Q&A: How a Documentary Changed Jonathan Agassi’s Life

“Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” opens May 13 at the Village East by Angelika.
Heymann Brothers Films

Jonathan Agassi was one of Israel’s top porn stars, winning Best Actor awards and developing a loyal fanbase. (He has since left the industry). In out gay filmmaker Tomer Heymann’s revealing documentary, “Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life,” it is not hard to see the appeal of Agassi, who initially appears to be very comfortable in his own skin. In fact, he is often naked, letting it all hang out performing in an erotic stage show, or dressing up in heels and lingerie — and little else.

But Agassi is also troubled. He may be extremely close with his mother, whom he supports her financially as much as she supports him emotionally, but he has real hostility towards his father, who left him as a child. And then there is his drug use and his difficulties working with Michael Lucas, his porn producer.

“Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” chronicles its subject over an eight-year period, stripping Agassi as he moves from fantasy object to addict. It’s a compelling documentary that functions as a character study, a cautionary tale, and a chronicle of pain and healing. Gay City News chatted with Agassi via Zoom about his film.

This is a very intimate, revealing, personal story. What prompted you to make a documentary about your life?

When I met Tomer, I was at the peak of my career, and I really wanted to share it with the world. I wanted a very different movie! I wanted a happy film. Tomer called it a “propaganda film”: a crazy Jewish-Israeli guy became one of the world’s biggest porn stars — who wouldn’t want to see it? I have a beautiful life and f*** all the time. This is what I want people to see — but then life came along.

Obviously, little was off-limits as we see you performing sex acts, doing drugs, and experiencing extreme emotional vulnerability. What can you say about the film now that it’s going to be seen?

It was very, very, very difficult for me to watch the film for the first time, or the second time. I didn’t want people to watch me. But I love this film; it’s the best thing that happened to my life because seeing myself in this position helped me recover and see things how they really are. It can touch anybody — they can relate to it, even if they are not a porn star, a sex worker, or a drug addict. I really didn’t have any limits back them. Everything that was recorded — I was open with Tomer; I told him I wanted everything on camera, good or bad — but I didn’t think we’d get these kind of bad moments. At first, I wanted to take the scene of me collapsing out. I was very embarrassed by that. I thought, “I cannot let people see me like that.” When I saw myself in the lowest moments, injecting drugs, collapsing, eventually I said, “This film will be a disappointment if you don’t see everything that happened.” Everything happened. I wanted people to see how it really was, extreme as it is.

What are your thoughts about how fans, or even folks who didn’t know you, will perceive you as a result of this documentary? Some people are going to judge you after seeing this film.

I met people who watched the film, and it humanized me in their eyes. I was famous in Israel; everyone in the community knew me. After the film, they were more sensitive to me, and more understanding and curious about me, Jonathan. I have had only good responses. People connect to the story and relate to [the presentation of] parents, sex, relationships, friends and success. I don’t think people will judge me. Maybe they might feel sorry for me at some points. Everything is OK. I survived, and that gives people inspiration.

Do you think your embracing sexuality in an extreme way, doing porn, was a response to the bullying you received as a kid—from your father, from classmates — for being gay?

I was an exhibitionist when I was young. I had my cock out on my first cover when I was 18. I was very open about it, and I thought that I was fighting back against those who called me “gay” or bullied me. But after I saw the film, I realized everything with my sexuality is connected to this thing that happened to me when I was at my father’s, with this woman. That did something to my brain about sex. At 15, I showed my ass and cock, and I loved sex. Watching the film, I connected the dots about how I became this way. Today, I live a simple life, I work in a mainstream kiosk, next to a big club and I see gay guys with jocks and dressed very slutty and I kind of judge them. I walked like that all over the world, so this is a bit of a hypocrisy. [Laughs] Today I see sex and everything in a different way.

Jonathan Agassi is a construct — you are creating a fantasy, but how much of what we see is the real you? You are often posing or attracting attention even in your private moments, like wearing heels and lingerie. What can you say about controlling your image?

It is exhausting. But back then it came so naturally to me. I did it from the heart. I really enjoyed it — I loved the heels and lingerie. It gave me energy, being this showoff. But when I seriously got into drugs, it became too trashy, too sleazy for show. It wasn’t for me anymore. I had a name, and this image, and people need to see me “dressed up.” That was life back then.

You are close with your mother. What can you say about her as your support system?

What my mom did best was to accept me. She did fight with me when I told her I wanted to be a porn star. We had fights like crazy. But she knew I wouldn’t listen, and that I’m problematic — that sometimes I don’t have boundaries. She chose to stick with me. No one else could have a better support system. I never listen to anyone, so if my friends told me not to do something, I wouldn’t listen. The best way to make me understand is to let me do it and with time, I learn. I need to get burned.

Can you talk about your reinvention? You have a completely different life now.

I was the first in Israel to openly do porn and escort. Sex became more open in the gay community because of me. I opened people’s minds about sex. The major downfall was before the film came out. When the film came out, I was already more or less OK. This film completely changed my life. I have never been to therapy and this whole film was like therapy. I’m much more complete now. I used to be a porn star, a drug addict, an exhibitionist. Since the film came out, I’ve grown so much and I love that I see things clearly and people get to know the real me. I know who I am and what I am. I don’t need to show my dick to be loved, or to be an exhibitionist so people think I’m beautiful or nice. I’m using only my personality now. That was something I couldn’t do without the journey of the film.

Q&As with director Tomer Heymann (in-person) or Jonathan Agassi (via Zoom) will be held May 13-15 following the 1:25 p.m., 4 p.m., & 7 p.m. shows, and May 16-19 following the 4 p.m. & 7 p.m. shows at the Village East Cinema.

“Jonathan Agassi Saved My Life” | Directed by Tomer Heyman | Opening May 13 at the Village East by Angelika