James Deen is the Jewish porn star next door
James Deen’s role opposite Lindsay Lohan in the upcoming Bret Easton Ellis film “The Canyons” is the actor’s first mainstream film appearance. But it’s hardly his first time on screen: Deen, 27, has performed in thousands of pornographic movies since he was 18 years old. At 5’ 8” and relatively slight of frame, the Pasadena, Calif.-native stands out among the brawnier, alpha males of porn. As a result of this softer image, he has developed a legion of female teenage fans that call themselves “Deenagers.” He’s developed a reputation as “Porn’s Boy-Next-Door” and as the “Nice Jewish Guy of Porn.” Yet Deen is more than a pretty face (and other parts). At age 22 he was the youngest person to win the Adult Video News “Male Performer of the Year” award (the porn industry’s version of the Oscars). He has a reputation for being one of the hardest-working actors in the porn industry, rarely taking a day off from shooting, producing or editing films. Deen also deeply identifies as Jewish and has a tallit from his bar mitzvah hanging in his bedroom. He spoke with the Forward’s Emily Shire about getting suspended from Jewish day school, having sex for the first time — at a Zionist sleep-away camp — and which Jewish figure he’d like to play in a porno.
How much was Judaism a part of your upbringing? ames Deen: Judaism was a pretty strong part of my upbringing. What I embraced most was the encouragement to ask questions and always search for truths. My rabbis always loved me, because they would be, “God says do this,” and my response would be, “Well, why is that?” They always encouraged that questioning of the Torah and all the rules set forth. I never really bought into the faith-God type of situation, but what I did enjoy was the Zionist movement, the culture behind it, the community.
You once got in trouble in elementary school for saying that you wanted to be a porn star. n third grade [at Weizmann Day School], we were talking about what we wanted to do when we grew up, so we could do these personal book report projects. My response was that I wanted to do porn. It was just, “Ha, ha, what do you really want to do?” and I said, “No, I really want to do porn.” I ended up getting suspended because they thought I was disrupting the class.
The first time you had sex was at a Jewish sleep-away camp when you were 12. Did you feel there was a strongly sexual culture there? o more than anywhere else. I’m a pretty sexual person. In addition, all sleep-away camps are like that; it’s a bunch of kids, and the oldest person supervising them is 20 or 19 years old. He’s going to say: “Just don’t bother me. I’m trying to have sex, too.” You throw a bunch of kids in the woods unsupervised, and they’re going to start humping each other. It’s almost like the go-to, easy way to teach your kids about sex.
You come from a very educated family. How did your parents feel about your decision to go into porn? o one had any issues other than making sure I was healthy and safe and that if I was going to do this, I had some sort of career plan. Rather than porn, I think their concern was that I was engaging in an entertainment career. They taught me you need to diversify and invest — you can’t just pull an MC Hammer. They said, “Look, we love you no matter what, and that’s not going to ever change” My parents are very good parents, and they are proud of their son for doing something that he loves and being successful at it.
Do you see yourself eventually marrying and have a big, loud Jewish family? am open to the thought that one day I will change my mind and have kids, but currently, I don’t want to. I would rather date someone for 10, 20 or 30 years, and then when we’re old and gray get married. I want to get married once and only once.
Does working in porn affect pursuing a monogamous relationship? o, I’ve had monogamous relationships before. I call it “quasi-monogamous” because when you’re having sex with other people for work on a daily basis, it’s hard to call it monogamous. But, there is a huge difference when you’re at work having sex with somebody or when you’re at home. Just because the physical feeling of it is just as enjoyable doesn’t mean that the emotional response is the same.
Jews have a complicated relationship with sex. We’re often thought of as much more liberal toward sexual expression, but we’ve also got the overly neurotic, guilt-ridden hang-ups going on a la Alexander Portnoy. think Jews are more open about it. I think the neuroticisms, self-deprecation, the guilt, are 100% true. But, for example, even though Orthodox Judaism is very specific about sex — you only have sex with your wife, you can’t have sex with a shiksa, etc. — there are also all these weird gray areas. I’ve never felt oppressed sexually, ever, in Jewish culture.
Do you happen to have any Jewish role models or figures in the industry? don’t go into a place and think :“I’m Jewish. Who else is Jewish? I need to work with them.” Respect goes universally across all races, creeds, colors, religions, everything. The Jews know we’re better than everyone else. That’s all that matters.
That’s going to be the blow-up quote in the article. Laughs) It’s true. We’re the Chosen People. (Laughs) It’s a fact.
Have Judaism and porn ever intersected in your work? identify with Judaism as a culture, and the culture encouraged me to learn, ask questions and strive for knowledge. I know how to shoot and light and edit, because I’m always trying to strive for knowledge at work. I don’t think I would have this type of mentality if I didn’t have my Jewish upbringing.
Is there any Jewish figure you’d ever like to depict in a porno? aybe Jacob. Didn’t Jacob have four wives or something? I feel for a good porno, you should have a lot of sex in it, and that would be a dude having sex with at least four different girls, so that’s pretty solid, right?
I didn't know he was Jewish, so now I want to marry him even more. My mom couldn't complain, right?