“Do they like biting lips? Do they like using more tongue?”
To play former gay porn mogul Brent Corrigan, it was Garrett Clayton’s job to find out. So the 25-year-old ex-Disney star probed those very questions while poring over videos of the notorious twink teasing the camera at just 17, when Corrigan starred in a throng of high-profile porn videos that led to his storied, controversial adult-film legacy.
Corrigan’s past is the lurid centerpiece titillating every juicy frame of director Justin Kelly’s sexy and scandalous “King Cobra” (in theaters and On Demand starting Oct. 21), embodied by Clayton and his hypnotic come-hither gaze. Christian Slater plays gay porn producer Bryan Kocis (renamed Stephen in the film), who gets tangled in a mess of controversy and murder after illegally jumpstarting Brent’s porn career. James Franco, who co-produced the project, sustains his oft-onscreen queerness, starring as a rival producer.
But who saw Clayton, who will star as Link Larkin in NBC’s “Hairspray Live!” in December, taking his post-Disney dive this deeply? Where there are orgies. And nakedness.
After his role in “Teen Beach Movie,” the 2013 Disney Channel Movie that saw Clayton’s squeaky-clean Tanner frolicking beachside while singing “surf, sun, sand; it’s a bikini wonderland,” Clayton laughs at his radical career shift like even he can’t believe it.
“It’s been kind of like a slingshot!” he says.
Read on for the ex-Mouseketeer’s thoughts on Corrigan’s criticism of “King Cobra” (“He opened Pandora’s box and he let the movie get made”) and the vision Clayton had for his contractually agreed-upon butt shot.
How does a Disney star go from “Teen Beach Movie” to a porn biopic?
I was attached to a film by the same producer, Scott Levenson, that fell through. Then, he pitched me for this to Justin Kelly, the director. I read it, and we agreed on a lot of the same points that were vital to the movie, so I sent him my audition scene. Then, bam. A couple of weeks later I got the part. Obviously, I had nerves because coming from Disney, when any (former Disney stars) take that leap and are ready to do whatever adult thing, whether it’s a movie or music or anything, you hope it’s something that people will respect and see that you’re not just the person who portrayed that teenager on TV at one point.
How much trepidation did you have taking on someone as controversial – in the porn world at least – as Brent Corrigan?
I didn’t know what to expect at first because you don’t know if you’re going to have a team of people who will be really respectful and take care of you or a group of people who are there to exploit you and make money off of how good you’ll be. I couldn’t have asked for more, especially jumping into such a controversial subject.
What kind of homework is involved in playing someone like Brent Corrigan?
One thing I agreed with after Justin and I spoke: to separate the character from real life because to try to mimic him too much would come across like we were trying to make fun of his life, and that’s not what we wanted. We wanted a character who’s a little bit removed from him. I tried to have little things in there that reminded the audience of him, but a lot of it was trying to create a character that was separated enough to a degree that it just didn’t seem like we were mocking him. That was really important.
What was your process for embodying Brent’s mannerisms during the porn scenes?
You want to watch someone’s work and study the way they’re into somebody or not. How do they kiss? Do they bite? Do they like biting lips? Do they like using more tongue? Are they more aggressive in their work? Does he play the victim? I tried to look at all those things. And even watching that YouTube channel that he wanted to have for a minute – those videos were interesting to watch just because there are little things in there too. How is he when he speaks to his audience? What’s his body language like when he’s talking about something he’s comfortable with versus uncomfortable with?
At one of the film festivals somebody asked me and Justin what our favorite video of his was, and even though mine doesn’t sound as exciting, it’s the more fascinating one. It’s the first video he did with Bryan where he’s lying in the lawn. Nobody knew at that time that he was 17, and I was just surprised that there are so many sites that still have that video online. It’s crazy. And to see him as a 17-year-old doing this, and the fact that I can find it online – I literally just typed in “Brent Corrigan first video” and a bunch of different websites came up. I just think it was fascinating to watch somebody at that age doing what they’re doing. To me, that was the most interesting piece of work because, I mean, how could it not be?
What’s it like being naked at home versus naked on camera?
It’s a lot different being naked at home versus being naked on camera, in front of millions. When I’m naked at home, I’m not worried about what I ate three hours before! And it was really hard because catering, for some reason, kept making these crazy, unhealthy (meals), like macaroni and chili. Every day it was chili and macaroni and hot dogs, and I’m like, “I am on a diet. I can’t have bread, I can’t have carbs, I can’t have sugar, I can’t have dairy, and all you’re doing is supplying all those things.”
The struggles of being an actor who has to take his shirt off for the camera, right?
No. The struggles of being an actor who’s only wearing underwear and maybe nothing else – not even underwear at some points.
How was your nudity contract established for this film?
I spoke to Justin about what I would agree to do, and it was: If you discuss with me first and I can understand logically why the nudity is a sexual act that can promote the plot in this scene, then I’ll do it. When I’m in the shower, it’s a sign he’s becoming comfortable with his sexuality. The montage is showing him becoming a star. At the end, I have my butt shot and, funny enough, that was my idea because Justin and me kept talking, saying, “When are we going to do the butt shot?” because (Brent is) known for his butt. And I was watching and I said, “Why don’t we make him getting the tattoo like ownership of self and being able to do what he wants to do with his body? If we show his ass at the end and we see there’s a tattoo on it, now he can do what he wants to do with his body and he has control over his life and where he’s going.”
Brent Corrigan criticized you on Twitter, saying he looked “much younger.” He went on to say that you don’t “embody Brian’s preference for not legal boys.” He also took a dig at your “boxcut Speedos.” I imagine when you’re trying to give an honest portrayal of someone real like you are in this movie, that could really cause you to be self-conscious. Did it affect you at all?
I think it almost started to affect me. But I made a little mantra: It’s not my place to judge; it’s just my job to tell the story. And the reason we could use his name and likeness was because he got paid and he signed off on his name and likeness, so to a degree he opened Pandora’s box. He let the movie get made, so obviously he didn’t mind if it got made.
I guess he was just being critical of the outcome.
As anybody would be. My thing is, would he have preferred somebody who spoke down to him and didn’t have any respect for doing what we’re doing here? Because if you look at any interview I’ve done, I completely shy away from judgment and being negative about his comments and how he feels about the movie.
In the end, did you form an opinion about him?
It’s not for me… if I start doing that now, it’ll taint my mindset about the movie.
Because you’re playing gay in this movie, is there pressure to acknowledge your own sexuality? And how do you react to people who criticize you for not doing so?
I mean, they probably would feel a lot differently if people were calling them and saying, “So tell me: What you do in your bedroom every day?” This is my job. And I’m happy to promote my work. And I’m happy to stand up for things I believe in. If people can’t see the positivity in that, then I think that’s up to them. You can have Mother Teresa giving food out and somebody will find something negative to say.
I moved out to LA to have a career where I got to play characters and focus on work and do all these awesome things, and I’m getting to do that now. I just don’t think it’s pertinent to talk about my personal life. I don’t think it adds to the work; it just distracts from it.
I’m supportive of an open-minded lifestyle and letting people do what they want to do with their lives, so it’s nice to be able to do another, different type of role. Acting is about stepping out of body and getting to see different lives and experience different things, and I got to do that in this movie.
One thing I even took away from this: I gained a lot more sympathy for people who work in the adult industry. A lot of times society is so harsh on people who do work in porn, and they’re so judged and scrutinized, and yet they’re so accepted because porn drives the internet, and people watch it so consistently, and it’s a multi-billionaire dollar industry. When you’re done working in it, though, people shun you. They just treat people who work in this industry poorly, and yet they’re watching them alone in their bedroom, supporting them. You can’t pick and choose. You either are open-minded, or you’re not.