s a horribly cemented negative stereotype for sure, but the lasting image is once the panties come off, porn people are great, but during the dialogue and story portions of the movie, they suck at acting. The bad acting rap is often justified … but I got news for you; it’s not entirely correct. There are some very skilled actors working among us in the industry and those are the people we as writers, directors and producers absolutely must have in our movies.

“I recently had the pleasure of having some fabulous actors on the set of my paranormal thriller The Cursed XXX (released by Adam & Eve Pictures), and having skilled actors that can breathe humanity into the characters I wrote is a must,” he continued. “It’s not only about memorizing lines or understanding blocking—it’s about bringing what you wrote to life and taking that character beyond what you created in your head and on the page. Acting is a skill that takes years of nurturing, but I believe you either got the magic or you don’t, and there is a pool of actors I gravitate to because I know what to expect. Good actors won’t break my heart.”

Ryder’s dream would be to have the same ensemble actors and actresses in his movie, à la Woody Allen or Judd Apatow, but realizes it’s not always possible because studios and viewers want to see different people performing together.

“However, as a writer and director, I want what’s best for the story but I will try new actors and take a chance especially when somebody flips my socks off,” he said.

But he does have some favorites.

“Seth Gamble is one of my main guys usually in a supporting actor role because he can play just about any character I put in front of him,” Ryder said. “He’s got those young-man good looks but there is a lot of talent under that handsome face, and Seth and I go back over a decade so I’m comfortable with him on set. Not having him in my movie is always strange.

“It’s funny when my co-producer Scott David asks me why I cast so many of the same people in main roles,” Ryder said. “I tell him because I must have actors who give a shit. If the actors don’t give a shit, you’ll have a very shitty movie.”

Director Mike Quasar, a multiple award winner who is known for the all-sex films he produces for various Zero Tolerance Entertainment imprints, moved into the world of features recently, working for Wicked Pictures for Turn the Page, Second First Date and last year’s hit, Ingenue (which garnered Tommy Pistol a Best Actor award). His two-plus decades in the business has given him a sense of who can handle more than just showing up for a scene.

“As technology has finally enabled porn to compete on an equal playing field with at least indie films, it’s become much more important to find performers who are also credible actors,” he said. “The stereotype of bad porn acting isn’t an unfounded one. When you shoot as much as I do, you get to know the personalities of the performers and you can figure which ones are capable of playing a role that’s at least close to who they really are. There are a handful of actors working in the business today, however, that are every bit as skilled as their mainstream counterparts.

“Tommy Pistol is my go-to on every project that requires acting,” Quasar added. “He’s always great at comedy, but he can get very dark or very sentimental as well. He’s a complex guy in real life so he nails everything that I throw at him. Honorable mentions go to Ryan McLane, Marcus London, Derrick Pierce, Charles Dera and a handful of others.”

Formal training as an actor is not necessarily a requirement, Quasar said, but the ability to take the subject matter seriously and the willingness to prepare for an acting role are key.

Jacky St. James, a writer-director who got her start with New Sensations and now makes feature movies regularly for Mile High Media’s Sweet Sinner imprint, has always considered acting the most important thing in her movies.

“I know a lot of people think that what makes a great actor is doing these gigantic, epic performances in which someone can cry, go into a rage, or show how dramatically they can emote,” she said. “For me, what makes a great actor is someone who understands subtlety and nuance. A great acting teacher once told me, ‘The best performance isn’t the one where the person cries, it’s where the person is fighting like hell not to,’ and it is absolutely true. You won’t see any melodrama in my work because I don’t think it tells an interesting story.”

St. James said, for her, the best acting performances are those that don’t feel like acting performances. Making a connection with the words and the material can make the real difference.

“Line memorization only gets you to a point where you can really sit with the material and let the director help you shape it,” she said. “But understanding the complexities of the role and looking for those moments that are not on the page, THAT is what makes a great actor.

“Who stands out as an actor?” she continued. “Logan Pierce. Logan Pierce. Logan Pierce. Two others that also understand all of the above exceptionally well are Michael Vegas and Ryan McLane. Those three are at the top of their game for sure. There are others, but I’ve seen the most diversity in performance working with them—which is why I hire all of them constantly.”

Gamma Films chief Bree Mills, the f***e behind Girlsway.com, is among the best feature directors in adult today, but casting male actors in her productions is a recent happening. Yet no matter who she is casting, there are certain qualities that must be met.

“Speaking for myself and my style of productions, a good actor is someone who is willing and able to lose themselves in a role,” she said. “I don’t write scripts because I want my actors to look at my films as method acting challenges. Rather than be preoccupied with memorizing lines, they can focus on getting to the root of the character they are playing and effectively become them for the duration of the production. I invest a lot of time and energy to provide them this space to explore and improvise with each other. The results are quite amazing! I don’t believe you need to have formal training to have this ability … but you do need to have the right personality fit and desire for it. Not everyone wants to do a full-day improv acting workshop, but there are many adult actors who love it because they come from some kind of performance background.”

Mills said she looks for performers who are not just talented, but also interested in acting. And once she gets to know them, it’s easier for her to write characters for them in the future.

And, like many directors, she has her favorites.

“There are so many names I could add here, but I’ll share the actors that I have brought back the most and have built the closest working relationships with,” she said. “Tommy Pistol is basically my male muse. Derrick Pierce, Michael Vegas, Charles Dera, Seth Gamble, Dick Chibbles, Small Hands, Tyler Knight, Steve Holmes … I also recently began working with Logan Pierce and Jake Adams, whom I have been very impressed with.”

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From left, Xander Corvus (photo by Marc Star), Danny D., Seth Gamble and Tommy Gunn (photo by Jeff Koga)

Xander Corvus
Xander Corvus has proven he can be the sarcastic best friend, the tender romantic or the bad-boy villain. He can handle comedic roles easily, but is not afraid to take a dramatic turn at all. And for his next trick? He’ll be “Deadtool” in The Jerk With a Johnson: A DP XXX Parody.

Danny D.
Danny D. works across the pond, filming for Brazzers and Digital Playground mostly, but that doesn’t keep American audiences from appreciating his acting skills. His performances comes across as relaxed and effortless, and he’s long been the obvious choice for XXX parodies featuring U.K.-based source materials, including the porn treatments of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who.

Seth Gamble
For more than a decade, Gamble has racked up acting credit after credit. At the height of the porn parody craze, Gamble appeared in adult send-ups of Grease, Clerks, Iron Man and Animal House. He’s perhaps best known for his work in Star Wars XXX, and is set to take on the title role in Axel Braun’s Deadpool XXX later this year.

Tommy Gunn
From cowboy to pirate to step-dad to businessman and any other role you can think of, Tommy Gunn has played it. With more than 800 titles to his credit, Gunn’s staying power in the industry is attributed just as much to his acting abilities as it is to his performance skills.

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From left, Small Hands (photo by Steve Prue), Marcus London, Ryan McLane and Mickey Mod

Small Hands
For much of his early career, Small Hands was a utility performer for BurningAngel. Today, he’s in demand for his acting skills by a number of studios. His talent has even seen him cast in mainstream productions, including Love Is Dead, an emotional horror short from Sickening Pictures and Dexahlia Productions.

Marcus London
This buff Brit performs for a wide array of studios, but he’s been a mainstay at Wicked Pictures for more than a decade. But arguably his best acting work was in the award-winning Spartacus MMXII: The Beginning, which he also directed.

Ryan McLane
Need a good-ol’ Southern boy? Or a jealous boyfriend? Or Norman Bates? Then McLane is your man. One of the most popular actors among fans and directors, McLane has proven he can handle everything from parodies to original features, from dramas to comedies.

Mickey Mod
An underutilized resource, Mickey Mod is debonair but able to turn it on in a hardcore kink scene. He has a magnetic presence that adds depth to a feature film—as he did in his AVN Award-nominated roles in Marriage 2.0 (LionReach/Adam & Eve) and Darker Side of Desire (Sweet Sinner/Mile High Media).

 

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Derrick Pierce (photo courtesy GL Web Media), Logan Pierce, Ryan Ryder (photo courtesy Kelly Madison Media), Tommy Pistol and Michael Vegas

Derrick Pierce
Derrick Pierce is consistently recognized for acting in both lead and supporting parts. His roles cover everything from comic book villains in Wolverine XXX, The Dark Knight XXX and Captain America XXX to the leading heartthrob in Magic Mike XXXL—and a truly twisted turn in Pure Taboo’s Indirect Relations.

Logan Pierce
Pierce won the AVN Award for Best Male Newcomer, but directors are calling him back again and again for his talents both naked and clothed. He’s becoming a favorite adult actor not just among directors, but also among co-stars and fans. His acting chops were really put on display in Jacky St. James’ The Voyeur.

Tommy Pistol
Probably the best-known adult actor these days is Tommy Pistol. Goofy or gritty, funny or frenetic, pretty boy or psychopath, Pistol can always deliver the goods. And the proof is in the pudding: One of the most awarded adult actors in the past few years, Pistol continues to deliver his all for any role he takes on.

Ryan Ryder
Ryder became a big name in the U.S. adult industry when Axel Braun tapped him to portray Peter Pan in the Wicked Pictures adult parody. Since then, he’s delivered stellar acting performances, most recently in The Altar of Aphrodite.

Michael Vegas
With his boyish good looks, Vegas easily delivers any dialogue handed to him, ably tackling serious roles just as well as comedic ones. He’s worked for a number of studios—Digital Playground, Wicked Pictures, Sweet Sinner and Brazzers among them—and is consistently nominated for acting performances.

 

THE HEARTTHROBS

Erotic, sensual, romantic, sophisticated, glamorous—these are some of the adjectives used to describe what’s referred to as couples’ erotica. When looking to cast the male performers in their productions, directors like Erotica X’s James Avalon, Vixen’s Greg Lansky, X-Art’s Brigham and Colette Field and New Sensations’ Eddie Powell often turn to a certain group of guys. These handsome charmers are able to give fans the boyfriend experience, providing romance instead of raunch.

And since no one boyfriend is right for everyone, porn’s heartthrobs come in many different styles: boyish and appealing, rugged and dangerous, suave and gentlemanly.

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From left, Chad Alva, Flash Brown Johnny Castle and Charles Dera

Chad Alva
After nine years in the biz, Chad Alva still keeps his Midwestern niceness intact but also taps into a surfer/stoner/slacker vibe. Take, for example, the character he played in the excellent Lost and Found (New Sensations, 2011), which garnered him a Best Supporting Actor nod. And Alva is also quite a cerebral guy, penning novels when he’s not shooting his own content for ManyVids.

Flash Brown
Originally a mainstream model, Flash Brown followed up on a photographer’s suggestion in 2011 to get into adult. The 6-foot-6-inch performer really gained traction a few years later, with two high-profile wins at the 2016 AVN Awards, including Best Boy/Girl Sex Scene for an iconic Blacked.com shoot directed by Greg Lansky and featuring Abigail Mac.

Johnny Castle
A washboard abdomen and bulging biceps suggest that Johnny Castle spends a lot of time in the gym, but his 80-odd scene credits for 2018 alone suggest that his real workout regimen takes place in front of the camera. And he still manages to find time to produce exclusive content for his social media followers, who are 101,000 strong on Twitter alone.

Charles Dera
A rugged, masculine guy with a Don Draper-esque demeanor, Dera is an ideal vignette player. “I’m not really a gonzo guy,” he told AVN, adding, “I always get cast in roles based on the way I look. … Each day is like a mini feature—I’m shooting a whole new adventure every day. … There’s always a story.”

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From left, Ryan Driller, Lucas Frost, Ricky Johnson and Isiah Maxwell

Ryan Driller
One can’t deny that this is one head-turningly handsome guy—hence his status as a heartthrob. And he’s also one hell of a performer—strong, fit and masterful. And in addition to looking pretty, Driller also knows how to act. To see one of his most complex performances, check out Brad Armstrong’s An Inconvenient Mistress (Wicked Pictures).

Lucas Frost
Lucas Frost began shooting content with his then-girlfriend, 2016 Best New Starlet nominee Cassidy Klein, and has since gone on to solidify his own career path. The still youthful performer gets cast in a lot of MILF/fauxcest scenes, but he’s also shown his chops as an actor in various features, particularly with Wicked Pictures.

Ricky Johnson
AVN’s 2017 Best Male Newcomer boldly uses @YearOfTheRicky as his Twitter handle, and so far he hasn’t been wrong. This year has shaped up just as well as the last, with a wealth of bookings on various scenes, including showy acting roles for Bree Mills’ PureTaboo.com. And he’s still just 26, so expect lots more from this Southern California native.

Isiah Maxwell
Blessed by manners that are as beautiful as his face, Maxwell is a favorite with female performers. A relative newcomer, he worked as an intern in adult while going to Cal State Northridge. “I waited a year before I shot my first scene,” Maxwell said. It was ultimately the right decision: In 2018 so far, he has accumulated more than 100 credits on IAFD.com.

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From left, Danny Mountain, Tyler Nixon, Jean Val Jean and Chad White

Danny Mountain
In addition to good looks and a fit physique, there’s one more thing that helps solidify “heartthrob” status in porn, and that’s an alluring accent. In Mountain’s case, an English accent. And though he has a moniker that’s tailor made for porn, it’s actually his real name. Just right for a guy who, as Mountain says on Twitter, can say accurately that he has sex with beautiful women on a daily basis.

Tyler Nixon
Though he’s gone past his dirty-thirty birthday, this baby-faced Southern Californian still gets booked for such series as My Friend’s Hot Mom (Naughty America) and MILFs Swallowing Boys (Third Degree). He’s also a popular pick for soft erotica scenes—and in addition, he’s a fine actor who can range from light (Axel Braun’s Justice League XXX) to heavy (Brad Armstrong’s Aftermath).

Jean Val Jean
It would be a major oversight to compile a list of industry heartthrobs without including a Frenchman—and who better than the stunning Jean Val Jean? Though he left the biz in 2009, taking time out to chase mainstream opportunities, he came back full f***e in 2016, making a strong showing in glossy productions from the likes of Baeb, Colette, MetArt, and Greg Lansky’s Vixen and Tushy imprints.

Chad White
That smile, those abs … this is one gorgeous hunk of porn manhood. A well-rounded performer, White is seemingly just as comfortable in an all-sex movie as he is taking on an acting role, most notably in Second Chances (New Sensations Romance) and Waiting on Love (Wicked Passions). White has also embraced the indie clip revolution with such endeavors as a store on iWantClips.com.

Written by: Sherri L. Shaulis

Originally published on: https://avn.com/business/articles/video/the-men-of-porn-thespians-and-heartthrobs-790142.html

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