James Deen: My Experience Making ‘The Canyons’
My name is James Deen, and I made a movie called The Canyons, directed by Paul Schrader, written by Bret Easton Ellis, and starring Lindsay Lohan and me.
Now that we are all caught up and on the same page, let us discuss it. This project has been covered by many news outlets. I have been interviewed to death about the movie, but this is the first time I have been asked to write a first-person piece about the experience. I don’t fancy myself a writer. I barely keep a competent blog (shameless plug: JamesDeenBlog.com), so please forgive me if this is not the most wonderful reading experience you’ve ever had in your life, or even today.
I guess the best place to start would be at the beginning. Bret Easton Ellis and his producer Braxton Pope had a plan to make an independent movie. The two of them spoke daily about the project. Meanwhile, I spent a good amount of 2010 and 2011 doing press again. Back in 2004, I had decided the media was full of assholes after I was misquoted in a few interviews. Eventually I got over it and decided I wanted to be in GQ magazine. So Bret and Braxton began to send articles about me back and forth. Apparently my image and idealism inspired Bret in his writing.
I was in Las Vegas for the Adult Entertainment Expo/AVN awards show when I was first told the author of American Psycho was talking about me on Twitter. My initial thought was that it was a typo. As time passed, it became apparent it was no typo. I retweeted a few things, and the tabloids began to take interest. The Internet went insane when I responded to the statement “in the canyons james deen as christian would have to do full frontal nudity and scenes with both girls and guys” with the word “party.” News and gossip sites ran the story, from TMZ to The Hollywood Reporter. By posting that one little word on the Internet, it seemed as if I’d signed a contract to star in a major motion picture.
Bret and I began to email back and forth. He made it clear he was not offering me a role in a movie, and I made it clear all I wanted to do was hang out with the writer of Less Than Zero. Before we met, he sent me the treatment. I read it in less than 45 minutes. I couldn’t put it down, even to take a sip of water. The story was riveting. We met at the SoHo House in West Hollywood. I am a pretty nervous person, and I was fighting a panic attack as I waited for the literary icon to arrive. He walked in, and I could see he was full of the same nerves I was. I got comfortable after we had a 15-minute conversation about the proper place to sit.
We ate, we talked, we got to know each other. Eventually the project came up. Bret explained the philosophy behind the movie. He and his producer were sick of the commercial need for producing crap. The idea behind The Canyons was to make a movie for the sake of making a movie. If the budget was small enough, it wouldn’t matter if it went straight to DVD and VOD. I was being discussed because they felt my image and ideals embodied the principles they shared. My honesty and transparency in interviews, my choice of profession, and my mission statement about doing things for personal fulfillment before any secondary motivations correlated perfectly with their reasons for making the film. Bret couldn’t promise me a thing, and he never tried.
We ended our meeting with him “feeling inspired” to write the character of Christian and me working on scheduling a meeting with the rest of the team. As I drove home, I thought about previous statements I’d made saying I would never make a mainstream movie. I had turned down offers in the past, recommending certain peers who wanted mainstream parts. This project had me pumped up and excited. I liked the story. I loved the philosophy. I had no idea what to expect.
There were still many steps to take before proceeding. Braxton needed to meet me, so we scheduled a meeting in Venice Beach one afternoon. Braxton is an amazing producer. You never know what is actually in his head or if he is telling the truth. I mean that as a high compliment. As a producer myself, I can safely say that if another producer said that about me, I would be flattered beyond belief. His super-producer mask meant I had little idea what the reason for or the goal of the meeting was. It was pleasant to meet other people on the project and to confirm that the philosophy I was attracted to behind this movie was running throughout.
Braxton and I spoke about cameras, my experiences on movie sets, and the personality types of most “actors.” No one likes actors. They are commonly referred to as “meat puppets.” Every person involved in movies thinks of actors as a joke. Braxton laughed as I ranted about the incompetence of every actor I’d ever met. He seemed refreshed and excited to get me involved.
The next step was Paul Schrader. Until my dinner with Bret, I had never heard the director’s name. I do, however, know how to use Google. I researched and discovered I was familiar with his work. When I told Braxton this, I could see it was going to be an issue. He then explained our director’s personality type. Paul has an ego. He was described to me as a hyperintelligent creative genius with various issues. In my previous experiences, the director is a person who has a vision and communicates that vision to everyone in order to create the art. Their primary concern is the piece and the integrity of it. You shut your mouth and do what they say regardless of if you disagree. With this in mind, I was not concerned about dealing with the director, egotistical or not. Braxton, however, seemed worried about me not wanting to feed Paul’s ego.
Paul was a big mountain to climb. He wanted to make sure I could act. This seemed like a completely fair request. Braxton and I tried to set a day where Paul would be in Los Angeles and I could read a scene for him. Paul never came to town. I agreed to film a head-and-shoulders reading and send it directly to Paul. The rumor was he was very impressed. After I did this, the meeting for me to read in person was much easier to schedule. I think Paul had no respect for me at first and did not take me seriously as an option for his lead. I took it as a compliment that after my taped reading, he was willing to meet with me.
When we met, we ran a scene with an actress who volunteered her time. We tried different things. I liked the way Paul communicated. I found it comforting and easy to work with, but he still wasn’t convinced. Well, I am not in the man’s head. I can only repeat what I was told. From what I hear, he thought I was a great actor and had full confidence in me to play the role. But he was worried about casting an adult actor in his movie. His concern was that no one would take the movie seriously. Paul’s wife, I am told, hates porn, hates sex, hates sexuality, hates The Canyons—hates, hates, hates. Paul told her he was not sure whom to cast. He put her in a room with two videos he made on his iPhone, one of me and one of some other guy they were talking to. Paul’s wife watched the two videos and told Paul to give me the role because I was better. Paul figured that if I could win her over, then everyone else in the world would be no problem. Like that, the part was mine.
After my first meeting with Paul, he mentioned he was going to a James Franco party for an art piece he commissioned called “Rebel Dabble Babble.” “I’m in that!” I told him. I ended up crashing the party with Bret, but that’s another story. My not receiving an invite to a party to celebrate a project I was part of is the point. One, Franco is a dick. Two, I would be fighting an uphill battle. Paul and his wife were not the only ones who thought of me as a party trick. Other than Braxton, Bret, and in time, the crew of The Canyons, everyone I met and worked with saw me as a joke.
Paul was no better once the movie started. There was a time during filming when the cameraman, Brian Taylor, was standing on a bed to film a shot of Lindsay Lohan and me sleeping together. Paul joked, “Hey, Brian, if this doesn’t work out maybe you can get James to hire you for one of his movies.” Brian very respectfully giggled. My response was a simple, “Yeah, and I’ll pay you better too.” With that the room filled with laughter, and the old man who mocked adult cinema slunk away.
Love him or hate him, Paul is a genius. Through the whole the film, there was not one moment where I felt he respected me as a person. I did, however, feel as if he respected my acting abilities. He was my director, and I will follow him to the ends of the earth. I hope my performance was of the caliber he desired and that I did not let my director down.
Not being taken seriously was a constant throughout. I won the crew over quickly by being professional and showing them we had the same goals. We all wanted not just to make a movie, but to make this movie. We also wanted to make the movie as good as we possibly could. We cared—not about ourselves, or our credit, but about the project. I won some of the other actors over eventually as well.
People didn’t know what to do with me. It seems in the Hollywood world, everyone is motivated by something. Ego, fame, insecurities, insanity, drugs, or who knows what. Braxton, Bret, the crew, and I just wanted to make the movie. Braxton even took a few weeks to come around and realize the best way to deal with me is just to be honest, or as honest as a producer possibly can be. Again, this is a compliment.
This brings us to Ms. Lindsay Lohan. I want to write nothing. I am sick of discussing Lindsay. I am sick of people twisting words and gossiping. I can’t speak for Lindsay or how she feels. I only know I didn’t feel like she thought I was a joke. She made me feel good when I was around her.
Let me back up. Braxton called me one day and asked how I felt about Lindsay Lohan. I explained to him I have no feelings about her at all. He asked if I would still be willing to do the movie if she was my co-star. The idea I would ever object to this is laughable. As I wrote, it took a few weeks for Braxton to come around and realize I have no ego or aspirations to be “the star.” If anything, this made things easier for me. I like being the assistant. To be the leading male but still no one anyone cares about. In adult scenes, I consider myself a prop. I am there to accentuate the star’s brightness. Actors are all really only props anyway. Now I was no longer the star. I was the accent to Lindsay. It made me feel in my element and less nervous.
I think Lindsay is amazing, and I don’t have a single negative thing to say about her. She added a level of exposure to this movie that my name alone could never have created. The message behind The Canyons was sure to get out. The movie could suck and half of Bret’s, Braxton’s, and my goals would be achieved regardless.
I have yet to see the film. I am waiting for it to be completed before I watch anything. My biggest fear is that I did not do a good job. I hope my acting did the film justice. I don’t care if people don’t take me seriously as an actor. I don’t mind being the butt of Paul Schrader’s jokes. I don’t mind being the odd one out at these weird Hollywood parties. I like when they try to make me feel awkward and then they end up looking foolish. I wanted to make this movie. I believe in the idea. Do things for yourself. Do them because you believe in them. I have been preaching that for years. It was nice to connect with two people who share my ideals, Bret Easton Ellis and Braxton Pope. I had so much fun working on this movie and hope I get the opportunity to create other films I can stand behind the same way I stand behind The Canyons.