What it’s like to be a porn star: A transcript of Episode 8 of Slate’s Working podcast.

Slate’s Working Podcast, Episode 8 Transcript: How Does a Porn Star Work?

Slate’s Working Podcast, Episode 8 Transcript: How Does a Porn Star Work?

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Nov. 18 2014 5:36 PM

Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 8 Transcript

Read what David Plotz asked a porn star about her workday.

Jessica Drake.
Jessica Drake.

Photo by David Plotz

We’re posting weekly transcripts of David Plotz’s Working podcast for Slate Plus members. This is the transcript for Episode 8, which features porn star Jessica Drake. To learn more about Working, click here.

You may note some differences between this transcript and the podcast. Additional edits were made to the podcast after we completed this transcript.

David Plotz: What is your name and what do you do?

Jessica Drake: My name is Jessica Drake, and I am a Wicked contract performer, writer, and director.

Plotz: So, I’m going to use the vernacular—like, people know you as—you act in porn movies. Is that—but do you not say that?

Drake: I mean, I do say it. It all depends on who’s asking. The technical definition, contract writer, performer, director. Other people ask, “I do adult movies, I direct a line of sex ed DVDs.” It all depends on the situation. A person next to me on the airplane may get a different answer.

Plotz: How does a typical week unfold for you?

Drake: There is never a regular workweek for me. My scheduling always depends on what I have going on. So, I could be feature dancing; I could be shooting a movie; I could be directing a movie; I could be doing meet and greets at stores; I could have a convention to do; I could be doing seminars and workshops; I could be doing radio; I could be doing photo shoots. I could be doing a lot of different things.

It really varies for me. There’s never been a typical workweek.

Plotz: Let’s just to limit this—because you have apparently about seven different jobs—but let’s limit it to the one job which is the easiest probably for your fans to understand, which is you make movies. So, how many movies do you make in a year, let’s say?

Drake: Generally I am contracted to star in six or seven movies a year for Wicked. And what that means is I’m the lead role; I have the majority of the dialogue; and I have all of the—not all of the sex scenes—but the majority of the sex scenes in movies. And as a director I direct at least three instructional DVDs a year.

Plotz: So, let’s take the last movie you were in. Take me through the process of learning about the movie and getting ready for it.

Drake: Sure. I was in two movies recently and they both came about in different ways. So, I’ll tell you about that. Snow White was Axel Braun’s first movie for Wicked under contract, and he really wanted me to play the Evil Queen. So, I knew about it in advance. I had the script in advance. I was able to study it. We had a script read here, at this very table.

And another movie that I just did is called Aftermath, which Brad Armstrong directed. I had the script for Aftermath a few weeks in advance, did a read with my co-star Tyler Nickson because he had never done a big acting role. And I had also never worked with him. So I wanted to get to know him; I wanted to talk about some stuff. Just kind of figure out what we were doing.

And then we shot three days here in L.A., and three days in New York.

Plotz: So, pick one of those movies, whichever you’d like, and talk about maybe a day of shooting in L.A. You wake up in your house at whatever time you normally wake up, and then what happens?

Drake: Well, I wake up in my house at about 6:30 or 7 regardless of what I’m doing, because I have two dogs that lick my face if I don’t. After that I get ready; I get up; I take care of the dogs; I have a cup of coffee; I get in the shower; I take a shower, shave, shampoo my hair, lotion up. I don’t do anything else with my hair or face because the makeup artist needs a clean palate.

And then I gather what would be my wardrobe or anything I would need for work that day. So, I get all of that packed up and I also bring the other things that I will need there. The personal hygiene stuff like toothbrush, toothpaste, my favorite body lotion or body oil—my lube, of course. Wicked also has a line of lubes called the Sensual Care collection, and so I use all the lubes from Wicked Sensual.

And so, I bring, like, a pack of stuff, and if there are sex toys involved I generally bring my own sex toys because I have my favorites. And I get all that ready and I go to the set.

Plotz: How many people—think of a typical scene that you shot in Aftermath—how many people are in the room for that scene?

Drake: It really depends. It’s tricky. We shot an orgy in Aftermath, one of the sex scenes. And for the orgy, I think we had at least 12 people? Thirteen, 14.

Twelve performers. We had three cameramen, so that’s 15 people already. We had at least seven people from the press, so maybe 22-plus people. And now add into that the director. And then the lighting guys and then the PAs. So—I think for the orgy we had almost 30 people. But for the stuff that we were shooting in New York for Aftermath we had a very, very small crew. The talent, the director, a cameraman, a lighting guy who doubled as a sound guy, and that was basically it.

Plotz: The actual filming, the performance. How do you make the decision about what’s going to happen, who’s doing what to whom? What’s your method? How do you get into it?

Drake: Well, my method is to only do things I’m comfortable doing with people that I pick out. That’s my M.O. I choose my scene partners. Although I have always been open to suggestion if a role demands a certain type of person. Maybe that person isn’t on my list. I kind of interview them, because I want to know, you know—

Plotz: What happens when you interview?

Drake: I talk, you know? I want to see them on set, on someone else’s set, and I want to see how they relate to people. I hardly ever add anybody new to my list. I’m so picky.

Back when I first started, talent would sit down and talk to each other before a scene and sort of define what it was they were and weren’t going to do. And I’m kind of old school, so I’ll say, “Well, I really like this, but I really don’t care for this. You can do this, but the line is drawn here.”

And sometimes that depends on my mood. I do have some hard limits, but so does Wicked for that matter. There’s stuff that even I like that we just couldn’t shoot. So, I have that talk with talent, and then we sort of get to it.

Normally, if it’s more of a reality-based script, then we have sex like people would have sex, in that situation. But a lot of time it can be fantasy, and when it’s fantasy you want to stay in that character, you know? So, you are having sex in a period piece.

For instance, we did one called Eternity, and you have women corseted in these dresses and this big bouffant hair. The last thing you want is for them to be yodeling, “Fuck me, baby!” Like, it’s not appropriate. So, you know, we had to tone the dirty talk down for that one. And sometimes your characters will be very romantic. Sometimes your characters will be grunge. It depends on the character.

Plotz: When you’re having a conversation with your actor, what is the terminology? Is there a standard language in the industry? What explicitly do you have to describe? Or does everyone pretty much know what everyone’s talking about?

Drake: There is no terminology. I think everybody’s a little bit different in what they say and the way they say it. And some people don’t even have that discussion. I only really have that discussion with a new partner, somebody that doesn’t necessarily know my likes and dislikes or how I work. I just want to make sure that we’re on the same page.

But it can be pretty graphic. You can tell them, “Hair pulling is fine but don’t choke me.” Or, “Spank my ass but don’t do that.” Or, “I love anal play but we’re not going to have anal sex.” Like, “You can stick a finger in there but we’re not going to have anal sex.” It just depends.

Plotz: Is anyone ever self-consciousness about this? I assume not, because this is your business, this is what you do all day. But do people have self-consciousness about, well, first about performing, but also about talking?

Drake: Well, I’m sure. I think to some degree we’re all self-conscious. We all have stuff that we’re not completely comfortable with. Body issues or whatnot. I think a lot of people are really self-conscious about having that conversation and so sometimes it doesn’t happen. I’ve seen performers just basically meet up on set and have sex, and if that’s fine with them that’s cool. As long as everybody really is on the same page.

Plotz: So, how does a sex scene go?

Drake: Well, usually we do stills before we actually have the sex scene. I prefer to do the stills along with the scene if at all possible. We need stills for catalogue, and Internet and things like that. So, the stills need to represent what we do during the scene. And sometimes that will change. Like, sometimes you’ll go into scene going, “Oh, we’re going to do three positions: oral, oral, and then the pop shot.” But then that changes, somehow, for whatever reason.

So, the scene starts with kissing and foreplay. There should always be more foreplay than you see in porn—people at home, please know that.

Plotz: You just said there should always be more foreplay—when you’re filming, how long is that kissing and foreplay part?

Drake: It could be five minutes, maybe. It depends. And women warm up with different rates of speed, and it’s your job to figure out what your partner’s speed is. We shoot sex scenes very linear, at least in the feature movies, not so much in my instructionals. It normally goes: kissing, oral, oral, position, position, position, pop. That’s how it goes. And that’s not how real-life sex is.

That’s basically how it is. On set, we’ll do a position, and then we’ll do softcore coverage of that position, and then the next, and then softcore of that, and then a third, and then soft core of that, and then pop.

Plotz: What is “pop”?

Drake: That’s when the guy comes.

Plotz: I would feel like that this is a much harder job for your male co-stars?

Drake: Sometimes, yes. Yeah. We have guys that have been around for a really long time and are just total professionals, and can take a girl all the way through the scene, like on autopilot. Moving her around, and “OK—now it’s time!” But then yeah, you get the guys that just really either aren’t into it, or haven’t found their ground yet—whatever for whatever reason. And it’s tough.

And I look at them, and it is hard. Because I don’t have anything to keep erect during a scene, and they do. So, I give them a lot of credit.

Plotz: You have lube, but are you, you enjoying this enough like it’s, you know, this is good? This is nice?

Drake: A couple of years into being in the adult industry, I had an “a-ha” moment. The guy always comes, that’s the end of the scene. What about us? Because a couple of times I was walking away from sex scenes really, really horny, really sexually frustrated. Like, the equivalent of blue balls. I was like, this is not right, you know! And so I made it my goal to orgasm during scenes. It doesn’t always happen, and some of the orgasms that you see that are just like, “Oh! So crazy!” That’s not a real orgasm, and I don’t mean just for me either. Like, anybody that they see. And if a girl is squirting like a fire hydrant, chances are that’s not a G-spot orgasm either.

But you know, I think it’s really important that you do enjoy what you’re doing. And I think that you should represent sex as being fun and feeling good, and hopefully the woman gets hers, too. So, I’ll masturbate, or if there’s a better position that I want to be in, or if there’s a specific thing I really like, a lot of the time it’s easier for me to come in softcore because we don’t have to be open to the camera. So, if you’re having oral sex and you’re in softcore, you can wrap your thighs around your partner and, like, rub one out on his face. It’s just easier that way.

Plotz: How do you not dissociate? Because, I mean, there’s sort of this approaching orgasm—how do you continue to act?

Drake: No, orgasm equals no acting, unfortunately. Like, phew, it goes out the window! And if I come, then for a few minutes after that, I’m generally useless. I can’t focus; it’s all about me. But that’s okay because it looks great on camera.

Plotz: When you’re filming, is the director directing you? Or is it, once the cameras roll—because it’s a sex scene—it’s left up to you to improv it?

Drake: Well, it depends on the movie. If the characters are super defined, and how much coverage we need. Because when we shoot a movie we need hardcore coverage, and we also need softcore.

Hardcore coverage, you show the explicit penetration. But in softcore, your people are still having sex or they could just be humping. You may never know. And you do not see the penetration, but you see the people joined.

And the reason for that is because we have different distribution for different products. So, that’s when the director will come in and say, hey, I need three more minutes of that position. Or, can you give me a fill-in-the-blank? Can you give me a mish, a spoon, a doggy, a cowgirl, a pile driver, a reverse, a whatever? And that’s when we are directed.

And occasionally, the director will just kind of sit back so as not to be intrusive with the talent, and the cameraman will be, like, “Open up a little bit. Shift your knee.” Whatever, so that he can see better.

Plotz: How many scenes can you film in a day?

Drake: It depends on what they are. I believe I’ve done a blowjob, a girl-girl, and a boy-girl in one day, because those are not all physically taxing scenes. And I think the most that I’ve shot in another day would be a boy-girl and a girl-girl.

Plotz: Talk about physically taxing. So, what’s physically taxing, and what do you damage?

Drake: I damage as little as possible. Physically taxing, I mean, after a while of holding positions you cramp up, you know? It gets uncomfortable. I’ve had charley horses before; I’ve had to take breaks because my legs were burning. And definitely after sex scenes, me having sex the way I don’t have sex at home, and certainly for much longer—yeah, you feel like you’ve been working out the next day when you get up.

Plotz: Why do you think you’re a star in this? What makes you good at your job?

Drake: I love my job. I mean, humbly, I’m pretty good at dialogue. You know, I’m responsible. I do what I need to do when I need to do it. I choose my scene partners to have great sex scenes. I do things on camera that I really enjoy. But I mean, I’m a star because I signed with Wicked. It was the perfect thing for me at the right time.

Plotz: Wicked is a big company and it’s a successful company, and they’re promoting you really well—but they wouldn’t have signed you if there wasn’t something that was good about you, right? Because there’s probably 1,000 women who want the job that you have, 10,000 women who want the job that you have. So, really, I’m really curious - when you think—or when people—you know, you talk to your agent or you talk to your bosses, they’re like, “Jessica, you’re so good at this because—” I know you don’t want to brag, but really I’m just very curious. What do you have?

Drake: I think I sincerely—I love my job. I love being the very best at it that I can be, and it’s always new for me. Like, I always want to do new stuff. I’m an adventurer. In Speed, I learned how to ride a motorcycle. I got my motorcycle license to be able to do that movie in what I thought was the right way. I’m a super hard worker.

And I think my sex scenes are really good. And I think the reason that my sex scenes are really good is because I have a bit of a twisted imagination, and I have darker fantasies, and I strive to pick out people that I really want to work with.

Plotz: What are the things about your job that you just don’t like?

Drake: It’s very general, but I’ll say the stigma that comes along with it. And not being able to speak freely about what I do with everyone. Because there’s people that will never, ever accept it, understand it. They think it’s one very specific thing. They think we’re all drug addicts and we lead this crazy lifestyle. And it’s just not true.

You know, I think in every occupation you’re going to find people that love to party, and are maybe irresponsible, but they just sensationalize it with us. I would say that the biggest thing that I don’t like is the stigma. I don’t like super long, long nights on set. Snow White had a couple of really, really late nights. One day we wrapped at, like, 6:00 in the morning. But it happens sometimes.

Plotz: Are you married?

Drake: I am not married, but I’ve been with the same person now for about 10 years.

Plotz: So, I know you’ve been asked this a million times, but—how do you separate the work sex? So, sex is work but sex is also, you know, part of a relationship. So, is there a mental process that you have to go through?

Drake: No, sex at home is a lot lazier. It just is; it’s easier, it’s quicker, it’s not a big production, you don’t have to worry about where the cameras are. It happens when it happens. And obviously I’ve been in this relationship for a really long time, so I’m having a great deal less sex than I was, say, in the first five years of it.

Plotz: If you’re a comedian people expect you to be funny. If you’re a musician, if you go somewhere people are going to want you to sing or play guitar for them. So, what’s the equivalent of that for you? What are the expectations that people have for you?

Drake: Well, it’s mixed. They’re either very realistic expectations and people will see me out in public and they just give me the look, you know, the nod and the acknowledgment. Or they expect to be able to hook up with me. And there doesn’t really seem to be much of an in-between. I don’t get the hooking up part out in public very often. It’s more on, like, social media.

Like, “Oh, baby, I want to fuck you!” Well, that’s not going to happen! Or, “How much?” But in person people generally don’t do that and they’re pretty cool. You know, whenever I encounter anybody out in public that knows who I am, if they want me to sign something I will, that’s cool—I mean, provided they don’t have 8x10s of me having sex and they’re trying to get me to sign them in a public place. But, yeah, people are generally really cool.

Plotz: How would you describe the sort of social atmosphere of a set?

Drake: Pretty friendly, because we all know each other and we know each other usually in a pretty intimate way. I don’t want to say it’s like a big family, but it is kind of like a family, you know? Because we all have our own roles, we’re working with the same crew, everybody knows everybody. There’s teasing, and for the most part we get along.

Plotz: Is there hazing of, like, the new guy?

Drake: Sometimes, yeah. And you don’t want to leave anything on set, leave things behind. When we were shooting my co-star Tyler Nickson, he was always saying stuff like, “Oh, no, it’s okay. I know I got all of my stuff.” Everybody’s packing stuff up to leave because we’re not going to be at the same location. He’s like, “No, no, I know I’ve got all my stuff.” And the next day he’s told that his, whatever, bandana was tied around the lighting guy’s balls, you know. [Laughter] Stuff like that. Hopefully that’s never happened to me or any of my stuff.

Plotz: Famously, people make fun of the acting in adult movies. So, what do you do to overcome that bad reputation?

Drake: Well, I’ve done acting workshops. I have a ton of acting workbooks and books that I’ve read. I’ve done acting tutorials online. I’ve even taken college classes for acting. And I do take it seriously, and sometimes people give me a hard time about that. They’re like, “Oh, it’s only porn!” But I don’t want to be the cheesy porno stereotype, the “bow-chicka-wow”—no! We’ll do it sometimes to be funny.

But you know, I get a chance to play these characters that have depth and meaning. And that might sound kind of weird coming from someone that’s having sex. But I do take it really seriously. I make it a point to know my dialogue. And I think maybe that’s one of the reasons that I’ve done so well, is because for whatever reason, I can memorize chunks of dialogue at a time. And as far as dialogue with another person, what I’ll do to prepare is get on my iPhone, on my iNotes, and I will record the other person’s dialogue and time mine accordingly so that I can rehearse with my iPhone.

I’ll say my dialogue, and I’ll time it to where then it’s me saying theirs, and then back and forth.

I’ve won a bunch of awards for acting, and I think that’s why.

Plotz: Do you think it matters? Do you think the movies do better because the acting is better?

Drake: If we’re catering to the type of people that care about plot and storyline in a movie—which is basically Wicked’s core demographic—then yes, I think that they do appreciate it.

Plotz: If you like the acting, have you thought or have you done non-porn acting?

Drake: Yes, but I was never aspiring. I just like the opportunity to be on camera, doing some acting. I’ve done stuff for HBO, Showtime, “Skinemax,” you know, all those late night cable movies. I’ve done all of those, and then we’ve also done bit parts in other things. Little speaking roles. I was on Sons of Anarchy. Little things here and there.

Plotz: Does your acting world and your film world intersect the nonporn world? Or are they totally separate islands?

Drake: You know, I would say for the most part they are completely different from each other. They are completely independent from each other. Being on mainstream sets, one of two things would happen. Either we’d be like an oddity and they’d come by and, like, look at us and want to poke us with a stick. Or we’d be like, “Ew, the porn people are in that trailer!” I think it’s pretty separate.

Plotz: So, you’re in your mid-30s and this is a job that I assume has an expiration date—at some point? So, how do you deal with planning that out?

Drake: You can only plan it out so much because you never really know. For now I’m comfortable being on camera. Maybe in a year or two I’m not; maybe in five years I’m not anymore. So, you just have to keep it in the back of your mind and work accordingly. I have a lot of other things going on, which is part of the reason that it doesn’t freak me out as much. But as long as I like what I’m doing I’ll keep on doing it. And I mean, for the record, not that it’s what I’m going to be doing, but there’s grandma porn! There’s no literal age that you can’t do this anymore!

I don’t want to do that. But yeah, I mean … and MILFs are huge right now, too. So that’s cool.

Plotz: That’s the best sentence I’ve ever heard! [Laughter]

Are you a mom?

Drake: I am not, but I have played one on TV! [Laughter]

And that’s been really recent, too. I think I’m really fortunate with that. Because I mean, I’ve seen girls get MILF’d in their 20s.

Plotz: Is that the verb, “Get MILF’d?”

Drake: Get MILF’d, yeah.

Plotz: Ha! That’s awesome.

When you played a MILF, did you feel like, I’m taking a job away from a real MILF?

Drake: No, no! [Laughter]

Plotz: How do you deal with the fact that fans—I’m sure they’re lovely, they genuinely like you and admire you—but it’s pervy. I mean, they’re like, masturbating to you. So, how do you think about that and not get creeped out?

Drake: I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been creeped out by it. I think for a while it was weird, it was very surreal and bizarre. But I mean, that’s why I’m having sex, is for other people’s enjoyment and for their inspiration. And I think it would be worse if they weren’t jerking off to me, because that would be bad. So, I’ll get on Wicked’s website and I’ll look at the scenes, because there’s a great breakdown of how many likes the scene gets or which scene is the highest-rated scene in the movie? And I want those to be mine, you know?