January 3, 1997
BY VINCENT LAMBERT
“Can I get those Polaroids back at the end of the shoot?” Ryan Idol asks. “I mean, I wouldn’t want these pictures to get around.” One of the biggest names in gay porn is standing naked in a drafty photo studio in downtown Manhattan. No, the star of numerous videos and nude layouts isn’t suffering from a bout of temporary memory loss. He's simply running lines from Making Porn, the off-Broadway hit that he’s appearing in for an eight-week run. Idol is posing for the play’s ubiquitous poster in which the leading stud glares nakedly into the camera as a clapper is held in front of his privates. As the lighting is adjusted, Idol chats good-naturedly with the play's writer/director Ronnie Larsen. The topic of conversation is how cerebrally challenged some of Idol’s fellow porn stars are.
“Jeff Stryker has about two brain cells,” Idol cracks. “Lex Baldwin has three, and Rex has about four, if he's lucky.” The Rex that he’s referring to is Rex Chandler, who originated the role in the New York production of Making Porn that Idol now plays.
While Larsen may share Idol’s opinion of the show’s previous star—and for that matter, his replacement, Johnny Hanson—he’s certainly an Idol worshiper now. “I was less than thrilled with Rex and Johnny,” Larsen says. “Both ran out on their contracts; they both got bad reviews; and they both were extremely difficult backstage. Everyone told me that Ryan Idol would be the best thing for the show, but I never thought he'd be available. But when he came to audition, I was impressed with his professionalism and charm. And the irony is that Ryan has an awful reputation, but he’s been respectable and quite humble.”
Some of the bad rep that Larsen alludes to includes rumors of drug and alcohol addiction, an overdose, steroid abuse and unprofessionalism. Although Idol denies he overdosed, he does admit to battling a few of his own personal demons. “It’s like I was exorcised,” Idol says. “There was so much anger and hatred inside of me, but I found forgiveness of myself, then others. I've been through this whole spiritual, inner-growth metamorphosis. And people can balk at that, but positive things are happening in my life now.”
As Idol takes a break between shots, he sips water and talks about his life. His speech is peppered with 12-step recovery jargon, and one gets the feeling that this 30-year-old native of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been preparing for his new incarnation as a New York stage actor for quite some time. “I always wanted to be in show business,” Idol says. “I saw the movie American Gigolo as a teenager, and that’s what I wanted to be. All I ever wanted to do was be a Playgirl centerfold.”
Idol, who is of French-Canadian and Irish decent, grew up in a single-parent family that consisted of his mother, brother and sister. He remembers being “poor” and says that he didn’t have any role models growing up. After high school, he attended vocational school for two years, where he trained to be a construction worker. “I framed, roofed, installed windows and siding,” he says. “I could build a house from scratch. It was so rewarding to structure something from the ground up, even though I didn’t have that in my own life.”
So just how did these humble beginnings lead Idol to pursue a career in porn?
“Well, I was looking for love in all the wrong places,” he says with a smile. “I wanted to go to California because that was where I thought the American gigolo lived. So I joined the Navy. I knew that was my ticket to California.” But after a couple of years, Idol says, he “strayed” from his goals of having an acting career. (The cherry tattoo on his lower torso is a souvenir of his stint in the service.) “I got discouraged. I was told, ‘You bleed sex, and you’ll never go anywhere in show business.’ That stuck in my mind. It wore down my psyche, my confidence and my self-esteem.”
So Idol started dancing in clubs. One night, when he was approached to act in a porn movie for 15 times the amount he was earning, “My eyes lit up,” he recalls. “I didn’t know it was a gay porno. When I found out, I said, ‘Are you fucking crazy?’ But I thought, if real show business is going to be so tough, I might as well get paid for the bullshit. So, I went for the money.”
His first film, Idol Eyes, made a splash,and, similar to the character he plays in Making Porn, Idol found himself with a new career. “I was an instant star overnight,” he says. “What more could a person like me want at age 23? At first I took offense at my success—where it was coming from—but then I went through stages: I became an egomaniac, then I took it for granted; now, I'm appreciate. I owe a lot of my growth to the adult video industry.”
Although Idol has starred in six films—he peddles the current Idol in the Sky video nightly after the show—and hints that there may be a seventh in his future, he believes that “there are some really ruthless, gutless, heartless people in the porn industry. It has downfalls, like any other business.” One example is the recent incarceration of Idol’s former manager, David Forest, on charges of pandering. Idol characterizes the incident as unfortunate but inevitable. He also claims to have no friends in the business. “I may make jokes about the brain-cell counts of other actors, but I don’t condemn anyone. I just think totally differently from everyone else. I've never met anyone I identify with.”
However, he says that he does identify with his character in Making Porn and even sees parallels with his own life. “I think Ronnie Larsen did a really good job in the writing of this play,” Idol says. “He hit some of the fundamental issues within the porn industry. Actually, this play is like art imitating life. It all ties together. What better way to tell my story and at the same time pick up on my dream as a child.”
After building his image and making his fortune as one of porn’s notoriously straight, “gay for pay” models, Idol seems to have experienced some growth in the area of his sexuality as well. “You’re raised in a society that is heterosexual at its core,” he says, “but I would say I’ve had some of my best relationships with men. I’m still searching to find what that love means with a woman, but I’ve found a certain love with a man. I believe that we’re all here to love—whether it’s a man or a woman, it shouldn’t matter. If people need to label me, then let it be bisexual. Just say that I’m into pleasures of the flesh.”
Something else Idol is into is coming to terms with his past. While his role in Making Porn represents a shot at more legitimate, mainstream success, he says that if it doesn’t work out, “I won’t cry at night. I don’t regret anything. If I had it all to do over, I wouldn’t do it the same way, but it made me the person that I am—very strong and determined.”
Once again, talk turns to Idol’s memories of his childhood. His trademark blue eyes grow serious. “When I was a kid, they told me, ‘You’re a dreamer. Nothing comes from dreams, and you’re going to waste your life.’ I chose to rebel against that. I followed my dreams, and I got sidetracked a few times, but now I know myself a little better. I hope to attain what they used to call the unattainable: to be an actor, have a lavish life and be respected. You have to earn respect; it’s not a given. I didn’t know that before.”
And what ever became of his Richard Gere–inspired fantasy? “I’ve achieved the American gigolo dream, but in the gay world,” Idol says. “I no longer have that dream. I got in Playgirl, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. I’m the gay version of the American gigolo,” he laughs. “It was a foolish childhood dream, and now I can chuckle at it. I’m on to new dreams.”
Reprinted from HX magazine (1997)