Meet Kayden Kross. You've probably heard of her. She's a Digital Playground contract performer who's starred as “Elin Nordegren” in “Tyler's Wood,” and who won two AVN awards last year for her work in “Body Heat.”
She's also a published writer who keeps an illuminating (mostly SFW work) blog and who's working on a book based on her experiences in the industry. Kayden is widely read—she went way above my head at certain points when we talked about literary influences. And she has a perspective on porn that you don't really hear from anyone else.
If you're interested in one of the best looks inside the adult film industry you'll read, enjoy.
(Our conversation was lightly edited.)
So what got you in the industry?
It wasn’t a huge step, I was already a house dancer at a strip club in Sacramento. An agent approached me there and got me to do some modeling, did that for Penthouse, Hustler, that whole deal, and then the contract offers started, and the rest was history.
What’s the day-to-day life like? I know it’s probably totally foreign to anyone outside of the industry, so it’s tough to explain.
You know, my experience is not representative of porn because I’m under contract—I shoot two scenes a month. And the other 28, 29 days are for me to do whatever I want. That said, it ends up being a lot of promotional stuff, a lot of interviews, a lot of travel, and it ends up eating up your time in that way, and for a while I was almost everyday flying somewhere, doing something…. Then one day I said, ‘Eh, I’m over it.’ [laughs] That’s when I started to spend as much time as I could to stay home and write and do things that were, I don’t know, looking further ahead.
Which do you enjoy more? The shoots or promoting them?
My favorite part of the industry is the actual shoots…. I’m not super social, I never was, so when I’m in large groups of people [at conventions] I get tired easily.
So without getting too explicit, how does it all work? When you have a shoot, are there certain actors you’re more attracted to, or are you able to compartmentalize those feelings?
Oh, absolutely, I’m as picky as they come. I’m dating the one I’m most attracted to [laughs].
Yeah. I have a list ten people long that I’ll do scenes with. Of those 10 people, we use three or four regularly. In my contracts, I’ve put in the people that I want to work with.
I think that’s the key to longevity in this industry, because you get burned out really fast if you’re showing up and not knowing whether you’re going to love it or hate it every day.
Dating someone also in porn seems to be pretty common.
Yeah, yeah, you kind of have to be a performer to understand a performer. Otherwise you end up jealous. If one person isn’t in, you just can’t understand it. I didn’t understand it when I came in. I wouldn’t be able to date someone who wasn’t.
We’ve been reading these articles on this STD scare that’s currently happening. Have you ever seen this before and how concerning is this?
It’s funny, this is literally the first time anyone has ever dealt with syphilis in the industry before. The way I understand it, it started in Europe, and something like 120 performers have it right now. One of those performers came over from Europe, and I don’t even think the transmission was an on-set transmission. I think she was just seeing someone here in America who was also in the industry. And then after that it gets muddled—it seems like that particular performer tested positive and for any number of reasons he falsified a test. He was working with a positive test for a while, which is why it’s such a scare. It takes sometimes 90 days to test positive.
And things are just totally shut down right now.
Yeah, things are absolutely shut down. All the performers are going and getting penicillin shots. I’m under contract so I haven’t been exposed to it in the same way that other people may have been, so I haven’t had to get it yet, but I’ve seen people get it. The shot takes three minutes to give and burns like holy hell and you have these big lumps like you’ve been stung like a bee. It looks so terrible.
Not the most attractive thing to see on film, I imagine.
God, it looks so terrible. Some of my friends have gotten it, and it’s red and hot to the touch and so gross.
So don’t get syphilis! That’s the moral of the story.
This is good! This is servicey. Do you think now there’s going to be a shift because of this or other reasons to performers using condoms from now on?
The condom legislation was already in effect. And that’s a whole funny thing in itself. That came from a scare that wasn’t actually a scare. When you talk about syphilis now, we’ll admit that’s a problem and we’re doing with it, but there was a male performer a few years ago now, who was doing gay escorts and he contracted HIV. He never transmitted it to anyone—the system caught it very early and he was taken out of the population, but the media picked it up, blew it up into a big thing, and that gave some special interest groups to go in and get a condom law passed.
The condom laws are only in LA proper though, so everyone who performs says, “F*ck you!” we’ll shoot in Ventura [California]. So there’s ways to get around it.
Switching gears again, did you read the Wells Tower GQ piece on James Deen?
Yeah! I did. I was actually one of the girls he mentioned he did a scene with.
Oh, right, right.
Yeah, I was the one reading David Foster Wallace on set [laughs].
I remember that now. Did you find it all a fairly accurate portrayal?
I did. He seemed to get a good variety of scenes. He got the ones where there’s a fun connection, and he got the ones where it’s a harder day of work because a performer doesn’t want to be there. I think overall it was a good job.
I was thinking about that and how it compared to David Foster Wallace’s “Big Red Son.”
I love that essay. I do. But my problem with that essay is I have a feeling that the people who agreed to take him around did no research on him whatsoever.
I mean, why on Earth would you put David Foster Wallace with Max Hardcore? [laughs] Knowing the way he writes and that biting humor he has, why the f*ck would you put David Foster Wallace with literally the most extreme person in the industry? So I read it and it’s not wrong, it’s not off. It’s just not representative of porn. There’s a reason Max Hardcore went to jail.
Also in 1998, that was the height of porn…. At the time David Foster Wallace went to the AVN Awards, that was one of the largest years. Jenna Jameson was blowing up, everything was blowing up behind her. From what I understand, the largest year was the one when videocassettes and DVDs sold at the same rate. And everything leading up to then was hand-over-fist cash—they couldn’t turn the stuff out fast enough. And the reason for that was that they didn’t have Viagra. There was only a handful of male talent who could do the job and do it well and not fake it. That limited the supply, so the porn at that point wasn’t saturated and was a huge, huge, huge thing, and on top of that the trend was super-hardcore.
So [Wallace] came in at such a peak of that of type of genre of porn. That genre is just degrading and all the sites at the time were aimed at tearing people down. A lot of videographers were famous for bringing in girls and trying to make them cry. They would say things like, “What’s your Daddy think of you now?” It was troubling stuff. That wasn’t the best time for porn, but that was consumer demand at the time. And porn is not really known for taking moral stands, so they totally went for the consumer demand.
So now it’s getting away from that? It’s obviously getting more mainstream—you’ve got Sasha Grey acting in films and other things…
You know it’s funny. What’s happening now with the Internet is not that the gonzo and hardcore stuff isn’t popular. It is. [Gonzo pornography: "Style of pornographic film that attempts to place the viewer directly into the scene."] The fact is the gonzo stuff is the stuff that’s stolen first. It’s downloaded illegally and you can’t turn a profit with it. The feature stuff, the stuff I do with Digital Playground is less likely to be downloaded illegally, because there’s a story line and couples will watch them together on Friday nights. Even though the demand isn’t necessarily for feature porn, the money is. The people who are willing to pay for it want feature porn. So that’s where the industry has gone—a bunch of parodies, features, cool video effects and bigger and bigger budgets and CGI and all that.
The genre that is less sinkable than the others is the long feature. It’s still BitTorrented and ripped to pieces and everyone will steal it, but not to the length they’ll steal gonzo. Those companies that turn that out don’t usually pursue theft the same way companies with big budgets will, and on top of that the gonzo scenes’ average download is six and a half minutes. People aren’t ripping that from features. They’re looking for a quick jack-off in their cubicle. They’re not going, ‘Oh, I want a pretty well-lit scene with people in Superman costumes.’ [laughs]. No, you want something hardcore and fast.
Come back tomorrow for part two of our conversation.