'Starlet' Filmmakers Discuss Porn Star Cameos
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — “Starlet,” an indie-drama about the unlikely friendship that grows between an elderly widow and an aimless young porn starlet, premiered to favorable reviews at this year’s SXSW film festival.
Directed by “Greg the Bunny” and “Warren the Ape” co-creator Sean Baker from a script he wrote with “Ape” collaborator Chris Bergoch, the Freestyle Picture and Cre Film production stars 85-year-old newcomer Besedka Johnson as the widow Sadie and Dree Hemingway — daughter of Mariel, great-great granddaughter of Ernest — as the aspiring porn star Jane.
While the film’s plot doesn't center on Jane's X-rated career, it does eventually arrive at a scene in which she’s seen performing on a porn set. To present the moment in an authentic manner, Baker and Bergoch turned to their friends in the adult industry with whom they had worked with on MTV’s “Warren the Ape.”
In this exclusive interview with XBIZ, Baker and Bergoch reveal which adult stars they selected to cameo in their film, which served as consultants and what ‘90s starlet was the inspiration behind Jane’s porn name, Tess Steele.
“Starlet” includes appearances from Asa Akira, Manuel Ferrara, Zoe Voss, Lily Labeau and many others. How did those cameos come about?
Chris Bergoch: Sean Baker and I were coming off of MTV's "Warren the Ape," a show geared to 16-20 year-old males. Due to that demographic, and also to the nature of the character of Warren, we had a handful of adult film stars appear on the show and kept in touch with a few — namely Tanner Mayes, Chastity Lynn and Scott Lyons.
Sean Baker: We had the good fortune of running into Manuel Ferrara at Talent Testing in the valley. We knew of his status in the field and asked him to be in the film on the spot. He agreed. We then asked if he could bring Asa Akira, who we consider one of the top personalities in the biz, to the project. Ask and you shall receive.
CB: During production, when it came time to fill additional performer roles in the film, we always felt, for authenticity, that we should continue to cast actual performers rather than actors playing adult film stars. We reached out to Metrotalent Management, Type 9 Models and 101 Modeling to cast Cassandra Nix, Jessi Palmer, Tracey Sweet, Kaci Starr and Lily LaBeau for cameos in the film.
SB: Finally, it was [performer] Richie Calhoun who was the man responsible for putting
us in touch with the beautiful Zoe Voss. Zoe makes a cameo in the film and then body doubles for our star, Dree Hemingway. Richie has a cameo as well that was cut from the film for timing purposes. It's a fantastic scene that will hopefully wind up as an extra on the Blu-ray release.
Did any of the performers consult on the project?
CB: Our earliest meetings were with Scott Lyons, who was hilarious as Robin in [Exquisite Films’] “The Justice League” parody and as the Murdock character in [Adam & Eve’s] 'The A-Team” parody. We met Scott through Chastity Lynn, who appeared on our "Warren the Ape" show. Scott was more than willing to answer any specific questions we had during the writing process.
SB: We also wanted to speak with the people who worked behind the camera. [Playboy shooter] Tim Sabo was nice enough to sit down and answer any questions we had about the industry and its inner workings. He then invited us to a shoot in Malibu where he introduced us to several performers.
Just before production, our actors met with Ashley Blue, who just published her memoir "Girlvert." Ashley read the script and gave thumbs up as an industry insider, even offering a few suggestions.
Is there a particular starlet who inspired the role of Jane?
CB: It wasn't a situation where we based any of our characters on any one person. I'd say it was like anything else, where there were traits inspired by various personalities that you try to work in here and there, and create sort of groundwork on the page for the actors to take and evolve from there.
Stella Maeve, who was terrific in “The Runaways,” really went all out and just completely became the character of Melissa. We were actually shooting a sequence at the Exxxotica LA Expo and she remained in character, even signing autographs for fans. And of course the great Dree Hemingway, who is Marial Hemingway's daughter and the great-great granddaughter of Ernest, really just took the Jane character and made her leap off the page.
As far as anyone specific, well, Sean and I befriended a performer called Selena Steele when she was feature dancing in NYC back in the ‘90s. She was popular at the time from a film called "Curse of the Catwoman." Jane's porn name in the film is Tess Steele, a nod to Selena.
“Starlet” is seeking distribution and will soon hit the film festival circuit. To keep up with the project, follow it on Twitter.