Sharon Stone, Peter Sarsgaard, Amanda Seyfried, Chris Noth, Adam Brody, Debi Mazar – most of the cast of Lovelace at a press conference last week. Photos by Brad Balfour.
By Danny Peary
Even if that former FBI official (Mark Felt) who informed to the Washington Post about Watergate crimes by the Nixon White House hadn’t used its title for his code name, “Deep Throat” would still be the most famous porno film ever made (and that’s even counting Paris Hilton’s sex tape). It was a cause célèbre when it came out in 1972, the first XXX film that women unapologetically attended on date night with their husbands and boyfriends. Everyone could make the excuse that it was, as its sneaky promoters contended, the first porno feature in which it is the female who seeks sexual pleasure. (As if nobody had seen “Mona”!) A financial blockbuster, it became an instant touchstone for the sexual revolution, a test case for first-amendment rights, and reference point for late-night talk show hosts, and was hailed as the breakthrough film that might allow innovative young directors to the include hardcore sex in movies intended for the mainstream audience (which never happened).
Its star, Linda Lovelace, became a household name and, though she wasn’t particularly pretty, a fantasy girl for both sexes because she seemed to have a healthy disposition in regard to sex and could do one particular act so well that the Kama Sutra needed a new illustration. Surely many women (and men) entered the porn industry because of Lovelace and her graphic but cheery movie. But how everyone viewed Lovelace and the film changed a few years later, when she contended that had been forced at gunpoint to be in the movie by her abusive ex-husband and manager, Chuck Traynor, and had been exploited by the filmmakers, who didn’t let her share in the profits. As she revealed all she’d been through in a sleazy autobiography, Ordeal, she was claimed by both feminists and right-wing anti-porn zealots. She even spoke out against the porn industry on college campuses. Nobody knew what parts of her story were to be believed. Now there is a movie that gives Lovelace—who died at age 53 in 2002 from complications after a car accident—that gives her a sympathetic voice.
In anticipation of its release this Friday in New York City, the following press conference was held. Participants included actors Amanda Seyfried (who will get award consideration for playing Lovelace), Peter Sarsgaard (Traynor), Sharon Stone (unrecognizable as Lovelace’s cold, domineering mother, Dorothy Boreman), Hank Azaria (“Deep Throat” director Gerry Damiano); Chris Noth (fictional porno producer Anthony Romano), Adam Brody (porno actor Harry Reems, who never spoke at the conference); Debi Mazur (porno actress Dolly); and writer-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
Q: Amanda, your movie is about a woman who went through hell. Her autobiography was called “Ordeal.” But we don’t really know whether to believe her story or not. Can you talk about that, and what you thought were the biggest challenges in doing the movie?
Amanda Seyfried (far right with co-stars Peter Sarsgaard and Sharon Stone): I’m a pretty cynical person, so I knew right off the bat, when I entered into this project, that I was going to have to leave that [question of what’s true] at the door. My job was to validate Linda Lovelace in lots of ways. The challenge was the responsibility of playing her, especially because we were in touch with her kids. I wanted to justify her and reiterate what she was trying to get across. Playing a real person in general is really hard. I’d never done it before. It would have been even harder if she were alive, for sure. That was the biggest challenge.
Q: Did you have any doubts about taking on this role?
AS: Honestly I didn’t have many doubts. Apparently a lot of people did, which is why I was lucky enough that it to came to me. Of course there has to be some thought about how you’re going to be perceived afterwards, with a role like this. But after I met Rob and Jeff, there was barely any hesitation. It just seemed like the perfect challenge for me. I needed an emotional outlet and to lose myself in something–and I really believed in this woman. It really wasn’t that hard a decision to take this part. There’s such a stigma about it among actresses I know, but I just don’t feel like it’s that scary. We’re all human so that was the least of my worries.
Jeffrey Friedman: From our perspective, Amanda is a fearless actress who can do comedy or such a heartbreaking film.
Rob Epstein: We’re both very privileged that she’s in our movie.
AS: Back at ya.
Q: Jeff and Rob, did you worry that telling such a dark story wouldn’t be appealing to many viewers?
JF: I don’t think we started from that point. We really saw it as a story of a young woman who found herself in a circumstance not of her making at a very young age, and how she had to struggle to find her own power and voice within that. That was always the overriding theme for us. Linda was taken into a very dark place because of the nature of her relationship with Chuck Traynor, the fact that she was the victim of domestic violence.
Q: Peter, there are some scenes in this movie that are really hard to watch. Were they really hard to film?
Peter Sarsgaard: Well you choreograph scenes like that more than you would choreograph other scenes. With a love scene or a fight scene, you don’t usually just say, “1, 2, 3, Go!” For this, you figure out who’s on top, who’s on the bottom, who’s strangling whom. The challenge with scenes like that is to breathe life into what could very easily be stilted and static. You need to be loose within the situation and be able to trust the person that you’re with. I had total trust and faith in Amanda. I remember first meeting her. A lot of people talked about her being brave and I saw that she was really going to put herself into the role completely. So I thought, “Alright, then I’ll meet her there.” Also when we did the difficult abuse scenes, I felt that we had a safety net of people we were working with. We felt protected and that’s what made it all possible.
AS: Yeah, from the beginning we created a foundation where we felt safe and trusted it each other.
PS: It was not gradual but there from the start.
Q: To the directors: Did you guys sit down with them and say, “Okay, we’re going to do these difficult scenes and it’s going to be fine?”
Rob Epstein: Well, the four of us had a week of rehearsal, and that was key, I think, for Peter and Amanda to get to get to know each other as people, and to trust one another as actors. We really worked on the characters. What was hardest for all of us were the violent scenes. It was particularly difficult for Peter to have to go to that dark a place. There’s an underlying guilt that informs his character and that’s only one of the many dimensions to him that Peter brings out.
Q: For Amanda and anyone else, I’m wondering if there are any movies in your careers, including this one, that you don’t want your parents to see?
AS: I don’t want my dad to see my naked body. We’re going together to the premiere and I’ll want to cover up. I don’t have any problems with him seeing me in violent situations and sexual situations are a little tough, but it’s really just the nudity. I think anybody can agree with that.
Debi Mazur (left): I saw this film because it was part of a press junket and I wanted to see the performances. But I realized I can’t watch myself having an orgasm on the big screen. I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to play it as an actor and I built myself up going into the scene—and incredibly I got to rehearse at home a lot since the actor playing the role happens to be my husband–and it’s fantastic at the moment, but it’s very uncomfortable to watch it. I did another film many years ago, and I was really skinny and I was doing a nude scene. I watched myself be intimate on camera with somebody other than who I was having a relationship with in real life and it was just weird.
Hank Azaria: My parents? No way I’d let them see me in Godzilla. [Laughter]
Q: Sharon, I read that you convinced the directors to let you take on this role. Given that there isn’t a lot of footage of Linda Lovelace’s mother available, where did you go to research and create the character you played?
Sharon Stone (right): I was very fortunate to get this part from these brilliant and thoughtful directors, so first of all I want to say “thank you” to them. The guys came to me with a lot of great material on Linda’s mother, but I did do some deep digging online and found material, found pictures, and found things written about her. But of course, I also grew up in that era. There were a lot of those kinds of ladies where I grew up deep in Pennsylvania.
Q: Amanda, a lot of porn stars say they have been abused as children. Did you meet any of them in preparation for the role?
AS: I didn’t meet anybody who had been abused when they were in the porn industry, but we met with Linda’s children, who know her story.
JF: Linda’s two grown children, Dominic and Lindsay, came to set one day. I remember them being very moved by Amanda’s performance. They really felt they were hearing their mother’s voice, which made us all feel very good.
RE: And they were also moved by Sharon’s performance. They felt it really captured their grandmother. Lindsay said that she and Dominic are each in long-term relationships and neither they nor the people they’re with can bring themselves to read Linda’s book because it’s so graphic and disturbing. But what was the most moving for both of us was when she said they could show this movie to their partners so they will understand how important their mother was to them. That meant a lot of us.
DP: Sharon, from what you’ve said you seem very protective of your character, I guess. Let me ask about the reconciliation scene. Tell me that I’m wrong when I say there’s no way that Linda, when she can finally see clearly, would go to her and forgive her.
JF: That was based on my interpretation of a resolution that we know did happen. When Linda was on her deathbed, her mother and her father were by her side and they reconciled. So that was our representation of the way in which they reconciled.
DP: But Sharon, did her mother deserve a reconciliation with Linda?
SS: I had wonderful parents who had four children. Being a parent myself now, I can say that whatever happens with your children, they never stop being your children. We may not always like them or the choices they make, but I don’t think we ever stop loving our children. So when your child does try to find the best of themselves and wants you to help with that journey, the very best thing that you can do is to give them yourself. Because that’s our job, what we accept when we agree to be a parent. So from my personal point of view, I would say yes, resoundingly, she deserves to be forgiven.
RE: One of the wonderful things about Sharon’s performance is that you really get the sense that Dorothy Boreman was trying to be what she thinks is a good mother. The way she goes about is horrifying at times, but it comes from a place where she’s trying to do the right thing and doing what she needs to do to get her daughter on track. It’s partly the result of the times and her own upbringing. You never feel that it’s coming from a place of evil. It’s coming from a place of caring.
SS: A lack of experience. She has had her own difficult journey. You see Linda’s mother in a time when women’s rights were not yet really clear, when information for women was not clear and on the table. And you can see how desperately she needed that information, how much it could have helped her.
JF: Just to add to that: this took place in a time when the culture didn’t have the language for domestic violence. When the mother and daughter have that heartbreaking scene when Linda comes home after leaving Chuck to escape abuse, they don’t have a language with which to talk about it. So it’s all the unspoken. Fortunately, we’re at a different place now.
SS: It’s so valuable that Linda demonstrates that it’s not how you fall but how you get up. That theme is one of the reasons I took this part.
Q: Here’s a lighter question. Something that provides the movie a measure of levity are Linda’s hairstyles over time.
AS: The hair is really insane. I had quite a few transformations, and I loved that. It was super fun. The Afro was my favorite!
RE: She said, “Can I just wear this one for the whole movie?” Hank’s character, Gerry Damiano, who directed Deep Throat, had an awful toupee, really the world’s worst. Hank, you know the story of the toupee, right? It was a low-budget movie and we didn’t have the money for an expensive toupee, so our hair person took an old Afro and made do.
HA: The thing is, Gerry really wore his hair like that. And I think he was a hair dresser! An auteur! [Laughter].
Q: Chris, did you do any background on your producer character? I’m from that era, and he’s so realistic.
CN: He’s sort of made up and sort of based on a real character. I felt that my job was to try to make him a real person, somebody who wasn’t just moving the plot along. His main motivation, which is the main motivation for many people, is money. His main focus is on pursuing money, although I think he has a soft spot in his heart, deep down.
RE: Chris’s character, Anthony, was based on the person who actually helped Linda escape from Chuck Traynor.
Q: Amanda, Linda Lovelace was known for what the title of her movie implies. Did you practice on a popsicle?
AS: When you’re simulating something, sometimes it’s easier, as an actor, to actually be doing something. Technically, my lips would be red so it would be more realistic. It was a banana popsicle. It just seemed right at the moment to help me. Simulating that is weird.
PS: It was even weirder to have popsicle juice all over me.
AS (straight-faced): I felt bad about that.
Q: Amanda, did you relate to Linda Lovelace in any way and did you learn anything about yourself from playing her?
AS: I had heard about her long before this movie came into existence, and then I didn’t really care about her story and thought she was a two-dimensional character. I learned that it’s important to know that everybody has three dimensions and everybody’s a human being. I think a lot of women can relate to her in that she is kind of stuck in her life. She made some bad choices and was escaping one bad situation [with her mother]and entering into another bad situation [with Chuck Traynor]. How could she foresee that or what happened to her after she became famous? In a lot of ways, she’s always just trying to figure out who she is and trying to find her footing in her life, like we all are. Her circumstances are pretty awful throughout the whole thing, which is why I wanted to play her. I felt like I could do her some justice. She tried so hard to be heard, and here we are trying to tell her story again, make her a real person.
Q: This movie takes place in a period of evolution in our culture. Can you talk about the contradictions regarding pornography? On the one hand it contributed to sexual liberation, but it also resulted in the exploitation and abuse of the actresses who took part.
RE: In the context of this film, pornography stands in for the so-called sexual revolution, which is something that we remember. Even at the time it was mythologized, and it was a lot more complex than it seemed. My view is that it was mostly beneficial for heterosexual men, although a lot of women probably had a good time too. But there was a gradual process for women to claim their bodies and for gay people to claim a place in that freedom.
CN: At the time, I think there was a bit of an illusion about sexual freedom, in the same way that there was no language yet for domestic violence. People jumped into it without thinking of the dangers, and while we celebrated one side of it, saying it was freedom, we didn’t know the damage it could cause when you take it too far. Obviously porn became a bigger and bigger business, but at that time, it seemed to me, there was almost an innocence about it. Like, “Yahoo! Let’s all do it!” And they had all those orgy clubs, and there wasn’t yet the knowledge of what could come from that.
SS: Disease wasn’t around yet, but it was beginning to ramp up. They weren’t using condoms then, in the ‘70s, and there were tons of drugs.
RE: Nothing’s changed but everything’s changed. We did visit a porn set as part of our research, but, ultimately, we didn’t see ourselves as making a film about pornography or a commentary on pornography. It was really a backdrop to telling a story, and we had to recreate the circumstances under which Linda was involved in Deep Throat. Ultimately, as we say in the movie, her career in pornography lasted only 17 days. She did eight loops with her husband and then Deep Throat, and then spent the rest of her life feeling like she had to overcome that. So, again, it’s about Linda’s story more than a pornography story. But at the same time she became a sex symbol and the genie that led all of this out of the bottle. We’re obviously in a very different cultural state with regard to pornography. You can get it for free on the Internet; and kids are growing up with it.
Q: It must have been an intense shoot, so what did you guys do to relax when you weren’t shooting?
SS: We were making this film fast and on not such a high budget, so there wasn’t a lot of time for hanging out. We spent our free time creating a tremendous support system. That was important for Amanda a me. The wonderful thing about playing moms and having such a wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful, prepared actress playing my daughter is that being a mother I could bring that to the set and support her.
JF: Our second day of shooting, we had to shoot that intense scene with Linda coming home to her mother and asking her to take her in.
SS: It was smart to put it up front. These guys really knew how to pull us into it.
AS: Sharon, I was terrified, terrified. And it really would have been different had it not been you helping me through it, especially with the maternal energy. It was amazing.
SS: Thank you. And it was wonderful to see you come to work and give it your all and deliver such a complex performance.
Q: Amanda, how did you shake off this role emotionally and physically?
AS: I still haven’t shaken it off entirely, in fact. I’m struggling every day. How did I try? I did Les Miserables three weeks after this wrapped. I jumped into that, in which I play an 18-year-old virgin. It really couldn’t have been any more different. [Joking?] I mean there are actually a lot of similarities between Cosette and Linda. But it was hard to shake this off, really hard. I realize that I actually lost myself in the role, for the first time ever in my career. I feel like a real actor now!