FILM / Sleeping your way to the top

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The Independent Culture
There are a number of versions of the old Hollywood story about breaking into the movies. You wait tables, hoping to serve a studio big cheese. You play bit parts and spare parts on TV or straight-to-video features. Or, like Ginger Lynn Allen, you take the horizontal route via hard-core skin flicks and pray for the day when you're recognised with your clothes on. That day, she tells Sheila Johnston, has come. But at what cost?

Ginger Lynn?' 'No' - the rich, peaches and cream voice at the end of the phone line is polite but very firm - 'Ginger Lynn Allen.' It's a question not of etiquette but of semantics. Ginger Lynn Allen has appeared in 18 feature films, five network television shows, a children's series. She has released a fitness video, Ginger Lynn Allen's Superbody, and hosts a TV chat show, Ginger Lynn Allen's Kiss and Tell. She is promoting a film opening today at a London arthouse cinema. She is definitely kosher.

Plain Ginger Lynn is the star of some 70 adult - hardcore - movies. Was the star: 'In 1983 I made my first adult film, and I finished my last one 11 February 1986,' she says with a precision that makes it clear that this was a landmark, her Rubicon. 'It has been eight years now.' As she likes to insist, repeatedly, all that was a long, long time ago.

It began when the small-town girl from Rockford, Illinois, spotted a classified ad in the local press. She was 20. 'I went along, not to be in adult films but to model. I posed for Penthouse and went on to to the movies. I never intended staying in the industry, but I became well-known so quickly it was hard to get out.

'I made my first two films in Hawaii, made more money in two weeks than in two years. I had a good time and no one forced me to do anything; it wasn't as dirty as a lot of people make out. For me, coming from a middle-class background, it was very enticing. My family was shocked initially, but they were understanding, although it's not a career they would have chosen for their little girl.'

No one was talking Scorsese: the production schedules were, shall we say, brief compared to even a small mainstream movie. 'Think of it this way: three days versus three months. You'd better know your lines when you get there, and if you don't then they'll shoot around it. Budgets varied from as low as dollars 50,000 up to about dollars .5m, I was fortunate because I came into it when the video boom was going, so a lot of companies, all of a sudden, were making much more money than they had before.'

Allen, who puts her success down to her ingenuous, girl-next-door persona, is a little vague on her own pickings. 'The last time I talked to a star still working in the industry, they were only making dollars 300 to dollars 500 a day, which is horrible compared to when I was doing it. (Another source suggests that a major porn star could command over twice that amount.) I was earning much more in adult films than I am now, but, you know, there I was at the peak of my stardom. Now I have to pay my dues and work my way up the ladder.'

There were occupational hazards: the scuzzy directors, the randy co- stars. 'I did walk off sets, I did punch an actor who decided that, what I had done with him on-screen, I would be willing to do off-screen too. I had a few obsessive fans. One man left his wife and three children and moved to Los Angeles. He bought me wedding gowns and tried to kidnap me. But he ended up being locked up; the man was cuckoo from the start. I live in a very secure area, I have two Rottweilers, an alarmed house and a gated yard. But I keep a close eye out for those weirdos]' And there was Aids.

Whatever, it was time to 'grow' and to 'move on'. Allen had been taking acting lessons, was trying to flesh out, as it were, her skimpy characters. 'I take everything I do very seriously, I'm very professional. I've done some of my best acting in porn. You are allowed to take as many chances and risks and be as big as you want in a character, but if you're doing it by yourself it's not really going to make a lot of difference. If you're doing Shakespeare and the guy with you is doing Mork and Mindy, it's not going to work.

'It's not your normal way of breaking into the mainstream. In fact, most people who do adult films don't attempt it, and if they do, they don't make it for a few reasons - the public's attitude and the way people stereotype you; lack of determination and self-respect; and Hollywood's reluctance to hire you.'

It's true that some of the biggest stars keep small skeletons in their cupboards. Kevin Costner's is called Sizzle Beach, and he has doggedly but unsuccessfully tried to purchase the rights for a number of years. Sylvester Stallone was once The Italian Stallion, a sobriquet that haunts him yet. Twenty years ago Claude Berri, the director of Jean de Florette and Germinal, made the less salubrious Sex Shop. But it's more difficult for Allen to forget.

'There are a lot of actors in Hollywood who have done one or two adult films. I did 70, and it's kind of hard to bury that many. Usually they have a very short shelf life but (sigh) not for me. I don't think they're ever going to jump off that shelf - the more mainstream things I do, the more they come back with a new title and a new box cover. It's something I'm gonna have to live with.'

She talks about her past with a mix of reluctance and pragmatic opportunism. 'The advantage was that people knew my name and work. The disadvantage was that people knew my name and work. I could have changed my name completely, but I have a large following from it. And it would give the impression I was ashamed of what I've done.'

So far her forays into the mainstream haven't been wholly successful: according to Variety, Vice Academy made Police Academy look good. What's Love, a hardcore flick cut for a general, 'R' rating, was, the same publication adjudged, 'like taking a shower with your clothes on'. Strip Teasers I and II haven't been committed to the annals of history.

Whore had some credibility, being directed by Ken Russell, but even Allen concedes that it 'wasn't one of his better films'. Her role in Blake Edwards's Skin Deep ended up on the cutting-room floor. The new movie, Bound and Gagged (see opposite) has harvested lukewarm reviews, although many warmed to Allen's dazed, funny performance.

All these roles still have an erotic and exploitative element to them - no one's offering her Hamlet. But she bravely defends the sexual politics of Bound and Gagged, in which her character, Leslie, is abused by her husband, then chloroformed and locked in a car boot by her lesbian lover. 'I found the director's background very interesting; I really liked his attitude concerning the homeless and battered women (he had made several documentaries on the subject). I guess I was afraid of Leslie's insecurites and vulnerabilities, and her fear of making changes but these were also traits that attracted me at the same time.

'I too have personal experience, not of being physically battered by a mate, but in my childhood. See, with me, all the things that have happened in my past have strengthened me.' And then the peachy small- town girl from Illinois quotes from the least likely mentor. 'What's that quote by Nietzsche? 'What does not destroy me makes me stronger.' '

'Bound and Gagged' opens today and is reviewed opposite

(Photographs omitted)