You might think a young, single, male reporter would be gung ho to interview a famous porn actress, no matter what the excuse. But to tell the truth, I wasn't looking forward to meeting Stacy Valentine.
Sure, somebody had gone and made a documentary -- "The Girl Next Door" -- about the sunshiny Oklahoma housewife who started posing for men's magazines to fulfill a fantasy of her domineering then-husband in 1995. This gave the interview the veneer of legitimacy. But I still didn't know what I was going to talk to her about. Her history is covered in the film, so where else was I going to cover in an interview with a porno actress? I mean, you know, that I can subsequently relay in print?
More of the same, it seems, since the surprisingly sharp and well-spoken bottle blonde with store-bought breast and lips was more than capable of giving good interview -- but it was difficult to get her off the whole bad husband thing and her origins in "the business."
"The way it all happened was that he wanted a threesome and there aren't very many lesbians in Oklahoma," Valentine said matter-of-factly. "So he started saying 'It would be really sexy if you posed in a magazine or did a movie.'" Then she adds with a ironic smile, "He started it."
Extremely outgoing and legitimately pretty underneath a good pound of makeup, Valentine sat on the fat couch in her suite at a well-kept motel on the outskirts of San Francisco's sullied Tenderloin district. Her knees (in white denim) were tucked as close to her chest (in a pink V-neck T-shirt) as they would go with those conspicuous implants of hers, as she talked about her ex with the sour tone of a woman who is still amazed to have found her way out of a bad marriage.
Valentine (Stacey Nicole Baker at the time) sent a picture to Gallery magazine thinking nothing would come of it. "I was always told I was fat and thought nobody would want to see me naked," she said. But within a month she was being flown to Atlanta for a magazine photo shoot.
"My husband was like, 'OK, yes!' because he had this fantasy that it would be like the Playboy Mansion with girls running around having tickle fights or something like that."
Soon she was booked for two more spreads in Hustler and began to enjoy the attention and the ego-boost that came from getting paid for being beautiful. But when she was offered a sex video gig, her once-egar husband agreed only if she promised to bring another girl home with her.
"There was no way. What am I gonna do? Approach a girl who does this as a job, lives in L.A., and say 'How would you like to come home with me to Oklahoma, have sex with my husband -- for free -- then fly yourself home? How about that?'" Valentine laughs a cheerful, easy laugh. "No way!"
When she returned and her husband berated her for failing him, "My little internal dialogue was saying, this is your way out. He said, 'It's me or the business.' -- I'm like HA! Out you go!"
She was 25 at the time. She worked in the porn industry for four years and "retired" in February because she wanted to "go out on top."
"I knew I didn't want to be in the business too long. The goal when you get into the business is that you want to be a contract girl and you want to get the awards. I was a contract girl. I got the awards," she said. "I fought very hard to climb that ladder and I would be damned if I was going to climb down it. So I thought, this is a perfect time to make my exit."
During two of those years in the business she had a part-time shadow in the person of documentary filmmaker Christine Fugate (the unblinking eye behind PBS' 1998 cigarette industry exposé "Tobacco Blues"), who directed the documentary Valentine is now promoting, an all-access portrait of this sex industry starlet that sidesteps the business' uglier side by choosing to follow this particular girl, who seems to have her head screwed on fairly straight.
"The Girl Next Door" loosely documents Valentine rise through this tight-knit business from co-star to the coveted position of being a contract girl with 40 video box covers -- a major gauge of a starlet's power and popularity. Fugate gently probes her private life, examining a failing, on-again-off-again off-screen romance with an egocentric co-star, and exposes -- but doesn't pursue -- what emerges as obvious trust issues her subject's life.
Valentine is reluctant to broach the subject in person, too, except to say that she hasn't spoken to her father since she was 16 and that "at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, who is there that I can always count on? Me. Everywhere I go, there I am. (Depending on someone else), it scares me. That's where my mom and I disagree. She thinks I should be married and have someone taking care of me."
Valentine visits her mom in the course of the film -- one of only two times she's been back to Oklahoma since her divorce. Has she any desire to be an Okie again? "Absolutely not!" she says with a determined nod, declaring the state "conservative and backward" and climbing onto a rather precarious soapbox to segue into a statement on social values. "Everybody has sex. The only thing I do (differently) is I have sex where people can see it. What's wrong with that? I'm not killing anyone."
That determination for self-reliance has also led Valentine to an unexpected new career in her retirement: Venture capitalist. She's backing two lines of clothing -- day wear called Good Girl Clothing, evening wear called Bad Girl Clothing -- designed by a friend. "She's the brains. I'm the front person and the financial person."
Unfortunately, my really good questions -- What's the most fulfilling relationship you've had? Who do you go to for career advice? What did you think of the stomach-turning footage of your boob job, lip job and liposuction? -- didn't get crossed off my list before our time was up.
But in the last moments of our conversation, Valentine reveals more about her nature in a couple of glances than she did in 30 minutes of conversation. When I ask if I can take a couple photos to run with the interview, the brave, female empowerment front to her demeanor disappears. She kicks her legs up on the couch where I'd been sitting, fluffs her hair, lays back against the arm rest and disappears into a vacant, bright-eyed smile. She looks as pretty as a girl wearing that much makeup can, but at that moment all that's left of her is the sex object.
Take a look back at October's inaugural event.
The film is expected to continue without Mendes' involvement.