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January 21, 2017

Interview: Director Brad Armstrong's Wicked Ways

This article originally ran in the January 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition. If it’s late summer, somewhere in Southern California Brad Armstrong is putting the finishing touches on a movie that Wicked Pictures will street at the tail end of September, just in time to make the AVN Awards deadline. And in the case of this past summer, the Wicked contract director had two projects on his plate, both of which are well represented in the list of nominees for the 2017 awards. But on the day he spoke to AVN back in July, Armstrong was focused on the present, dealing with the usual vagaries of adult production. Chief among these was losing access to one of the locations he was using for the movie DNA, an ambitious sci-fi story. So he had to turn an oft-used shooting site into the headquarters for Iterum, a company that clones loved ones for bereaved friends and family—but these “carbons” only live for 72 hours. “I had this big cool location … it’s like a designer showroom. And they kept dinkin’ me around and dinkin’ me around. That’s probably the biggest thing I’ve found over the last couple of years: the reluctance for locations to allow adult in their places. ... A lot of the bad publicity in the press about the condom laws and AHF and that kind of thing—it’s getting tougher and tougher to find locations.” Working with his small, cohesive team of longtime collaborators, Armstrong re-created the set on the fly in the smaller location. “These are some of the pieces we used ... I brought them back here to tie in this location with the big lab,” he explained. “That truck out there is full of fucking stainless steel cryotanks, all kinds of bullshit. We had a big huge lab set up.” For his other big Wicked project, The Preacher’s Daughter, Armstrong had the opposite luck with locations. In addition to scoring a perfectly preserved Victorian mansion (the same site where he set some scenes from his 2011 parody The Rocki Whore Picture Show), the director also got to shoot in a rustic corner of Ventura County. “We had a really nice ranch location … great streams and bridges, all kinds of cool stuff up there.” These two movies represent half of Armstrong’s directorial output for the year. “I’ve cut it down to four,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to do a little two-day movie.”  And indeed, each is an ambitious project in its own way. Armstrong penned both scripts and takes on major roles, playing the aggressively ambitious head of Iterum in the sci-fi project and the preacher father of Mia Malkova in the drama. “We’ve kind of run the gamut from old-fashioned, small-town country America to futuristic sci-fi, so we’ve got a good stretch. … Each year I bounce around, from sci-fi to country to heartfelt drama like Aftermath to a kind of adventure fantasy like Underworld, to keep it fresh, so it’s not like you’ve seen one Brad Armstrong movie, you’ve seen them all.” Overall, Armstrong seems satisfied with his work, but he candidly admits it took him longer to evolve as a screenwriter. With an educational background in commercial art and advertising, Armstrong got the visuals down early. “I’m a pretty good writer now, and I didn’t use to be. There was a time when Steve [Wicked founder Steven Orenstein] said, ‘Well, you’ve got the art part now, but let’s try focusing on the story.’” Asked what was the first script that he really liked, Armstrong named Conquest, a 1996 Wicked movie he co-directed with Greg Steel. “As a writer I’m producing and directing and editing at the same time as I’m writing because I know what locations I can find and what I can build in the studio and what’s feasible. And I’m almost always writing for specific actors.” For Preacher’s Daughter, Armstrong said, “One hundred percent, Xander [Corvus] was the only dude. And it was funny because I had to jump through hoops to get him because he was already booked on some of the days that I needed him. I had to beg Craven Moorehead and Stills by Alan ... they were kind enough to donate Xander.” Indeed, Corvus nails his part as the sexy bad boy who deflowers Malkova’s ingénue character and then finds out just how much fire and brimstone lies behind the preacher’s buttoned-down exterior. “As the writer-slash-director-slash-producer, Wicked gives me a lot of latitude about who I can hire, especially in my acting parts. They like to make some suggestions with the hot chick parts, but they let me pick my people. And there are some great actors in adult, especially given the limited amount of time we have to shoot. … If you get a script a week in advance, that’s pretty good. Two weeks is like, whooo!” For these two movies, the director worked with several performers who were new to him. “It’s been great so far, the acting has been top-notch,” Armstrong said. He gave rave reviews to Small Hands in DNA, playing a villain with unscrupulous reasons for cloning his dead girlfriend. “Small Hands is bringing it to the table with his role as the bad guy. And he’s been doing a great job both sexually and acting wise, so he will be on my new roster,” he added. Asked what is the biggest challenge to working with adult performers as opposed to mainstream actors, Armstrong elaborated, “People are so trained in the gonzo assembly line—you gotta do that, you gotta do this. For us one of the hardest things is having to beat that out of them. ... They’re so programmed into what a lot of the companies need for their sex scenes, it’s a little tricky for them to turn that off.” Armstrong credited Alexis Fawx in particular for rising to that challenged. When the busty MILF bombshell played his wife in Preacher’s Daughter, he told her, “I’m going to tone you down a fair chunk. You’re not going to be all porno hair and the big smoky eyes and stuff. You’re going to be all but nothing.” And she said, ‘I love it.’ ... “I think that takes either bravery or self-confidence—the willingness to go the extra mile for the part,” he added. “She was fantastic in the role as my wife. I just watched the rough cut for the sex, and that was cool. And yes, she’s definitely far away from porno, as is the scene. It was a different kind of sex. It’s not for everybody, but the people who are buying Wicked products aren’t everybody.” Having directed his first feature for the adult studio in 1995, Armstrong’s name is tightly tied to Wicked, but he actually got his start as a performer and has worked for many other studios, most significantly Vivid Entertainment. So how did a nice boy from Toronto end up in a crazy business like this? It all started when Armstrong decided to become a male stripper. “I fancied myself in high school as something of a ladies’ man,” he said with a self-deprecating tone. “And I heard about this amateur night thing [at a bar]. I decided to go up there and shake my ass.” Though only 17, he entered the contest and won—and ended up staying at the bar for a couple of years until he actually reached legal drinking age (19 in Canada). And then he decided to go pro. One thing led to another, as it often does in adult entertainment. “They had a Men of Canada issue for Playgirl and they used a bunch of the male strippers who worked for our agency. And then they shot another one of me—just a solo one.” Armstrong took that issue of the magazine to a club in Toronto where adult star Erica Boyer was dancing and he showed it to her. “Hey, look, I’m a model,” he told her. “Do you think you can help me get some work down in L.A.?” Armstrong recalled, “She looked me up and down and said, ‘Yeah.’ And then we fucked that whole week. And then we came down here and she introduced me to [photographers] Suze Randall and Earl Miller and all those guys and we shot for them and that was the beginning. And so no Erica Boyer, there’s no Brad Armstrong.” Boyer was the first person who helped his adult career, but she wasn’t the last. And she is far from the only major female star Armstrong would spend quality time with off camera. Another adult performer who influenced Armstrong’s career was Mark Davis, who was also working as a male dancer up in Toronto. Through that connection, Armstrong found himself getting deeper into porn. “In 1993, I think, I had sold my house up in Canada—I put myself through college and bought a house being a little dick dancer—and I was coming down [to the United States] doing magazines all the time. I did three porns and didn’t really love it, but I really liked doing the magazines. And Mark Davis said, ‘Hey, P.T. [Vivid director Paul Thomas] needs a bunch of party extras, come on down.’ It was a big mansion and a party scene and they actually used real champagne and a lot of the girls were getting drunk and shit. And Dyanna Lauren at the same time was one of the stripper extras for the party—she hadn’t done any porn yet.” Armstrong ended up in bed with a few of the guests—including Lauren—and then they began seeing each other. “I took some of the money from the house sale and we made our own movie.” Titled Checkmate, it was “like a big chess game,” he recalled, where taking a piece would lead to sex. “Shortly after, Vivid signed Dyanna and they bought my first movie,” he said. Lauren was his “first in-porno girlfriend. We rented a Jim South house.” His next big encounter turned out to be the most significant. Armstrong met Steve Orenstein in a bar and told the Wicked honcho that he’d just sold a movie to Vivid. Soon Armstrong was working for both companies, and then both offered him a contract. The decision to go with Wicked set Armstrong’s course for the next two decades. “It’s those little stepping stones all my life,” he mused. One of those stones along the way was famed former adult star Jenna Jameson, whom Armstrong married. “We looked at it like we were both up-and-coming—I was an up-and-coming director and she was up-and-coming talent, and we would be a power couple. But once we were married she started believing her own press and it was a fucking nightmare.” At various points in his narrative, Armstrong checked dates with Rick Rodney, the lighting man who has been with him for more than 15 years. “You were with Stephanie Swift. I remember that,” Rodney said. “That’s what I go by—girlfriends,” Armstrong joked. That’s because, as he notes, his relationships tended to be fairly short—aside from his current one with Wicked Pictures contract star Jessica Drake, AVN’s reigning Mainstream Star of the Year. “Jessica’s the only girl I’ve been with longer than two years,” he stated. The epitome of the power couple, the two have worked together in more than 35 movies. Over his two decades at Wicked, the porn world has changed dramatically. There are fewer big features, smaller crews, more modest budgets. But story-driven porn still survives at Wicked. “We have our very loyal base,” Armstrong said. “Those who like it really like it. There are very few people in the industry who still do what we do with features. So it’s not like you can just go anywhere and get it. If you’re a feature guy or a story-driven couple that likes that kind of movie you’re coming to us or you’re coming to one or two other companies.” As he mentally surveyed the porn landscape, Armstrong said, “Everybody else who did what we do left that market ... we’re kind of the last man standing.” There is, however, a woman who Armstrong considers to be formidable competition: Jacky St. James, the New Sensations/Digital Sin director who just signed on to make movies for Mile High Media. “She’s the only one in this market telling an A-to-Z story.” Find out more about Armstrong’s A-to-Z stories at Wicked.com and Wickedb2b.com.

 
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