"I heard this story when I was a kid that American Indians wouldn't get photographed because they were afraid of getting their souls taken away," says out filmmaker John Roecker, best known for his 2006 stop motion-animated indie Live Freaky! Die Freaky! "So just imagine how a porn star must feel." With Roecker's seven-part documentary series premiering November 5 on the here! network, we're likely to find out. Everything You Wanted to Know About Gay Porn Stars* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) captures those often-troubled souls of gay adult cinema.
Roecker began working on the project after filming Heart Like a Hand Grenade, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Green Day's American Idiot. "I was always fascinated with the idea of getting naked and being intimate with someone and then sharing that with everyone," says the 42-year-old veteran of Los Angeles's early punk scene. "I'd had my share of rock stars, so I decided to focus on porn stars."
Roecker contacted 15 active gay porn actors, including Brad Benton, Nick Capra, Jason Hawke, Johnny Hazzard, Nick Piston, and Jason Ridge. Armed with a video camera and an uncanny ability to put strangers at ease, he interviewed the men on topics such as their parents' reactions to their being in porn and the many stigmas attached to the profession. "They exposed and expressed themselves in such an honest way that I was humbled," he says. "Afterward they would say, 'God, I feel like I was just in therapy.' And it was the same for me, because I could identify with them. These guys are younger than me, but we all have the same gay shame."
Popular porn actor Jeremy Jordan opens up about being molested as a child. Others are forthcoming about their battles with illegal drugs — one actor even does crystal meth on-camera during his interview. Still, Roecker isn't afraid of spoiling any mystique for avid porn viewers. "These guys aren't just flesh puppets. Maybe now you might even get more turned on by their videos because you're more in tune with them as human beings — kind of like a relationship."
Roecker is particularly proud of the episode centering on Harlow Cuadra, a former porn star and escort accused (along with boyfriend Joseph Kerekes) of brutally murdering rival porn producer Bryan Kocis. "This kid was being pummeled on the blogs, so I wrote to him in prison. I wanted to give him the same respect I gave everyone else. I said, 'If you want to tell your story, here's your forum.'" Roecker interviewed the now-27-year-old by phone from his Pennsylvania prison, and the audio appears in the film along with personal photos he acquired from Cuadra's mother. Roecker considers his work with Cuadra "the most emotionally draining experience" of his life.
As Cuadra awaits trial, scheduled for January, Roecker says prosecutors have been asking him to turn over letters he exchanged with the inmate, even though he says those letters and their telephone calls had been monitored. "I'm not doing anything illegal," he says. "If there was a smoking gun, I'd go to the authorities." Roecker has kept in touch with Cuadra since and hopes to follow up with another chapter in the series.
As to how he got all his subjects to be so candid, Roecker thinks the answer is simple. "Since most magazines or websites only ask them questions about how many dicks they can shove up their asses, they just really wanted to talk," he says, adding that feedback from the men has been overwhelmingly positive. "After I showed Nick Piston one episode, he gave me a kiss and said, 'Thank you. For the first time, you've given us a voice. You might get a lot of shit for doing this, but we're right behind you.'"
The Advocate, November 2008.