Christian Slater in ‘King Cobra.’ Images courtesy of IFC Films

The true story of Sean Paul Lockhart has all the subtlety of a Jack Chick tract. Lockhart, better known by his porn name, Brent Corrigan, was a suburban 17-year-old who started making porn in 2004 with the company Cobra Video. During this time, he also began sleeping with the director and owner of the company, Bryan Kocis, a middle-aged man who produced bareback twink porn from his home in Dallas Township, Pennsylvania.

After doing eight films with Cobra Video, Corrigan realized that he was making vastly less money than Kocis was raking in, and threatened to reveal that he was underage when he made his first film unless Kocis released him from his contract and gave him the rights to his nom d’porn so that he could make films with other companies—in particular, BoyBatter.com, a low-fi porn company run by Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes.

Cuadra and Kerekes, in desperate need for money and convinced that a film with Corrigan would be their million-dollar-ticket, decided to take matters into their own hands and murdered Kocis, a plan Lockhart knew nothing about—in fact, Kocis had already agreed to release Lockhart from his contract when the killing occurred. Convicted of second-degree murder, Cuadra and Kerekes are still in jail today.

Despite what some early buzz suggested, director Justin Kelly avoided representing Kocis (Christian Slater) as a one-note sexual predator, and Slater’s depiction of him is by far the best part of the film. And Clayton is a serviceable Corrigan, melding his boyish Nickelodeon charm with a hint of more adult mischievousness. Unfortunately, the rest lacks much in the way of nuance, particularly in the scenes between Kerekes (James Franco) and Cuadra (Keegan Allen), which are wooden and a bit boring. It probably isn’t a coincidence that in a film featuring no out gay actors, there is an almost palpable lack of passion or sensuality.

We recently sat down with Kelly and Slater to discuss the trickiness of trying to be nonjudgmental while making a film about underage porn stars, intergenerational relationships, and murder.

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VICE: How’d you prepare for the role?
Christian Slater: James Franco presented me with this script, and I thought, Wow, this is definitely intriguing and different. I was excited and nervous. I was thrilled that he actually thought of me for the role, and I was thrilled with the role. It wasn’t stereotypical. I felt that I was getting the opportunity to convey an actual human being. Then I met with Justin, and he put me at ease and I felt like he was going to handle everything with dignity and grace.

Then he said that James would be doing the "heavy lifting." So I got competitive and I was like, "Well, I don’t want him to do everything." Then I met Garrett and developed an immediate man-crush on him. Everything came naturally after that.

How would you describe your character before Corrigan comes along?
Certainly mysterious. This guy is living with a lot of secrets, a lot of frustration, a lot of disappointment. He is one of those classic characters—there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than he ever lets on. He’s living in a particular time when there’s so much judgment around this subject and the world of porn. There’s so much hypocrisy. Clearly everybody in some form or another has watched a porno. If you’ve checked into any hotel in the world, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry. The fact that there’s any hypocrisy around this stuff is so insane.

I was curious because I’ve been reading a bunch of write-ups that describe your character as a sexual predator. That wasn’t my read in watching the film, and I was curious if that feels accurate to you.
People project and see what they want to see. You could set this story against any backdrop in any kind of business, you know? A guy is in a particular industry, he finds a diamond in the rough and all of a sudden people becomes obsessed with that. You could certainly set it in the Hollywood movie industry. It’s a story about obsession and control and egos. There were so many human and relatable subject matters to this story. There were times in my life where I could have looked at a story like this and had a totally different point of view. But I think, fortunately, I have grown and matured as the world and other people’s points of view have grown and matured. I just want to keep things moving in that direction.
Justin Kelly: I think if the character were out at clubs where 18-year-olds hang out, and luring them into this world that would be one thing, that would be a bit more him being a predator.
Slater: People will base their opinions on a trailer, a tiny glimpse into what this story is and who these characters are. It’s a minute and a half long, and you’re only going to [see] whatever you think that trailer is projecting. One of the most harmful things we have in our culture is contempt prior to investigation. A lot of people make judgments on things that they don’t really know a lot about.
Kelly: I think he’s reaching out to people who clearly have similar desires. People who wanted to make some money and had some interest in [porn].
Slater: They want to be stars! Which everyone taps into a little bit. I mean, we live in a culture where people will take any lengths to become famous. The Kardashians were just getting started around this time. Reality TV. God, people go to insane lengths to become famous.

Do you worry that people will automatically avoid or pre-judge the film because the main character is underage and having sex on film? This isn’t a simple morality play.
Slater: You’re dealing with a naïve character. I think everyone can identify with going down certain paths at a particular time in their life. You are young, you feel invincible, you take chances, and what ends up happening for Brent is it becomes a learning experience that he barely survives.

A quote I have in the back of my mind is that the fastest way to learn who you are is to know who you’re not. And that’s what we do, we test all these limits and boundaries and find out what we’re comfortable with, eventually, and we streamline our lives and find our comfort zones. And that gives us the opportunity to take risks in a different way.

For me, getting the opportunity to even consider a role like this, there’s a point in my life and maybe in my career where this wouldn’t have even been an option. Not even a thought in my mind. That would have been based on ego and fear and insecurity and concern of what other people might think. [But] that’s a waste of time.

I don’t see a lot of films these days that deal with edgy LGBTQ material, but don’t have any out gay actors in them. Was that a conscious choice, or how did that evolve?
Kelly: It wasn’t a conscious choice at all. I was reaching out to people who I thought would be great for these roles. I don’t know who all the stars in the movie sleep with.

I’m not talking about in terms of their actual sexual orientation, but in terms of their publicly presented orientation. Especially in this moment where we’re so cognizant about representation. Did you think about that?
Kelly: It was sort of just this is who it is, we had people in mind. James had recently worked with Keegan, and he was so perfect for this.
Slater: And I had recently worked with James.
Kelly: Honestly, it came together in what felt like a very organic kind of way. But definitely no intent. I would never seek to purposefully cast all straight actors, it just happened.
Slater: There’s even the line in this movie where I say, "It’s fun to play with who we are." That’s what it is to be an actor. That’s what it is to have an opportunity like this. That’s our responsibility and our job as artists to take on different roles and put on other people’s shoes and see what it feels like to live in that world. That’s the gift of what we get the opportunity to do.

Corrigan was not involved in the film. Did you talk to any sex workers or porn stars or escorts? You don’t see a lot of films about gay sex workers, so I’m curious what—
Kelly: I didn’t feel the need to, because it’s more so about these characters we all talked about and created. Again, we could take these characters and drop them in any kind of world. What you would need to know about porn or sex work was inherently built into the script and how we talked about these characters. I lived in San Francisco for eight years, and I had a bunch of friends who were sex workers and worked in porn. If I gathered anything from that, it was wanting to be very nonjudgmental in the film and [reject] this idea that people who do porn are dirty.
Slater: But it was hilarious to recreate some of the actual porn scenes. It’s a particular style of acting that certainly Garrett had to achieve.
Kelly: Garrett and Keegan watched all the real ones.
Slater: I feel like it is an artist’s responsibility to delve into all kinds of nooks and crannies and areas and arenas of our world and our culture and what it means to be human. This is certainly an untapped resource, and I was glad to get the opportunity to be a part of it.

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King Cobra is out in theaters on Friday, October 21.