Porn again--and again, and again...
December 4, 2001
BY JIM DEROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
Ron Jeremy is self-obsessed, a relentless self-promoter and motormouth whose favorite subject is none other than Ron Jeremy.
Like two out of three waiters in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, he longs to be "a serious actor." Except for the fact that he has an interesting day job, he'd be a complete and utter boor.
It's that day job, though, that documentary makers Scott Gill and Kirt Eftekhar have used as the hook for a film. "Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy" charts the career of a man who's not particularly physically attractive (he's been nicknamed "the Hedgehog") but nonetheless had sex before the cameras in some 1,700 films over the last 23 years.
I spoke with Jeremy--or rather, I listened as he rambled--while he was promoting the Chicago debut of the movie, which will be showing for a week starting Friday at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark.
Q. So many rock stars look up to you. You've been name dropped by everyone from Tommy Lee to LL Cool J to Mercury Rev. What is that about?
A. As they say in their own words, they've watched me since they were little boys. Axl Rose said to me--he worked in a video store as a stock boy--that it was great to see this average-looking guy with these beautiful women. Kid Rock said this to MTV: "God invented rock 'n' roll and porn so guys like us could get laid." Next to adult stars, rock stars get a tremendous amount of nookie. You can be the ugliest guy on the planet, and they're lining up. I always tell my rock friends, "Girls do you because they want to. They do me because there's a paycheck."
Q. This film is not a hagiography; there are some poignant and rather pathetic moments. Did it turn out the way you thought it would?
A. Kind of. The big joke was I didn't want to do it at first because I was afraid of skeletons in the closet. Than I realized, "Well, wait a minute, I don't have any skeletons--except for 1,700 X-rated movies!" That's not a skeleton; that's a fully grown person. But I have nothing to be afraid of. I put my [private parts] in front of a camera, so what's the big deal at this point?
I wanted to really emphasize the push to mainstream. My one disappointment in this documentary is that they shot so much of it so many years ago. My sister says, "He gets a lot of extra work." But I've had really big roles in some films since then! I'm the fourth lead in "Orgazmo," which was seen by every college kid in America, as well as "Detroit Rock City" and "Boondock Saints" and "American Virgin." At least they added Don Johnson and "Nash Bridges." A lot of actors would love to have a speaking part with Don Johnson on a network show on CBS. How many porn stars do you see on CBS?
Q. The film's premise is, "Here's a guy who you'd think has everything, but he doesn't have the one thing he wants most: mainstream acceptance."
A. I strive for a little bit more. I don't want to just sit back and look at the thousands of girls I've had in my life; I want to keep on striving. The mainstream movies are something I've always wanted to do. It's not that easy--just look at all the starving actors in New York! I came from there. I went into porn because of the crap you go through to be an actor. No one has ever said I didn't have some talent, from some of the biggest directors to the smallest ones. I think I'm pretty good, especially at comic acting. I taught theater in New Jersey and I was even accepted to Lee Strasberg.
But you can't get a break. So I was approached to do porno and I did it. Playgirl came first in 1978, when I was skinny--I had a good physique back then. And from there I went to porn. Porno I thought was an in-between step.
Q. Does the path you took exist today? Porn has changed a lot since the '70s and '80s.
A. You really can't follow in my footsteps, not because I think I'm so damn special, but because back in my day, when dinosaurs were on the earth, they had the red carpets and the big screenings. There was no video, it was only shot on film, and everyone in the business would look at a new movie. There were fewer starlets, so they became big names, like Vanessa Del Rio or Seka or Marilyn Chambers. That can't happen now. Plus there was a level of artistry; there were scripts, and you had films like "Amanda by Night" or "Cafe Flesh," films that actually played at mainstream theaters.
But then when the market went to video, everybody and his brother could shoot a film for $5,000. Now, we're competing with amateurs and it's a whole new market, and one person cannot really stand aside and be a big star anymore. Plus with Viagra, any guy can be a porn star. Back then there were only a select few of us who could do it.
Q. There's a frightening scene in the film where you go to take your monthly AIDS test and wait for the results. You're clean, but isn't that deceptive? Isn't it possible for the virus to lay dormant for years?
A. That's horse manure. The tests now are accurate from three to six months. No one's going to go seven years without showing it in the blood; your antibodies will act up or you'll die. I'm taking a test now that's accurate from three to six days.
Q. But you span the era from before AIDS was a given in the business. It had to be a horrifying period when the disease was first coming in.
A. Here's the thing: Your first test is always the scariest. I knew I was fairly OK, because I was reading up on it, and most doctors who tell you the truth will tell you it's very difficult to go girl to guy. I've seen no case of that in my life. I've seen a lot of celebrities who had it, and I haven't seen that. Now, I'm not encouraging people to be careless--using rubbers is good--but a heterosexual man who doesn't use drugs has got a very, very slim chance of catching it, and I knew that on the way into my first test. You still panic; you always do. But I felt fairly confident.
Q. And there was never a time when it made you think, "It's time to stop"?
A. You always think that. Whenever there's a scare, like when John Holmes got it.
Q. The end of the movie is ambiguous: It's left unclear whether you'd continue doing porn if you started to get more starring roles in the mainstream.
A. If Steven Spielberg calls me for the sequel of "E.T.," no, of course not. If I was able to make a living on the mainstream, I would stop porn. I'm making some money in the mainstream--I get the major medical from the Screen Actors Guild, which makes me feel like a real actor--but it's not enough to make a living, so I'll still do porn. I'll still do it because it's still fun, but I work now for one company, Metro Studios. I used to do four to five movies a month, one or two a week; now it's maybe one a month, maybe less. I'm doing way more of the mainstream now.
Q. Do you think the documentary will help your career?
A. The reason I didn't want to do it at first was because I don't know if it really helps anything. I had a lot of famous director friends who told me it doesn't really help a career. I don't see anybody doing "E! True Hollywood Stories" becoming more famous; if anything, it can hurt careers. What's gonna happen some day, I hope, is that I will get a big, meaty role where I can do some real dramatic acting. That's what every actor hopes for.
What one critic said that I like the best is that after seeing the other documentaries about porn--Annabel Chong, Stacey Valentine, John Holmes--they felt guilty seeing a porno film afterward. But after seeing mine, they felt good about it.