Garrett Clayton as Sean Paul Lockhart, aka Brent Corrigan, in Justin Kelly’s “King Cobra.” | IFC FILMS
“King Cobra” is a juicy true crime story — set in the gay porn world — about murder and money, lawsuits and scandals. Sean Paul Lockhart (Garrett Clayton) is first seen auditioning for producer Stephen (Christian Slater) on a casting couch. He’s sexy and adorable, and it’s clear Sean knows what Stephen wants — because he gives it to him. Stephen, in return, sets Sean up in his house, lavishing gifts on this young man, renamed Brent Corrigan, whom he desires — and hopes to make the whole world desire.
Before long, the two men achieve just that. Stephen’s videos of Sean sell like hot cakes, and rival porn producer Joe (James Franco) and his lover, Viper Video star Harlow (Keegan Allen), want in on Brent’s value, seizing a chance when a scandal derails Brent’s career.
The extremes men went to in chasing Brent Corrigan’s allure
Clayton and director Justin Kelly sat down with Gay City News to discuss “King Cobra,” a story that goes much more than skin deep.
GARY M. KRAMER: Justin, how did Garrett convince you he was Sean?
JUSTIN KELLY: I think the way he approached the character — we were on the same page. I thought it would be fun because it’s scandalous and gay porn and a break away from his Disney past. He was exactly what I was looking for.
GMK: Garrett, How did you find or develop Sean’s seductive mix of charm, sincerity, and insouciance?
GARRET CLAYON: We were dealing with someone who grew up in a crazy situation. He had this innocence about him because he was 17. But I think he was driven and knew what he wanted out of people. He may not be telling everyone on the surface what he wants, but he knows the end game.
JK: It was important for us to show [Sean] being naive and innocent and at other times being calculating. When you see him asking Stephen, “How was I?,” obviously he is being manipulative to see what he can get out of the situation. When Stephen leaves the room, he rolls his eyes. It establishes his duality.
GMK: I like that “King Cobra” does not judge the men — though it certainly creates empathy for all of the leads. The film is more focused on identity, and less on sex. Justin, can you talk about creating that balance?
JK: It’s hard for me to not judge a character who makes decisions that I don’t agree with at all. It was a big challenge, but I wanted to tell the story as it happened and allow the characters to be sympathetic. What if Stephen always dreamed of being a gay porn producer, who cares? Let him do it! Everyone harshly judges people who are in porn, yet everyone watches it. If people do want to do it and they do like it — and I know there is porn where people are abused, but in Sean’s case he really did want to do it.
GMK: Garrett, what research did you do to prepare to play the role?
GC: I did as much research as possible. I read up on his life and on the case. I watched his first video. I tried to watch some interviews.
GMK: Your performance doesn’t mimic him, you just re-present him.
GC: That was specific, too. Initially, when I got it, I called Justin and said, “I’m gonna Meryl this shit!” But he was like, “No.”… Justin told me to make the character separate from him. Tell the story. It is his story.
JK: We didn’t want his mannerisms and voice exactly like [Sean’s] because this wasn’t “Milk” or “JFK” or “Malcolm X.” For a story like this, that was not necessary.
GMK: There is a power struggle between Stephen and Sean. Can you talk about that aspect of their relationship?
GC: That’s the manipulation we were showing. This young, smart boy doesn’t have power, but he used what he had — his sexuality and young nature. He knows [Stephen] is attracted to him, so he can be in control in his own way, but when he wants to leave and actually have control of his own life, that’s when he doesn’t want to be with Stephen. We talked about every scene, even a small moment sitting on the bed, contemplating leaving, and how it furthered the story and does it feel natural?
GMK: Ego and jealousy are essential to the parallel story of Harlow and Joe. Justin, can you talk about that aspect of the film and the importance of this story?
JK: I wanted to understand the characters and why they do what they do. There wasn’t an agenda to show people the porn industry. It’s more to talk about the extremes people will go to get what they want or become who they are. They all want this thing, and they are going to fight to the death or murder or lie about being underage to get what they want.
GMK: How do you get into the mindset of playing someone like Sean?
GC: There were a few times when I kind of freaked out, such as the montage of him becoming a porn star. It got overwhelming. I got back to my hotel that night and called my mom. I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” She told me, “If you believe in it, I support you.” She taught me not to judge. And said, “Now you know what it feels like to be wanted for nothing more than your body. Now you are better prepared for this character.”
KING COBRA | Directed by Justin Kelly | IFC Films | Opens Oct. 21 | IFC Center, 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St.; ifccenter.com