Ron Jeremy has been the hardest working man in Hollywood for over three decades, but he’s putting some distance between himself and the world of porn these days as he contemplates retirement and moves more and more into mainstream film. In his latest outing, the multi-faceted actor/writer/producer/director turns in a highly entertaining cameo in Julie Davis’ cutting edge romantic comedy, Finding Bliss.
Jeremy talked to us about how his new movie compared to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, what he sees as the uncertain future of the adult entertainment industry, and why he absolutely despises the internet. He also discussed his involvement in The Great Porn Debates and updated us on his latest work including an appearance on the Travel Channel, a hilarious documentary entitled Midgets Vs. Mascots, and a starring role opposite Billy Zane in Guido, a dramatic feature film which has just begun shooting in Los Angeles. Hit the jump fro the interview.
Finding Bliss explores the adult film industry through the eyes of an idealistic 25-year-old award-winning film school grad, Jody Balaban (LeeLee Sobieski), who’s faced with the hard decision of taking the only well-paying industry job she has yet been offered – editing porn at Grind Productions. Written and directed by Davis, Finding Bliss also stars Kristen Johnston, Matt Davis, Denise Richards and Jamie Kennedy.
How did you get cast in Finding Bliss?
RON JEREMY: I knew Julie Davis from before, when she put me in a TV series for Cinemax. It was called Black Tie Nights. I played the piano in the show. I was a guest star. It was fun and we liked working together. She’d wanted me to be in a movie that she did years and years ago. I showed up really late to the set and I lost that job because I was stuck in traffic. She always said she was going to keep me in mind for something in the future. Most directors would tell me to go f*ck myself but she kept me in mind and put me in Black Tie Nights, and then this thing came along and she was shooting it in Oregon. We went up there to shoot this film and also we shot in Los Angeles and I played myself. It’s a shame they cut out some of the jokes I did with Kristen Johnston. We had fun up there, me and Kristen, but they kept in a few. I just did a cameo. She said she sees the reaction that I get when I’m on screen with screening audiences. They’ll applaud, throw their hands in the air and make jokes. She said I’ve got to give you a bigger part in my next film. I said, “You really should.”
How was it working with Julie? What was that process like?
JEREMY: Oh, she’s s doll. She likes input. She knows what she wants as a director. But, if you have an idea, she’ll put it in her brain and she’ll go “Hmmmm. Yes! Do that!” Or she’ll go “Hmmmm. No! I like the script better.” So, she’ll make up her mind quick. She’s good for low budget. She won’t have to stew over something. She keeps her films on budget so I guess producers must love her. I actually happen to like her a lot. We’re actually pretty good friends. I know her mom and dad. We joke that if she wasn’t married, I’d put in an application form because she’s adorable. (Laughs)
Would you say the film is a fairly accurate portrayal of the adult film industry back in the day?
JEREMY: Yes, the way it was years ago. Now with the quick videos that are out there, just the “Here’s a cup of coffee. Eat me!” There’s your dialogue. (Knocking) “Hello! Carpenter. I’m here to fix your whatever.” “Thank you.” “Hey, why don’t we…?” “Okay!” (Knocking) “Hi! Electrician.” “I don’t have the money to pay for it.” “We’ll pay in trade.” (Knocking) “Hello, pizza man. Who ordered the large sausage?” “I did.” “Why are you in lingerie to greet a pizza man?” “I don’t know. Why don’t we…?” (Whistles) There you go. I’ve just given you every last porn film for the last [decade]. The earlier ones had a little more style and storylines. So, Finding Bliss is a really good example of what the film was like in the late 70s and 80s before it went all video, when it had a little soul and a little warmth to it. Even the editing — I believe they show splicing — now it’s all done in computers.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno with Seth Rogen was a much bigger studio film with ten times the budget. But I think it’s worse. It’s not as good a film because it’s the typical storyline. The director falls in love with his leading actor. He now takes the sex scene himself. He jumps in instead of the actor. We’ve written that in porn films for years. Zack and Miri tries to create a little soul, a little warmth, the feelings behind the sex, but I think Finding Bliss did a much, much better job because it isn’t typically the director does the actress. It’s a little more intricate with some of the feelings that went on and it goes into the past of the lead actress, how she was in film school and now she’s doing this for a living. So people think “Oh, you’ve gone downhill.”
But a lot of things, it’s true. Back in those days, a lot of young film students worked on porn. A lot of famous directors today in Hollywood started out doing porn but it was on film. It takes a certain talent. You have a camera loader. You have a pull focusing. You have the best boy. You have the electrician. You have a whole crew of guys and the film is film, whether it be 16mm or 35mm, whether it’s an Arriflex BL3 or a Panavision. This is a really difficult and classy art form.
When the market went video as Boogie Nights explains, which I also consulted on by the way, I’m on the credits of Boogie Nights, it’s exactly what really happened. Burt Reynolds plays the director and there are like 10 of them who were really upset about that new medium. They felt like it was belittling. It was not as classy. Remember they show how the market goes to video when they’re trying to convince Burt Reynolds to get with the times? He does his limousine scene with Rollergirl played by Heather Graham and then there are these cheap, quick little sex scenes in limousines that lead to problems and that’s actually what happened. I mean, there weren’t any fights, nothing like that, but a lot of directors from those days did not want to go into that new, quick little shot video medium because there was no real… It’s automatic focus.
You only need a crew of one. You don’t need Assistant Directors or Cameramen or Focuses. You don’t need any of that. It’s on your shoulder and you shoot it. Your cameraman can also be the makeup artist and the caterer. (Laughs) In fact, sometimes they’re even the actor in the scene as in Max Hardcore and a lot of the Seymore Butts and Randy West, Ed Powers, Rodney Vision, all these guys. It’s funny because all these guys now can actually shoot themselves. It’s called the POV angle. The camera’s on their shoulder and they shoot down and there’s the girl. They’re actually saving money on the cameraman now. They’re the caterer, the cook, the makeup artist, the gaffer, the electrician, the cameraman and the actor rolled into one.
So Finding Bliss is the era before that and I liked it because it had some soul. It had little feelings in it. The whole thing about Finding Bliss is Bliss is actually a character. It’s got a very interesting ending which you would not expect. It’s a nice little twisted love story but it’s got more plots and subplots and sub-subplots than Zack and Miri.
The ensemble cast works really well together. Everyone gets an opportunity to shine.
JEREMY: Yes, she writes it that way. I think she does that herself. Most scripts, after it’s originally written, they usually hire other writers to then break it up into different kinds of characters.
You’ve done a lot of mainstream work in recent years involving some pretty well known actors. Is that part of an overall career strategy?
JEREMY: I always wanted to do mainstream. I didn’t commit to the world of acting to do porn. I wanted to be an actor my whole life. Porn was just something where I got the work. I quit teaching. I was used to making some kind of salary. Then, when I went Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway – I’m in Equity also, the stage union – you make nothing or very little. You can’t live on it. So when Playgirl Magazine came first and then along came porn, it actually worked out fine. Again, back in the 70s, a lot of big directors were doing porn so we always had good storylines. You felt like you were actually an actor. You worked 5 days – 1 day sex and 4 days you’re acting. Films like Amanda by Night, Ecstasy Girls, Coed Fever, Fascination, Sizzle, Roommates, Café Flash, Talk Dirty to Me, Nothing to Hide. I go on with some of these really well done, classy films of the old days. You could see such a difference besides pubic hair. You can always tell an old porn film. But you can also see that there was a real story. They’re doing it now with a few companies. Pirates is a good example. Pirates had so much story that they took out the sex and put it at Blockbuster as a regular movie. Some companies still try to do that but it’s tough.
AVN named you the Top Porn Star of All Time. Besides the obvious, how do you explain your broad appeal, enormous success and longevity over the past three decades?
JEREMY: I like to think that I’m a good actor. I took the character all the way to the sex scene. I don’t just play a character and then have sex like Ron Jeremy has sex. If I play a nerd, I have sex like a nerd. If I play a nasty guy, I have sex like a nasty guy. So I like to think that I took acting all the way and that people notice that. I also like to think that I’m a character actor. When I was young and better looking, I didn’t get as much work. But then I got a little older and fatter, and it’s like hey, the audience could relate. Hey, if he gets lucky, there’s hope for all of us. That’s why in the gay films where the man is the draw and there’s the sex appeal, the men are always muscular and good looking and chiseled. But a lot of the guys in porn, some of your biggest names in porn, are not what you’d call Chippendales — John Holmes, myself, Ed Powers, Max Hardcore. Who’d call any of us Chippendales? (Teasing) I once was. So, I think that’s part of the draw and also the humor.
I used to crack a lot of funny jokes in movies. I just wrote a lot of funny parts and bits and threw in a lot of shtick because I was a Catskill comedian for a while. I’m actually in that movie, The Aristocrats. Penn Jillette asked a bunch of comedians to be in it and I’m in it. I had a lot of history of comedy and did improv and did comedy and theater in New York so I think I helped make some of these films funny and audiences would remember that. “Not during the sex!” I used to get criticized all the time. “Stop the jokes when the sex starts. People can’t get erotically turned on if you’re going to crack jokes. Men can’t get a boner and laugh at the same time. The jokes are good up until the lead in and then you just stop and think about the sex.” So I was always criticized. Now I tell that to the actors I direct. I’m still in films. I still work in them once and a while but that big game was funny.
Are you planning on retiring from the porn industry and doing more mainstream films?
JEREMY: That’s happening right now. I’m doing more mainstream rather than doing porn. I’m working on a film today with Billy Zane. It’s called Guido. So I’m getting some work. I’m playing the captain of a ship and it’s involved in murders and in bad things. Guido plays the hero. There are a lot of deaths in it. It’s a Pulp Fiction kind of film or like a Boondock Saints – a lot of guns, a lot of shoots. The producer is Peter Lebeau. The star of the film is a real nice guy names Alki David. He’s on the internet. He’s really funny. He’s a multi-millionaire, almost a billionaire. Alki David. He’s putting up all the money. They may even have Wesley Snipes in it. They’re trying to get him.
What is it about that role that attracted you?
JEREMY: (Laughs) They called me. See, I’m not going to be a liar and be like so many actors saying “Well, I wanted this kind of role and I love independent cinema.” I love when you see these people on TV. That’s why everyone loves Howard Stern because he just gets to the nitty gritty. He goes, “Shut Up!” “He’s the best director I’ve ever worked with.” “It’s your first film! He’s the only director you’ve ever worked with!” He’s going, “He’s my favorite director.” “He’s your *only* director!” Someone asks “What makes you want this role?” and actors will say, “Well, I got a phone call! How’s that?” You know what? We’re not Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise who can pick and choose the scripts you get and it’s a career move. When you’re still not as known as them and not getting $20 million a movie, you take anything that comes your way usually and all actors do.
I love these interviews where they’re saying “Oh, I love independent cinema because you can be creative and do whatever you want to do.” Shut up! So Steven Spielberg called you on the phone tomorrow for an acting job but it’s for Universal or Paramount, are you gonna turn it down? “Oh Stevie, listen, I just can’t do it. I have to do independent cinema.” Bull! (Laughs) If James Cameron wants to call you to be in Avatar 2 which is not an independent, are you going to turn it down because “I love independent cinema”? All these actors, I love these interviews that are so phony. Just say it! “Because I got a damn phone call!
They sent me a script and I said ‘Fine. I like to work. I’m an actor.’” That’s what actors do. That’s the truth. What attracted me to the role? I could have played any of the roles in that movie. I would have done it because it’s a good film. It’s union. And doing union work not only is good but also pays your medical benefits. You do union work. The only thing I might turn down is if it’s non-union, no celebrities are in it, and it’s low budget. That I might turn down. But if I get a script and it’s union and there are major actors in it, it’s always good to do. It distances yourself from the world of porn.
What other projects do you have coming up?
JEREMY: I’ve got a lot. Finding Bliss is coming out and people are going to love this movie. I just worked on Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel that they call No Reservations. It’s funny. It’s on YouTube now. They aired it on TV. I’m in a film that’s now in video stores called Midgets and MascotsBoondock Saints. The sequel came out and now people are looking at the first one again and so I’m getting more press on that, the original Boondock Saints. I have a few other projects. I had a little part in a TV series called “Look” for Showtime. Adam Rifkin puts me in everything he does. So I got a few things coming up.
Are you planning on going back to directing any time soon?
JEREMY: Maybe. I’m in no great rush. I really like to act much more than direct. There’s no comparison.
If you could have any role, what would you like?
JEREMY: Whenever someone asks what kind of role you want, every actor will probably give the same answer: “The last role you think I could play.” Whenever they say “What’s the role you want?” [My response is] “Whatever you think I can’t handle.” You want to go out of character and out of type. People always say that I get cameos as myself. I do a lot, yes, like in Finding Bliss. Three of the biggest films that are now cult films in colleges, which are huge, I did not play myself. And these are films that are still going strong. I get residual checks all the time. They’re huge.
In order, third from the top, is the Kiss film called Detroit Rock City. It’s huge at colleges. It’s always on MTV Movies that Rock. Number 2 is Orgasmo which is huge because of the success of Trey Parker and Matt Stone who did South Park. That’s still going on, too. And Number 1, head and shoulders, is Boondock Saints. The film is so huge it’s a freak show. It’s made over $40 million on DVD alone. According to Variety magazine, this is a direct quote, “It’s the number one straight to video feature in Blockbuster’s whole history.” For a film that had no theatric, because you can’t compare it to ET, but for a non-theatrical film, it broke every record and it’s still doing well. Colleges, that’s it. It’s passed down generation to generation from frat house to frat house. That’s why it’s done so well. It’s still going strong in colleges.
What do you see as the future direction of the adult entertainment industry given the impact of the internet and new technology and distribution?
JEREMY: It’s hard to do that because it’s in trouble now. A lot of it’s going bankrupt because the internet is killing it – not just the economy, the internet is killing it. It can withstand the economy because it’s almost Depression proof like alcohol. If times are good, you drink and watch a porno. If times are bad, you drink and watch a porno. Whereas, what’s killing it is the internet like it’s killing the recording industry. Anyone wants proof, just drive down Sunset Blvd., you’ll see they closed down Tower Records, Tower Video, Virgin Megastore. Gone! No one needs CDs or DVDs anymore. They download it for free. It’s a very scary world out there. Now all these rock stars aren’t getting their checks. It’s just a disaster. Guns ‘n Roses who was 110 times Platinum, their last album didn’t even go Gold. I did a rap song that did better and I suck. (Laughs)
What was it called?
JEREMY: Freak of the Week. If you look in the computer, you’d be amazed. It’s great. I had Lynn Redgrave in it. A lot of stars are in it. Just put in Ron Jeremy, Freak of the Week, and you’ll see. It’s a great video. It was on Billboard 27 weeks. It was a hit. And my book was a best seller. So I’ve had some good success.
Are you planning a sequel to The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz?
JEREMY: Not yet. You never know.
[He returns to discussing the plight of the adult entertainment industry]
So the problem is, it’s in serious trouble because you can download for free. YouPorn, Porn2, SexforFree.com, LiveOnes.com, FreeSex.com, FreeOnes.com, it’s just crazy. And then, all my friends tell me that they used to spend $3,000 to $4,000 a year on porn. Now they spend this (zero). And they’re suing these companies for running full features. They’re supposed to run a quick little vignette for free and then tease you to want to get the tape from the actual company that produced it or get a snippet of it. But what happened was, these slime and filth which is all over the internet, these disgusting low-life human beings took advantage. To them, it’s porn. Who cares? They run the full scene, start to finish. So why would anybody need to look at the clipping of the actual company that made the film, they’ve already climaxed. Or they’ve just finished watching the movie because they’ve run the full feature. Really, it’s just disgusting. They can get any DVD at a store and download it onto the computer and claim it as their own. They’re operating out of Amsterdam or some country you can’t catch them. That’s what you’re up against. That’s why I made a speech which got a lot of press. It was on CNN and it was also on BBC that “Ron Jeremy hates the internet.” I do.
Why do you hate the internet?
JEREMY: I was a victim of identity theft twice. Someone stole money from my bank by opening up an internet account which I never had. There are sites that don’t exist: RonJeremy.net, .org, TripleX.com, Ron Jeremy Club, things that don’t even exist and they’re just taking my traffic. You can’t stop it. Who cares? I’m just saying the internet, besides being important, and I agree it’s important, it taught me how to take care of my pet tortoise, Cherry, who’s on The Surreal Life with me. I compare it to nuclear energy: a clean, efficient form of energy; also makes a bomb.
The internet is necessary. It’s the future and it’s communication. I understand. It’s also a big piece of crap because it’s allowed perverts, thieves, criminals and squatters and dishonest, disgusting creatures to make millions dishonestly. Whereas under normal situations, had it not been for the internet, they wouldn’t even get a job shining shoes or washing dishes. They’re not even qualified. But because they’re fairly computer savvy, they’re gonna steal and it happens all the time.
There’s a bunch of Russians I think who stole from a supermarket or some kind of big clothing store. They took a Wi-Fi near there, because with these Wi-Fi’s, if they’re near your home or business, they can get the information through the antenna of your computer, including mother’s maiden names and God knows what and they’re hell bent on doing that. Rather than work for a living, they steal someone else’s. I think the internet has created some real gangsters and real criminals. That’s why I’m not a big fan of it.
People say “Do you email?” I say, “No, I don’t. You call me on the phone. Let me hear your damn voice.” And let me remind people out there that the voice is later technology. We knew how to send Morse code or words through the air years before we learned how to hear somebody’s voice. The voice is much more technological than the word. But everyone likes to text all the time. Now I understand it’s necessary if it’s a mass mailing or if you’re in a crowded loud bar or something and want to leave a little message. Fine. But when they text back and forth on a one on one and they’re just sitting in their own homes, that is pathetic and it’s much more time consuming and you’re going backwards in technology because the voice is later. So I always tell people the next step is going to be Morse code, then it’s going to be Semaphore where you have the flag on this side, SOS on a mountain. Then it’s going to be smoke signals. We’re going to have smoke signals where then you’ll be on a mountain top with a blanket saying “Hello. Let’s go for dinner at 3:00 o’clock.” I’m ticked because we’re working our way backwards.
Can you talk about The Great Porn Debates and what that entails?
JEREMY: I debate. One of the things I do on the road besides doing comedy, I was in The Arisocrats, that movie, and doing personal appearances at nightclubs, bars, restaurants, topless clubs, nude clubs, I do a lot of that. I also get 5,000 kids sometimes to show up for these huge debates I do. I debate three different people and you can go to the internet, which I hate, and you can put in the words “Ron Jeremy” and “college.” That’s all you’ve got to do. We were on ABC News. You go to ABC News, go to Martin Bashir’s Nightline and put in “The Great Porn Debate” and you’ll see the whole debate right there at Yale University. There’s me versus the Triple X Church and Craig Grubbs. You can also go to his website, XXXChurch.com. I debate him on the road. I do college gigs where I debate a feminist in Toronto, a really nice lady. We’re friends. She’s the editor of a magazine called National Organization of Women and a Harvard graduate. I debate with her all over the country and Canada. I also debate Michael Leahy who has an organization called BraveHearts for recovering sex addicts and it’s a different approach with all three of them. It’s fascinating because Susan Cole and the Christians probably wouldn’t get along either. But I debate them both. And it’s a great debate. I love Susan. We are very, very good friends. She just got me a book about Woodstock so she’s a doll. And, even though people think we’re brutal on stage, you wouldn’t think we’re friends. People see us on stage and think we just hate each other’s guts. Off camera we’re best of friends. We’re very close. So I love Susan and she’s in Toronto. That’s where the magazine’s based.
You hold a Masters degree in Special Education. Do you ever think about returning to teach?
JEREMY: I never know. I’m still licensed. I probably could. I asked my professor, Professor Stanley Winters, if I could and he said “You probably could, especially in New York which is pretty liberal.” They have criminals coming out of jail who are getting teacher’s licenses so no one’s going to care as long as you’re a good teacher. I probably could. I was also teaching mentally challenged. Probably could. But do I want to? I don’t know. You never know.
Finding Bliss opens in New York on June 4 and Los Angeles on June 11 and is Rated: R.