The first time I met James Deen was in a co-ed bathroom. I couldn’t tell you where. He was in the middle of a foursome, having sex with a sweat-soaked blonde propped up against a porcelain sink who looked like she’d just swallowed all the MDMA in L.A. A friend told me one way to spot fake college porn is by the extras the producers hire to stand around and pretend to be students. Sure enough, a group of guys who might have trouble spelling the word “campus” were watching, slack-jawed, from the doorway. I was watching too, except from my MacBook in Brooklyn.
As even the intermittent online porn viewer might admit, an endless cavalcade of uploads means scenes that are initially titillating can quickly become trite. “It’s like with puppy videos,” a girlfriend explained. “Now I need a puppy, spooning a panda bear, hugging a sloth.” Next to the usual staged moaning and manufactured filth, the couple by the sink offered the same kind of novelty. Mr. Deen, credibly unaware of the cameras, splayed his hands in her hair and whispered something imperceptible. Whatever he said, it was working.
I’m hardly the first XX chromosome to have noticed. In a $13 billion industry driven by the single-minded pursuit of the solitary male orgasm, Mr. Deen has made a name for himself by appealing to the opposite sex. In the past six months, his allure has become something of a pop culture curiosity, a cipher about female desire that isn’t actually that hard to decode. The first real test of his crossover appeal, however, may come via one of his more literary admirers, Bret Easton Ellis, who wants to cast Mr. Deen in his new micro-budget noir movie, The Canyons. The project, which starts shooting in July, will be directed by Paul Schrader, the screenwriter and director behind Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and American Gigolo.
But before I could parse Mr. Deen’s mainstream potential, I had to figure out his name.
“Brown hair, kinda cute, really wants to get the girl off?” I asked my friend. “Oh, I actually know who you’re talking about. And he’s Jewish!” she squeaked, as though her Bubbe would approve. We were at a Korean restaurant in the East Village. She grabbed my iPhone and pulled up a lengthy profile in Good magazine about Mr. Deen. Before the banchan arrived, I Instapapered the story for the subway ride home. I was 27 when I swapped out erotica for something more visually stimulating. According to Good, many of Mr. Deen’s teenage fans are much, much younger.
After the article wound its way around the web, Slate was left squinting its eyes at “Porn Women Like to Watch,” as though it were a novel concept. Nightline followed up this February with an obligatory finger-wagging segment about Mr. Deen’s underage enthusiasts, as though he were a gateway drug to Rick Santorum’s worst nightmare. The Nightline segment in turn prompted sex toy company Doc Johnson to mold a nine-inch, life-sized latex tribute targeted to Mr. Deen’s “very enthusiastic fan base.”
Although the latest Nielsen ratings reveal that a third of the visitors to porn sites are female, apparently, it hadn’t occurred to anyone in the San Fernando Valley that girls might want to fantasize about the dude next door too.
At 5′ 8″ and 26-years-old, Mr. Deen is slight of build, fresh of face, and looks like that cute boy from your high school Spanish class. A little bro-y, maybe. Sophomoric, definitely. But he has a surprisingly witty Gmail handle and a sly sense of humor. He could be your boyfriend, if your boyfriend knew his way around a ball gag and just when to pull your hair.
“He doesn’t look like those mastodons with their bleached hair and their waxed pecs flexing,” Mr. Ellis explained by phone from his Los Angeles apartment. “It’s a more democratized look.”
Mr. Deen taps into a female fantasy that hasn’t seemed to interest porn studios much: a sensitive boy with closed-door swagger—the flip side of a good girl with a dirty mind. Onscreen he seems to exhibit savant-level responsiveness to his partner’s cues, anticipating (correctly, by the sounds of it) when she’d like to be kissed and when she’d like to be slapped.
His facility with the latter has incited a rising heart rate of moral unease, even among some of his co-stars. Mr. Deen, who has recently broken into directing, films about a scene a day—roughly one bondage and S&M scene for every three straight ones. Online, his teenage fans tweet and tumble and make gifs about his devastating eye contact—even as his co-stars lie bound and gagged at his waist. “There are these weird long flashes of tenderness that you don’t really see in straight pornography,” noted Mr. Ellis.
“I’ve been into rough sex pretty much my whole sexual life and so I’m not, like, bad at it,” Mr. Deen told me by phone last month, on his 26th birthday. “I don’t know how to say it without being a hideous prick, but I’m pretty good at having rough sex. It got to the point where a lot of girls who aren’t into that type of sex were afraid to work with me because they thought I was going to slap them in the face or something. But I only do that if the girl is into it. There’s no reason to choke somebody if they don’t like getting choked. Then you’re basically being an asshole.”
When the two finally met, Mr. Ellis filed that type of misunderstanding under something they had in common. “We chatted amiably about the unearned feminist hysteria we both received at certain points in our careers,” Mr. Ellis happily tweeted out to his 250,000 followers in January.(Bitch please, Ellis deserves it)
Mr. Deen has spoken publicly about abandoning certain “porn star punishment” sites for what he called “weird and sort of preachy reasons.” The sites he works for now, like Brazzers.com and Kink.com, make girls sign “limit sheets” that rate their comfort level on “every sort of sexual thing you can imagine,” he said. “Everyone has to sign it, the director, the top, bottom, everybody.
“It’s not like I’m beating women or sending messages that it’s okay,” he added. “Actually the opposite. Why don’t we just say it? The submissive is always the dominant party.”
On the blog A Feminist Sub (as in submissive), the twentysomething author analyzed her “crush” on Mr. Deen last June. “His scenes show how sex can be ‘degrading’ without being for-real degrading,” she wrote. “He does a lot of BDSM porn, and plays the dominant role, but is not a prick about it.” She also noted his exuberant approach to oral stimulation, which rarely gets as much screen time as when the genders are reversed, pointing to a particularly stirring 20 minute session, during which Mr. Deen was moved to “growl.”
There does seem to be something in Mr. Deen’s approachability and eagerness to please that makes conversations about pornography—and how women consume it—suddenly permissible in polite company. Of course, not everyone thinks inspiring girls to talk about porn, often with each other, is a good thing. Just ask Nightline.
To Mr. Ellis, James Deen’s success represents the dawn of a new kind of porn star—one who reflects a transitional moment in popular culture. “The dissemination of pornography has been this hugely liberating thing. You don’t go to a movie theater on Vine and sit in the dark by yourself or nervously walk to a newsstand and buy an issue of Hustler,” he pointed out. “James has grown up with it in a way, so he’s got a casual, comfortable relationship with it. Men of my generation don’t.”
Nowhere is that comfort level more evident than on Mr. Deen’s Twitter feed, which is regularly updated with self-effacing observations on nineties nostalgia, requests that someone bring him a burrito, and goofy musings on porn like, “Dry humping is the new anal” or “I wanna get your brain pregnant.” Mr. Deen also tweets out links to his unbelievably unsafe for work blog, which features extreme close-ups of his partner’s undercarriage and giddy narration of the scene he just filmed: “remy lacroix is one of my favorite new girls. this girl is super hot and really fun to bang and puts things in her butt…”
It’s easy to be sex-positive when no one ever taught you to be negative in the first place.
Mr. Deen, it should be said, is also unwaveringly complimentary of his partners, both on and offline. “There’s been a scene or two where I’ve had to put on a little bit of show,” he admitted, “But 99.9999999999 percent of the time, I’m just into it. I mean it’s pretty rare I’m like, ‘Oh god, what is wrong with this girl, she’s so mean.’”
So his turn-offs don’t include cellulite or silicone, but mean girls? No wonder he’s in the teenage girl pantheon next to Justin Bieber.
“I have a lot of friends who are James’ age, and I get it,” said Mr. Ellis. “I get the humor, the irony, the ‘dumbness’ of—dumbness in quotes—of how they express themselves in their blogs or Twitter. So what if he writes about wanting a burrito? What do you want him to be writing about?” Those who are offended by Mr. Deen’s blog posts, he said, are “having an Empire attitude about it.”
For a few years now, Mr. Ellis has been expounding on his notion that society has crossed over from “Empire” to “post-Empire.” His close reading of Mr. Deen’s appeal situates the porn star firmly in the post-Empire landscape. The rubric, which jumps off from Gore Vidal’s term for postwar American hegemony, basically marks a move away from hierarchical tastemakers toward “exhibitionistic display culture,” as he once put it, describing Charlie Sheen’s public meltdown. The Hills is Empire, Jersey Shore is post. Mr. Ellis recently offered another example by email: “Lana Del Rey? Totally post-Empire. The media reaction against her? Empire.”
In fact, it was that shorthand that helped him discover Mr. Deen. His producer Braxton Pope—who also worked with Mr. Ellis and Mr. Schrader on the shark horror flick Bait, dead in the water after five years of development (so Empire)—emailed over a couple articles on Mr. Deen. “’So, what do you think of this guy? Empire or post-Empire?” he asked. Mr. Ellis’s reply? “Totally in the top ten of post-Empire!”
The writer and the performer eventually met for dinner, at Soho House in West Hollywood. “He said he was super nervous,” Mr. Ellis recalled.
“Maybe it’s because I’m an over-analytical Jew and all the issues that go with that,” Mr. Deen confessed. He was also worried about whether he could do the job. Mr. Ellis insisted he could. “We would not be having this conversation if he couldn’t pull it off, if he was simply a leaden actor who was just being hired because of the size of his dick.”
They addressed the question over dinner. “He was worried that he had no acting training,” Mr. Ellis recalled. “I said, ‘That’s not a problem, there are plenty of bad actors who do.’”(Aka this is going to be slightly a train wreck)
Mr. Deen, who is prone to calling his work “quote unquote acting,” still seems unconvinced. Looking at a girl while having sex with her, “doesn’t really feel like acting,” he elaborated. “I’ve been a fan of his since I was a little kid,” he said of Mr. Ellis. Nonetheless, Mr. Deen added, “I don’t know why he wants me in this movie so bad.”(Yeah idgi either)
Mr. Ellis, who is self-funding The Canyons (working tagline: “It’s not The Hills”) along with Mr. Pope and Mr. Schrader, will be releasing the movie via iTunes, Netflix, and VOD rather than theaters. The film, he said, will feature explicit sex scenes, but purely in service of character and plot development. He insisted that unlike in the Sasha Grey-Steven Soderbergh project, The Girlfriend Experience, Mr. Deen will not be playing a “a meta version” of himself.
First, though, he’ll need to win over 65-year-old Mr. Schrader, who Mr. Ellis says finds “the busyness” around James Deen “more of a distraction.”
If Mr. Deen gets the gig, don’t expect him to go the way of Sasha Grey, who retired from the porn business last year after breaking into the mainstream. “I got into porn because I want to do porn,” Mr. Deen vowed. If he sticks with that promise, it might be the most post-Empire thing about him.
“Doing the same thing every day is never going to be fun, which is another reason I’m so excited about this,” said Mr. Deen, reminiscing about his early years in the porn industry, when he felt pigeon-holed in one genre. “I would show up to work and it would be, like, ‘Okay, this is gonna be a rough sex scene.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, man, I kinda just want to make out with the girl and have normal sex with her?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, well, you can do that at home.’”
I love James when he is fucking, by no means do I seem him as an actor. I imagine if this movie does happen it will be a certified train wreck. i also want to figure out why Ellis is such a Deen fangirl. Also, I hate the way this article is written.
LMAO James' previous acting work: