James Franco & The 'King Cobra' Cast Want To Break The Porn Taboo

If you had ever told me that I would spend a Saturday talking to James Franco about porn, I wouldn't have believed you. If you had told me that I would spend a Saturday talking to James Franco about porn while we're both in bed together in a dark hotel room, I would have told you that you were straight-up insane. But, the latter actually happened to me, and it's all thanks to King Cobra , a murder movie about the gay porn industry. The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, stars James Franco, Keegan Allen, Christian Slater, and Garrett Clayton and details the true story of porn star Brent Corrigan's (Clayton) rise to fame. Though the plot may sound crazy and salacious, the movie is not. In fact, the actual porn is almost a backdrop to the drama of competition between the different adult film producers and stars. And, even if the porn was front and center (which it is, at times), the movie is a great example that porn isn't dirty, or corrupt, or wrong. Which, is kind of a relief considering James Franco knows everyone watches porn, he tells Bustle in an interview. Yes, even you.

Let me back up a bit, because the circumstances of my interview with the King Cobra cast are just as important as what they had to say. I walked into the brightly-lit hotel suite ready, albeit pretty nervous, to talk to Franco, Slater, Clayton, and the film's director Justin Kelly about a topic I really hadn't ever talked about with anyone, let alone famous strangers. Since the main room of the suite was currently being used as a photo studio, I was led into a side room — the bedroom — which was dark except for one side table lamp which was dimly shining. I felt a little bit like I was walking into a porn shoot. "Do you feel safe?" Slater asks me, jokingly.

It did feel appropriate to do an interview about a porn industry film in a bedroom, though, and the cast was warm and welcoming and I did, indeed, feel safe. I also had a great conversation about porn with the stars and the director, which was cool because, no, porn shouldn't be this big taboo. Especially since everyone watches it. (Guilty as charged, but also, not guilty, because I am not ashamed.)

"The thing to me that’s so hypocritical in a way is that you look at the numbers of how many people watch porn, it’s huge," Franco says. "So many people watch it, but then the way that we view the people that are doing it is judgmental. So, you partake of it, but, in public, we can’t associate with it."

Although men may be thought of as the majority of porn-watchers, studies have shown that's not true. Paul Fishbein, who founded Adult Video News, once told The Baltimore Sun, "Porn doesn't have a demographic; it goes across all demographics." In 2015, Marie Claire released a study that found of the 3000 readers polled, 91 percent of whom were women, one third watched porn weekly, and 10 percent did daily. That means one of out three women are watching porn at least once a week.

According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, "Data from the Public Religion Research Institute [showed] only 29 percent of Americans think watching porn is morally acceptable." So, like Franco says, a huge number of people are watching it, but many people act like it's still this bad thing. Despite that, as the director Kelly points out, most of the industry is really above board. "I had friends who work [at a porn company] and I go to visit and it’s like, 'Oh there’s an HR department," and it just felt like a regular job." He notes that not every company in the industry might be treating their employees properly, but that the experience gave him a different perspective on what goes on behind the scenes of a company that does have a professional take on things.

Franco agrees, saying, "It's a little tricky because I guess it is sort of an unregulated business in a lot of ways so there’s ... certainly [people] being taken advantage of. But, then there other places ... [that are] much more conscientious and oriented towards the people involved rather than just exploiting them."

Indeed, it's worth noting that the real Brent Corrigan, whose story is what King Cobra is based on, is still in the industry, and he's doing it on his own terms. The porn industry isn't always something that its stars are looking to get out of as soon as they can. Many enjoy their work and are happy with their jobs. Angela White told Buzzfeed in 2014 that she didn't even have a "day job" outside of porn because she loved the industry so much. "My passion is pornography. When I’m not working in the industry, I’m studying it or advocating for the rights of sex industry workers," she said. "I am currently writing a chapter for an upcoming academic text on media and pornography."

The problem King Cobra highlights isn't that Corrigan is in the industry, but rather that he doesn't initially have agency over himself. In the movie, Corrigan (Clayton) becomes dissatisfied with the money he's making in comparison to what his producer (Slater) is making. Rolling Stone reported that the real Corrigan was making "$2,000 per sex scene — about the industry standard — for a handful of scenes each year. [His producer], by contrast, reportedly cleared $2 million a year." But, the movie illustrated that the problems were about more than just money. As the film depicts, after Corrigan left and broke his contract, he discovered that his producer still owned his porn star name. Without it, Corrigan couldn't find other work in the industry, because everyone wanted Brent Corrigan, not Sean Paul Lockhart. As Slater says, the issue in the movie is with "the control and the manipulation and taking advantage of [Corrigan's] naivety and manipulating him."

Kelly says that the real Corrigan is treated like a bit of a celebrity in the gay community, where Kelly thinks porn stars are generally more respected than straight porn stars may traditionally be. "He was at some event sometime and people are like, 'Oh my god, Brent Corrigan's here,'" Kelly says. "It wasn’t like, "Oh, that wild porn star.' It’s almost seen like he’s just an actor or something."

Franco, who told New York magazine recently that he identifies as "a little gay," chimes in saying, "They’re more mainstream kind of celebrities, more than just like, 'Oh, that’s a porn star.' Like, there’s a little bit more respect or something."

And, the respect seems to extend to behind the camera. Porn star Reese Rideout told Daily Trojan in 2010 that he likes doing gay porn better than straight porn, saying, "It’s actually a more comfortable setting. You’re treated more like an actor and less like a prop."

In King Cobra, Slater's character has a line where he says Corrigan's minimum wage job is taking advantage of him, which could come across as funny for viewers who think being in porn is the thing that is preying on Corrigan. But, Slater points out that those in the industry don't necessarily view it that way, which is the mindset he used to get into the character. "The business that he’s in is seductive and seemingly an opportunity to be artistic," Slater says. "He’s looking at it as an art form. It’s an art form that has a lot of judgement around it, but the people that are within it don’t look at it that way. I mean, they see it as another form of expression and embrace it and look at it as though they’re doing a real movie."

And, we're all watching that end product just like we'd watch a TV show or a "real" movie. So, maybe it's finally time to stop pretending like we don't.

Images: giphy; King Cobra