Porn-Indie Queen

01.27.12

Traci Lords on ‘Excision’ and Her Porn Past

Porn icon Traci Lords does a stunning about-face, playing a strict, religious mother in the controversial Sundance horror movie, Excision—the grossest film at the festival. Lords tells Marlow Stern how being raped changed her, the iconic porn past, why condoms are a necessary evil.

Bloody tampons. Decapitated talking heads. Disembowelment. Tongue removal. Wanton sex bathed in menstrual blood. An aborted fetus. Such are the joys of Excision, Richard Bates Jr.’s midnight movie making its world premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film’s various grotesque sequences prompted scores of press and industry folk—nearly half the audience in total—to hurry out of one afternoon P&I screening at the fest.

Pauline, played by 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord, has a few issues. Sporting hunched posture, acne, and bushy eyebrows, 18-year-old high-school senior looks like the cousin of one of the GEICO cavemen. She’s hated by her classmates and teachers alike, and further terrorized by her hyperreligious, controlling mother, Phyllis (Traci Lords), who makes Pauline attend weekly therapy sessions with a quirky reverend, played—in a cheeky bit of casting—by John Waters. As if things couldn’t get any worse for the awkward teen, she’s prone to cold sores thanks to a herpes infection she contracted from her father when he performed CPR on her as a young child, and her little sister, Grace (Ariel Winter), has a bad case of cystic fibrosis.

Since reality is such a nightmare, Pauline often finds herself drifting off into her own fantasy world where she harbors bizarre delusions of being a body-altering surgeon. These beautifully photographed dream sequences depict her as a glamorous vixen—like the McCord we’ve come to know on 90210 and Nip/Tuck—dry-humping a host of cadavers, removing the tongue of a woman, performing an abortion, and cleansing herself in a bathtub filled with blood. Oh, and Pauline also wishes to lose her virginity to the most popular boy in school (Jeremy Sumpter) … while she’s on her period.

For all the vile, depraved acts flaunted onscreen in Excision, one of the most shocking things about Bates’s film is the convincing performance of porn icon Traci Lords as Pauline’s hysterical, totalitarian mother.

“I wasn’t sure if I should play Phyllis,” says Lords, who dyed her hair flaming red in honor of the bloody Excision, in an interview with The Daily Beast during Sundance. “When you first come into the business, you have that ‘arrival moment’ of how the public perceives you. The first thing they’ll always think of when they think of me is ‘sex.’ It doesn’t matter that that was 25 years ago when I was a porn star. So I think Excision was a pivotal moment for me where I wanted to add another layer.”

“It’s a huge load—no pun intended!—to carry,” jokes Lords. “I’ve had to live up to the legend of what people think Traci Lords is. She’s bigger than even me. It’s a fantasy.”

Lords, born Nora Louise Kuzma, got her early notoriety from starring in a series of porn films in the 1980s—from age 15 to 18, thanks to a fake ID. According to Lords, she relates to the character of Pauline in Excision, since she too was rebellious as a teen, and was thrust into the world of porn because of a tragic incident from her past.

“I had my own issues growing up, but I wasn’t violent like Pauline,” Lords says. “The only person I ever hurt was myself. When I was really young, I had my power taken away from me by somebody raping me [at age 10]. You can go one of a couple of ways, and the way I went was to say, ‘No. I’m in charge of it and I’m fine.’ For me, it was about assuming what John Waters once called ‘sexual terrorism,’ like, ‘Yeah. You didn’t fuck me, I’m going to fuck you!’ It was really intense as a 15-year-old.” She pauses to collect herself. “As free and loose as I might have been with my body, and as destructive as I might have been, my soul was where the pain was.”

At 18, Lords quit porn and tried to make it as a mainstream actress. She began studying method acting with Lee Strasberg, and eventually made her acting debut in the 1988 Roger Corman remake Not of This Earth. After being cast by cult film legend John Waters in Cry-Baby alongside Johnny Depp, Lords has amassed a diverse film résumé over the years, including roles in films ranging from the vampire-superhero film Blade to Kevin Smith’s black comedy, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. However, acting in Hollywood was always an uphill climb for Lords given her porn credentials.

“It’s a huge load—no pun intended!—to carry,” jokes Lord. “I’ve had to live up to the legend of what people think Traci Lords is. She’s bigger than even me. It’s a fantasy.”

Aside from the occasional event, Lords has largely divorced herself from the porn world since her retirement in the 1980s. Meanwhile, the porn industry has changed a lot since then, including a recent measure that passed in Los Angeles requiring that male performers wear condoms in porn films. While the industry is up in arms over the development, Lords views it as a necessary evil.

“When I was doing porn, it was like 1985 and 1986, so there was no talk of AIDS or anything like that,” Lords says. “I managed to walk away with my health completely intact—thank God—but there were other wounds. I can’t imagine what you’re exposing yourself to in making porn these days, so there’s one side of me that thinks, ‘You must feel relieved to be protected.’” She adds, “Porn seems so frivolous. If you go into it, do you really care about your health? I don’t understand how you take the risk to expose yourself to something as heinous as HIV. For any reason.”

Despite her troubled past, Lords says she’s in a much better place right now. She’s about to celebrate her 10-year wedding anniversary next month with her husband, Jeff Lee, and has a beautiful 4-year-old son, Joseph. She’s currently working on a screenplay based on her wild life, and hopes that “a Jennifer Lawrence type” will play her. Lords has also delved into pop music of late, with her bicurious single “Last Drag” placing as high as No. 3 on the Billboard dance charts, alongside Katy Perry and Beyoncé, with a full album expected in the fall.

“I’m at a place in my career now where unless it stimulates me, I’m not going to bother,” says Lords. “I don’t feel angry anymore, I don’t feel like I need to defend myself, and I don’t feel any regret.”