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Oct 21 2010

Interview: Director Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas

Interview by Corva Siouan

Throughout a porn career that has lasted over 35 years, Paul Thomas has racked up more than 600 titles as a performer and over 325 as a director. The word “legend” is used often when describing him and rightly so. Last year Thomas left Vivid Entertainment after almost 25 years of directing for them exclusively, and last July he signed a six-picture deal with Larry Flynt’s LFP Video. Thomas moves into a new and different phase of his career at age 63.

Born Philip Toubus on April 17, 1947 in Winnetka, IL, Toubus found mainstream acting success on Broadway with a starring role in Hair and played Peter in the 1973 film of Jesus Christ Superstar. He signed with the William Morris Agency, moved to Hollywood, and landed roles in TV shows such as “Mannix” and “Police Story.”

Frustrated with competition and impatient for success, Toubus grew disenchanted with mainstream Hollywood. While in San Francisco performing in a musical, he met the famous Mitchell Brothers (“Behind the Green Door”) in 1974. It was the height of porno chic and Toubus found the adult industry appealing, so he began appearing in film loops for the Mitchell Brothers. In 1976 he did his first XXX feature, “The Autobiography of a Flea,” which was based on an 1887 erotic novel. Through the ’70s and ’80s, Toubus was one of the perennial porn studs. He mainly used the name Paul Thomas (aka PT), but aliases included Grady Sutton, Russell Ellison, Phil Tobias, and Paul Tanner. Thomas mostly stopped performing after he began directing in the mid-’80s, although he has appeared in non-sex roles.

Thomas is the most award-winning director in the industry, with spots in the AVN, XRCO, and Legends of Erotica Halls of Fame as well as countless trophies for his individual works. In the last decade alone, he’s won Best Director and Best Film at AVN five times each. Thomas’ mainstream notoriety includes the Showtime series “Deeper Throat,” which documented the struggles he and Vivid had with remaking “Deep Throat” as 2008’s XXX murder mystery “Throat: A Cautionary Tale.”

One of Thomas’s recent films is “The Twilight Zone Parody,” released this past August by Paul Thomas Presents and Hustler. We spoke with him about his past, his present, and his future.

“The Twilight Zone Parody” takes a different approach to parody from most, which are simply copying plots from the original.

This actually was based on a “Twilight Zone” episode called “Monsters on Maple Street,” but instead of swingers moving into the neighborhood they were aliens. It is a different approach… I don’t like to be silly. I don’t think silly makes good pornography, I don’t think silly makes good eroticism, and I didn’t want to have to copy characters. I copied a style and I copied a tone and an era, even, but I wanted to have to copy as little as possible. My heart’s not in the parodies, what can I tell you. If it’s successful I’ll do another “Twilight Zone.”

Do you think that they’re kind of a fad?

There have always been parodies. I did something as an actor way back when called “In and Out of Africa.” I did “8 to 4” instead of “9 to 5.” You’re right, those were parodies of the originals, but they didn’t copy beat for beat, costumes and character as adamantly as parodies these days do. I can see the appeal to really ripping people off because it gives people the feeling they had when they watched “Married With Children”… It’s just not a very satisfying project to tackle creatively unless you get off on seeing how closely you can copy something.

Have you noticed yourself approaching your projects differently since you left Vivid?

[laughs] Yeah, more slowly. More relaxed and since I own them, I’m more careful to make sure each one absolutely fits the marketplace and might actually make money. I’m more careful about the construction of them. “Twilight Zone” was good, “Pervert,” my next one, is gonna be very good. At Vivid, certainly many of mine were fantastic, but I had so much to do. I had like two releases a month, either one really big release or two small ones a month for 25 years. I had too much to do to put that much time into them, now I have tons of time to put into them. Also, I don’t have the considerations of having to build them around a Vivid Girl; I’m a bit freer thematically. “Pervert” is darker than anything I’d ever done at Vivid. Chances are Steve [Hirsch, founder and co-chairman of Vivid] might have let me do “Pervert,” he probably would have. Somehow the atmosphere at Vivid didn’t lend itself to creating something like “Pervert.” We were so busy mainstreaming ourselves that sometimes I think we forgot some of the really dark, twisted, wonderful stories that could be told. Yeah, I approach it a bit differently. I’m not working as hard as I used to, that’s for sure.

How involved are you with the writing process?

Very involved, everything from actually writing it myself to just going over it line by line with the writer. I could make more money and bring these things in less expensively if I did all the jobs myself, but I don’t enjoy that. I like getting different people’s input, I’ve got some really good writers who have worked for me for years and I love getting their input. I only have so many approaches to life. [laughs]

Do you think of yourself primarily as a storyteller?

I think the brain is the most important sexual organ. If the end object of all of this is to create the best orgasms possible, whether I’m using words and acting or just gonzo sex, it’s all going towards the same end. Storytelling – words, character, conflict – creates context. I think almost everyone loves context. Context makes sex hotter. You can create context with story, you can create it with visuals, you can create it with location, but you need some sort of context. If it’s just a couple of naked bodies up there fucking, it’s boring… If you’re just going to go out there and do sex, it’s easy. But you can create context, you can even create story and mood without words. John Leslie, when he began his Voyeur series for Evil Angel – those are fantastic – … they created an incredible mood, an incredible interest in the characters, a believability with no words. That’s what requires the artist and the filmmaker in us.

The Twilight Zone Parody

The Twilight Zone Parody

It must be a little more difficult to get performers who are also actors, if they don’t get paid more for acting.

Well, the best actors, if someone can act and also fuck, they might get a little more. But no, they do it because they love acting. Certainly the average porno star has a different agenda than the average mainstream actor. Their agenda is not to become a great actor so it’s often like pulling teeth, but there are enough people out there, as evidenced by “Twilight Zone” and a million other things I’ve done, to get perfectly believable performances out of people.

Now that you are your own boss, can we expect new creative directions from you – maybe more vignettes?

Yeah, the next one, the one coming out on Halloween from Hustler is called “Pervert,” I’m really, really proud of it. It successfully combines really intelligent storytelling with very, very kinky sex. It’s about ordinary, normal people doing perverted things. I’m dealing right now with the final edit of what I can keep in and what I can’t keep in. There’s a girl and we see her peeing – she’s really peeing – and it’s beautiful, beautiful girl. Can I keep it in or not? I don’t know. We’re trying to hedge our bets here. There’s some violence in there but it’s not while people are having sex. There’s a lot of kinky stuff in there and it’s a really, really good story. That is definitely an expression of a new direction for me. “Twilight Zone” was just trying to hop on the parody train. I know “Twilight Zone” is good but I’m not sure how successfully I did it because it’s not, as you noticed, really a parody. It’s more of an homage. Where does it fit in? I don’t know. But “Pervert” is very original to me, very close to my heart, to my demented, black heart, and definitely represents a new direction. It’s a couple of short stories intertwined. Short stories are a really good form of pornography. I hope that “Pervert” catches on. That’s what I would like to do for quite a while here, is “Pervert” as a series.

From what I’ve read it sounds like it will be pretty exciting.

It is! It’s not “The Masseuse.” It’s not “The Devil in Miss Jones.” It’s not a $200,000 production, it’s a $50,000 production, but it’s good. The huge production that I often worked with at Vivid can absolutely get in the way of making an erotic little film. The money doesn’t necessarily have that much to do with how good it is, although it helps.

Can you tell us anything about “Frankenstein” too?

I was going to do it next, I don’t know if I am. It’s very expensive and I’m not Vivid Video, I’m not Hustler, I’m a small company. It’s not like I can make a big feature and even lose a little. Believe me, the big features that companies make, sometimes they lose money, but they carry the whole product line. I don’t have a product line to trail along with it. I don’t know if I can do it yet or not. My heart is really in “Pervert,” I think people are going to love it. I think that everyone out there knows I’m a good storyteller, but they may think that from time to time I was not putting enough attention on the sex. The sex is really connected in this thing. It’s really emotional and extremely hot, so if it succeeds like I hope it will, I’d like to do that for the next couple of years: “Pervert 1,” “Pervert 2.” There are a million stories to tell if you tell them artfully and you intertwine them in clever ways so you have a feeling of watching one cohesive feature. So, you’ll see… a few people have seen it and I’m pretty sure I’ve succeeded in translating my vision.

Would you say “Pervert” is even darker than “Throat” was?

I loved “Throat,” loved it. Do I think it’s darker than “Throat?” No, no. But it’s on the same level. “Throat” might have been a little bit depressing to people. It was really dark in tone and outcome, et cetera. It might even have hurt it a little bit. “Pervert” is not so, the characters aren’t as depressed as Sasha [Grey, star of “Throat”] can certainly be. “Pervert” is probably a bit lighter in tone but more twisted in the sexual acts portrayed. “Throat” could have used a little humor in there, I could have lightened it up a little bit.

If you were a young man today, do you think you would get into porn?

That’s a good question. No, I don’t, no, absolutely not. I mean, I was a mainstream actor and a successful one when I got into porn. I got into porn because I didn’t have the discipline to stick with my craft and wait out rejections, but also because I was being offered, every week, 50-60 page scripts to act in porno films, real movies that were porno films. Today, no, I don’t think the industry as it is today would have lured me away from my other career.

When you signed the broadcast deal with Cable Entertainment Distribution, Inc. (CED), it was mentioned that you’d be developing a cable series. Can you talk about that?

It’s called “The Peacocks.” It’s about a dysfunctional family in a small town and the dad’s fucking his daughter’s girlfriend and mom’s fucking her aunt… but no one’s picked it up. We’re talking with Playboy about it. I’m not pushing these things, I’m not anxious to work that much. I do my six films a year for my own company and maybe four of them for Marc Dorcel. That may sound like a lot, but I’m not pushing it. I don’t want to work all the time.

Do you know what’s next for you?

I’ve been given a very interesting assignment from the people I work with in Paris and I think I’m going to do that. It’s perfect timing while I let “Pervert” hit the market. I’ve hired a PR firm for “Pervert” to really give it the benefit of the doubt and see how it does.

The Masseuse

The Masseuse

How does working in Europe compare to working in the States?

It’s not that different. Our perception sometimes is different because we don’t understand the language. If anything, the talent over there is a bit colder, a bit more professional, a bit more distant. I don’t think it’s any big deal to them, not as much as it is to our puritanical country… there’s not this guilt and shame and breaking of taboos that we have when we’re doing porno here, which actually results in wonderful porno, wonderful sex. When you think you’re breaking a whole lot of rules it can create a wonderful energy. Over there it’s all just fine. “Yeah, triple anal and uh, send in the midgets.” Everyone’s beautiful. I think on the average the European porn stars are better looking, well, Eastern European. They’re just better looking people, they have better bone structure. They’re just these incredible Slavic gods, they’re gorgeous. But there’s often not the emotional heat that is engendered here. That might just be because I’m American and that’s what I see. I can get a lot more done here in terms of number of pages in a day, number of setups, number of locations in a film, I can get more done here than I can over there. In Europe, for instance, they’re amazed how many locations I can get in a four-day film because locations there are fewer and much further between than they are in Southern California… I can be in the mountains in the afternoon and the seashore at night. There’s a bigger variation in a smaller area here. We just seem to be more mobile here than they are there, still a little bit at least… My main comment, it’s all getting to be one world. These are differences that may have existed 15, 20 years ago, but it’s becoming one world very quickly and there are no big differences.

“Pervert” is coming out Halloween on DVD and VOD soon after. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

People who have enjoyed my stuff over the years because they enjoy good storytelling really should take a look at “Pervert” because it takes 35 years of learning and with a limited budget and limited amount of time shows how professionally a story can be told – it looks like a mainstream HBO series – and still be really twisted.

Who’s in the cast?

Bobbi Starr, Samantha Ryan, Krissy Lynn, a new girl who has one of the two biggest parts in it, her name’s Lily LaBeau. She’s fabulous. Otto Bauer and Eric Swiss, who are great perverts, are the main men. Derrick Pierce is also in it, as is Anthony Rosano.

“The Twilight Zone Parody” is now out on VOD. Be on the lookout for “Pervert” soon.