HOLLYWOOD—While perpetual fascination has swirled all year long around porn's James Deen and his emergence into the mainstream spotlight (the latest gossip item surrounding Deen, per The Canyons scribe Bret Easton Ellis' Twitter feed, is that the burrito-obsessed cockslinger is in serious consideration for the role of Christian Grey in the film adaptation of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey), another star of the triple-X screen has quietly made her own inroads into the "legit" movie business.
That star is Lorelei Lee, and by co-authoring the IFC Films release About Cherry, available now via VOD and coming to theaters September 21, she has earned the distinction of becoming the first hardcore porn performer in history to script a bona fide Hollywood feature.
Co-written and directed by Stephen Elliott (making his movie-helming debut), About Cherry tells the story of an 18-year-old girl (Ashley Hinshaw) who drops out of high school and runs off to San Francisco, where she takes a job as a cocktail waitress at a strip club. There, she meets a rich lawyer (James Franco) who introduces her to a world of lavish decadence, while a local porn performer-turned-director (Heather Graham) ushers her into the San Fran porn scene. The movie also stars Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) and Lili Taylor (Say Anything...), with cameo appearances by Lee and fellow adult starlet Sensi Pearl. It was shot at the 250,000-square-foot San Francisco Armory, home to BDSM giant Kink.com, where Lee continues to perform and direct.
"Stephen Elliott is a longtime friend of mine from San Francisco, and he just called me up one day and said he wanted to write a story about porn, and that he wanted us to do it together," Lee told AVN. "He had just written the screenplay for [his novel] The Adderall Diaries, which James Franco had optioned, and that was Stephen's first time writing a screeplay and he was really excited about the new form and wanted to do another one. So we wrote it over my Christmas break from school—we literally wrote it in like six weeks—and then he really was the force behind getting it to all come together and making the movie happen. He got James Franco on board, and that of course made the project interesting to a lot of people."
Despite the seemingly autobiographical elements of About Cherry, Lee said the biggest commonality between the main character's experience and her own is in "the way that people in your personal life will respond to finding out that you are making porn. Her family background is not at all autobiographical for me. Actually, some of it is more autobiographical for Stephen. It's kind of funny, because people will see the film and they'll see a blonde porn performer and they'll think that it's my story, and it's very much Stephen's story as well."
That said, Lee conceded, "But definitely, I put a lot of my real experiences into it. I mean, a big part of the reason we wanted to write this story is that so many of the movies that you see or the stories that get told about porn are tragic and are stories about drugs and about people who feel really lost, and I wanted to talk about how the industry can be a place where someone can actually find themselves. That has been my experience quite a bit."
Asked how she feels about the way the film turned out, Lee said, "I love it. I mean, there's definitely small details where we disagreed about things, and there's definitely parts of it that I would nitpick, but that's not even worth talking about because that's the kind of thing that happens in any collaborative project, and really, my experience when I saw it for the first time was joy. I mean, I was really amazed by how all of the people who had worked on it had created this thing that looked like it had come out of my dream life. You know, you're writing something and it's in your head and you don't know if you've communicated it at all, and then to see it made more real than it ever was on paper is just an incredible feeling."
One other thing Lorelei Lee shares with James Deen is a stalwart insistence that continued mainstream success or no, she intends to keep her feet planted firmly in the porn world ... even with a master of fine arts degree from NYU (which she collected in May) under her arm.
"I still love performing, so I'm definitely going to continue to do that—I don't have plans to quit," she said. "And I love directing also. That's been really fun for me, and like a new challenge. But I'm also putting together a poetry manuscript and I've been writing a novel for two years now that's getting closer to being finished. I'm really excited about that. So I have a lot of things in the works."
About Cherry is available on SundanceNOW, iTunes, Amazon Streaming, XBOX Zune and Playstation Unlimited. See the trailer here.