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​step inside james franco’s new gay porn thriller

'King Cobra' is the sexy and shocking true story of murder in the gay porn business. The film’s director Justin Kelly gives us the inside scoop.

by Oliver Lunn
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Oct 31 2016, 11:45am

James Franco is at his unhinged best playing a gay porn producer in King Cobra, a ripped-from-the-headlines drama that centers on the rise of teen porn star Brent Corrigan. It's an eye-popping performance, Franco's hench producer a loose cannon you wouldn't dare cross. Yet it's not the only one in the film. Former Disney actor Garrett Clayton plays the porn star; Christian Slater plays a rival porn producer ("show me that cock," he demands); and that's not to mention Molly Ringwald and Alicia Silverstone, both welcome blasts from the past in this compelling true-crime indie flick.

Set in mid-00s LA, in a world of low-res websites and Affliction-branded clothes, King Cobra follows the real-life scandal surrounding Corrigan (known as Sean Paul Lockhart IRL). It turns out, Corrigan was underage in some of his early pornos; and without giving too much away, all this leads to a murder plot that shocked the gay porn industry to its core. I recently sat down with the film's director, Justin Kelly, to learn more about the dark tale, Franco's show-stealing performance, and how a former Disney star took to shooting sex scenes with Christian Slater.

The film is about the real-life teen porn star Brent Corrigan. How involved was he in this film?
Well, he wasn't involved. We did reach out and let him read the script to see if he wanted to help with it. Ultimately he agreed to let us use his name and likeness in the story, but he didn't want to contribute to it, because he's actually writing a memoir.

Did he have any concerns?
I think he was a little bit weirded out, of course; like can you imagine if someone said out of the blue they wanted to make a movie — and at that point Franco and Slater were already attached — so to come to him with that, I would imagine it's pretty bizarre. Ultimately he agreed to let us make it, and he's since spoken out against it a little bit, but he hasn't seen it yet, so…

How much did Franco throw himself into his role as the porn producer? Presumably he didn't have much time, juggling all his other projects.
He definitely does a lot. For a film like this it probably seems like he was crazy involved and it was this big, long shoot. I believe he was on set for five or six days. Generally we don't do a lot of rehearsal time, I kind of prefer not to. But I see him come up with stuff a lot on set, improv a lot. And as busy as he is, he's always so good at carving that character out on the spot. There were a million examples but the first one that comes to mind is the workout scene. There was never dialogue in that scene.

You mean the "NO LITTLE BITCHES!" scene?
Yeah, that was his idea. I told him to say something to Harlow like, 'stop being a little bitch' and then he starts going off and adding all those lines. Or on the call with Stephen, he was supposed to hang up the phone and throw it on the couch and be angry. And completely on the spot he started doing that, 'Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!!' over and over again, just screaming it six times in a row. That's one of my favorite moments.

Being set in the mid-00s, were there era-specific details you were keen to include, in terms of the fashion and technology?
Oh definitely. I think that's why it was so fun — because it wasn't that long ago. It was fun to play with that era in terms of baggier jeans, how Stephen wears his white Sketchers. Sean has a little beaded necklace, such an early 2000s piece. And I don't know if you noticed but Franco's character is always in Affliction, which is kind of embellished jeans, faded crosses. And then Harlow was always in Diesel.

How hard was it for Garrett Clayton, a former Disney star, to go from Teen Beach Movie to shooting sex scenes with Christian Slater?
When we met up in person I could tell that he was really ready for a departure from Disney and I could tell that he was going to go all the way with this. But with the sex scenes, it's just something that, even though we don't have full frontal nudity, it's still… you have to be extremely comfortable with simulated sex scenes where Christian Slater pushes you against the wall and fucks you!

Did you have conversations to prep him for that?
For the sex scenes, of course everyone has a little bit of nerves at first, but everyone knew what they were getting into. That thing happens where you're on a set and you're on a schedule; it starts to feel like the business of the day; it starts to feel less wild than you would expect. For Garrett it was as simple as me telling him, 'okay, we're gonna zoom in on your face and act like you're sitting on someone getting fucked!' [laughs] How do I phrase that in a polite way? And it would just be like, okay; we'd spray him with sweat and he'd go for it. It just sort of became a part of the regular events of the day [laughs].

Did anything alarm you about the world of gay porn when looking into it more?
I think it was kind of what I expected. I mean, with this story in particular it's pretty alarming that a producer wouldn't have done more thorough background checks on his star who was 17 for the first few videos. Fake ID or not, I think that's pretty shocking. There's a lot of, from what I've heard, seedy sides to the gay porn industry but then there are some companies that are more legit and respectful. And this one just happens to be about a slightly seedier one, about a guy who makes them in his basement.

This is your second film with Franco. Any plans for another?
Yeah. It's another true story with some queer themes, about the JT Leroy literary hoax. I've actually been working on this [untitled project] for six years; I thought it would be my first film but it was hard to get off the ground as a first-time director, and yeah, it's a full backstory of why these two women pulled off this crazy hoax. It's in the same vein as I Am Michael and King Cobra, where this thing happens that is easy to judge everyone involved but it's more exciting for me to figure out why they did it.

@OliverLunn

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Culture
james franco
gay porn
King Cobra
Justin Kelly