Charlie David starred in Dante’s Cove, Mulligans, Judas Kiss and now is at the helm as director and star of the award-winning series Shadowlands.
Charlie David has worked as a host for E!, OUTtv, PinkTV, LOGO, NBC, Fine Living and Slice Networks. According to many directors and producers that have worked with him, Charlie David is as humble and kind as he is talented. The entertainment entrepreneur has been referred to as “an amazingly talented and creative entrepreneur”, “a consummate professional”, and “a pleasure to direct, a natural, very telegenic host, and a true gentleman.”
I’m a Porn Star is a feature documentary exploring the lives of men working in the gay adult entertainment industry.
There are an estimated 370 million pornographic websites online. Porn is now a thirteen BILLION dollar business. So who’s doing all this moonlighting? Turns out – probably some people you know. I’m a Porn Star is a documentary revealing the inner workings of the gay adult industry.
I like to make films about sexuality – how we as a society embrace or are repulsed by it, what some see as artistic expression and others view as pornography, and where the seeds for these often very visceral reactions begin.
I’m a Porn Staris entertainment but it also delves into a provocative new era of sexual liberation and expression. Living in a domestic post gay liberation era we are now bombarded with the male form undressed for pleasure, for provocation, and as a catalyst in advertising and media. I wanted to explore how young men are being conditioned to perceive their own bodies, their constructs of masculinity, and the disintegration of labels around sexuality.
A decade ago we consumed pornography in magazines or buying DVDs and VHS tapes. Today the studio giants in the adult industry have been gutted by the Internet auteur and are struggling to reinvent themselves before it’s too late.
A millennial gay porn star could make a living with film and was truly the star of the community in a time when Hollywood was still afraid to come out of the closet. Today a gay porn star likely has another job to pay the rent, which usually includes ‘club appearances’ or online hustling.
At the turn of the century we were still shocked by the AIDS epidemic and many studios began routinely testing their stars and only filming safe sex. Today in spite of rapidly rising rates of HIV transmission in youth – bareback scenes are in vogue and receive special promotion on many websites.
In 2000 it was risky business getting into adult entertainment. Today in a volatile economy, more and more young people are using it to ‘put themselves through school’ or because like the new Queen of Pop they’ve also been bitten by the Fame Monster.
‘Boys will be boys’ as the saying goes and we were invited onto a pleasure island while filming I’m a Porn Star. As a young twenty-something, I witnessed several handsome friends suddenly working in the adult industry – either as strippers or in adult video. I always wondered how much was enough for them to say yes to that world and the lifestyle that went with it.
To what extent will a young person push their body, their will, or their sexual preference in order to grab some quick cash? The answer of course is not easy and each subject we worked with presented their own set of motivations – everything from lust for dollars, an addiction to attention, or simply loving to have sex!
Directing the I’m a Porn Star documentary was such an adventure because I was able to immerse myself outside my comfort zone, grow and be challenged by the experience. There were many times while interviewing when I had to keep my fist planted firmly under my jaw so it wouldn’t fall to the floor. These guys are shocking, competitive, profane, relatable and endearing. Perhaps they’ve made choices that there’s no turning back from or perhaps they’re brave enough to live the sexually liberated lives we all secretly fantasize about.
INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR CHARLIE DAVID, Director of I’m a Porn Star documentary
What was the genesis for I’m A Porn Star? Was this your brainchild or were you approached by someone else to take part?
I was approached by OutTV Canada to create a film that somehow reflected a change in the queer experience over the past few decades. I decided to look a little beyond the obvious political landscape and explore adult entertainment and how it’s been impacted by technological, social and consumption advances and new norms.
Porn is ubiquitous now – creation and engagement are high across all social classes and so a deeper look at the people who make it their career despite it still being a taboo fascinated me.
This isn’t your first documentary, but it’s the first with people who are fairly well known, at least in the porn world. Did you have an easier or harder time getting them to open up for the camera?
I’ve been really fortunate with my documentaries that my subjects have been extremely comfortable and forthcoming with me. I also do interviews in the casting and vetting process so I won’t work with someone if I think they’ll be flat or problematic in a show.
For this project, there are many great looking guys who take awesome photos or make great sex videos but in an interview situation or to follow them around in real life with a camera would be a terribly boring experience both for me and for an audience. Those early interviews and doing some research before considering production is very important. It’s casting essentially and a dynamic story line and compelling characters are tantamount to having any entertainment experience succeed.
Working as a host on the travel show Bump for 6 years really cut my teeth as an interviewer. We filmed 120 episodes all around the world and there were some great interviews and some that were painful teeth pulling experiences. I think that process of learning how to get a person comfortable with me and asking the right questions so they share freely and openly was like boot camp for becoming a film director – especially of documentaries.
Were there any revelations you had while making this or any moments that really stood out to you as being eye-opening?
I went to some shoots with various companies prior to filming and seeing the use of injectables like Caverject to get erections for filming was certainly eye-opening. There really are a disproportionate number of straight identifying men working in gay pornography. Some of the feedback on my doc and on blogs I’ve read, the comments seem to obsess with who’s straight, who’s gay, is it subconsciously homophobic that we have so many straight guys doing gay work, etc.
Honestly I don’t understand the obsession with these questions or lines of thinking. It seems so old-school to me to be labeling sexuality so rigidly. There’s a continuum of sexuality and these guys along with all humanity fall somewhere on the spectrum. However, because of the obvious fascination, I decided to do a follow up documentary, I’m a Porn Star: Gay4Pay which explores this.
Coming from a fairly liberal place like Canada to the US, do you find that there’s a more puritanical view of sex here in the US than there is in Canada or is the opposite true?
While we may vary on other norms in terms of sex within culture my experience living in Canada and the USA has been that we’re fairly similar. Our countries are geographically immense and there are plenty of pockets of conservatives, progressives and moderates in both.
You wear a lot of hats, but where are you most at home? Is it performing, producing, writing, directing, or something else?
At this point on my journey I love directing and producing. The documentaries are really fun but I’m looking forward to directing some scripted films & TV as well. I’m certainly open to being contacted by studios or independents to direct.
You said in an interview with Out Visions that your work resides in “a little niche within a niche,” but do you see the audience for what you do expanding more rapidly now than it was even a year ago?
Yes, I think there’s a growing hunger for content and the type of sexy, off-beat, gay-centric shows and films I make. There are emerging markets and growing populations that want to watch compelling films about the gay experience and that’s what I do.
You also mentioned in that interview that you have received communications from people whose lives were impacted by your work. Would you care to share any one of those with us?
Most of the emails and letters I receive come from either a Dante’s Cove fan or from someone who has just watched my film Mulligans. I think with Mulligans the inter-generational relationship between the father and his son’s best friend is compelling, arousing or relatable in some way to a lot of people. It’s also a story about a family man who comes out in his forties and for a lot of men living in those more conservative pockets of the country I think this also strikes a chord.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you’re dying to work with?
Of course, there’s a huge list here! We’re actually preparing I’m a Porn Star: Gay4Pay, which will dive deeper into the lives of the straight dudes who work in gay porn since that seems to be such a fractious topic. So in the adult world we’re starting to compile a wish list and are certainly open to your readers input.
In the mainstream I’m a huge fan of Xavier Dolan’s work as director, writer and actor.
Anything else you’d like your fans to know or perhaps anyone that’s discovering you for the first time?
I love when an audience interacts with a film. So I invite your readers to watch our work and rate it, review it, share it, comment on it and discuss it. My documentaries are meant to be kindling and I hope they start a conversation.
Natasha Balakrishnan is of South Indian origin born in Kerala, India; brought up in the middle east, Kuwait, and moved to Toronto, Canada at the age of fifteen. Natasha is a professional dancer, choreographer, and a working actor in Toronto, Canada . Her latest starring role is in Charlie David’s Shadowlands anthology TV miniseries.
Natasha Balakrishnan’s passion for dance, arts, and the entertainment field began at the tender age of five where she started off with theater/drama and dancing for local shows. Her main expertise lies in the classical dance form known as Bharatnatyam and proceeded to expand her talent with many other styles which include Bollywood, Hip Hop, Bhangra, and Contemporary incorporated with fusion.
Having performed in many platforms, Natasha Balakrishnan carried on her pursuit for dance in many different countries like New York, Germany, Kuwait, California, and India, and was further able to showcase her talent on National TV for the television show named ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ Season 1 in 2012.
She started her own YouTube channel as her outlet to creativity and passion for arts where she directs, choreographs, and incorporates acting through her concept videos. Her classical fusion choreography to ‘Taal se Taal Mila’ by A.R. Rahman has reached over a million views on YouTube. Natasha was awarded ‘First Runner Up’ and ‘Miss Congeniality’ at the 2014 Miss India Canada Pageant and ‘Miss Best Talent’ at the 2015 Miss India Worldwide Canada Pageant. In 2014, she was featured on a billboard advertisement for South Asian designer Boutique- ‘Aalayaa’.
Natasha was featured in the film ‘Dr.Cabbie’ with Bollywood stars; namely, Vinay Virmani, Isabel Kaif, and Kunal Nayyar. She performed for the Pan Am Olympic Games 2015 Opening Ceremonies with Cirque Du Soleil representing her Indian culture and heritage, including several other shows and corporate events, which include the Toronto Raptors basketball games, the WE Day concert, WE Day music video with Kardinal Offishall ft. Karl Wolf, and Holt Renfrew’s Uncrate India just to name a few.
With her professional expertise and training in the field, she has been fortunate to judge dance competitions; namely, in Detroit and in the City of Toronto, experiencing young and fresh talent on some amazing platforms. Natasha has also performed with Indian film music composer, Anirudh Ravichander, and collaborated with award winning rapper, Lady Kash, from Singapore. She choreographed for her recent song release “Supermodel”, composed for the film ‘Graghanam’; the album bagged by Yuvan Shankar Raja’s, U1 Records.
Natasha is working meticulously towards pursuing a career in films and is honing her acting skills by training with other budding artists in Toronto, Canada. She was a competitor, performer, and actor on Season 2 of OMNI Television Documentary series named “Bollywood Star”
Tell us about your story in the Shadowlands anthology. What were the main challenges and fears you had in your role?
Natasha Balakrishnan: I play Thalia in the Shadowlands anthology and she is someone who brings a lot of love and humanity in a world that is affected by the war where people are becoming inhumane and vile.
Her love for Alex is immense and while he is no longer the same man she fell in love with, she refuses to believe that she cannot bring him back. His narcissistic ways and his obsession for perfection has left him no room to give love to anyone but himself.
Thalia will stop at nothing to make him see clearly but when it is all too late, she recognizes the Alex she treasured is gone and must put an end to the evil that persists. My main challenge with Thalia was playing a woman from the 1920’s Berlin and really understanding her love for Alex.
How much of yourself goes into a character?
Natasha Balakrishnan: I believe that while you take the essence of you, and your passion into your work; you are playing a life, a person, which requires you to explore and tap into the spiritual, emotional, and physical being of that personality/character and its not about who you are but the life that you’re taking on and you live the reality of that character.
The stories in the Shadowlands anthology TV show were inspired by the Shadowlands book which was inspired by Greek mythology. What was your experience in creating a remix of these ancient classical tales?
Natasha Balakrishnan: When I first got the audition for Shadowlands, I was very eager and I had immediately done my research on Charlie David, his book, and the Greek Myths tied to my character and Narcissus. I was more than ready for the audition!
It was very exciting playing someone from the 1920’s; something completely out of my comfort zone and knowledge. I am thankful to Charlie for believing in me to play Thalia. When I booked the part, I did tons of research on the ‘Golden 20’s’, got coaching, watched tons of movies in that era, the types of music, and wrote a backstory for Thalia and her love interest with Alex whose characters were inspired from the Greek myths of Narcissus and his Echo.
What aspects of the Shadowlands anthology TV show are you excited for an audience to experience or discover?
Natasha Balakrishnan: I am excited for the audience to see it all! I had the privilege of watching it with my team at one of our film festival premiers and it is definitely a roller coaster ride of emotions and quite the tales that Charlie David takes you through.
I loved the uniqueness and creativity brought in each episode. They are each shot in a different time period which is thrilling. I would love to have the audience experience what Charlie David and the entire team has put together throughout the Shadowlands anthology series.
What was the hardest scene for you to do and why?
Natasha Balakrishnan: I wouldn’t say anything was particularly hard but I definitely found it a bit challenging. I had to shoot a very intense scene right when I got to set the first day. We started the shoot for the ‘Narcissus’ episode with my scene where a gun is being delivered to my house with a note to kill myself by someone who I truly love.
I had to go through many thoughts in a short spam of time and I found that a bit of a challenge; to jump in and out of emotions when circumstances prior to that scene were not shot yet. But that is what I loved most about Thalia and this film production; I felt challenged/nervous by this role and wanted to give it my all. Like the saying – “What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”
Who is a major influence for you and on your creativity?
Natasha Balakrishnan: Well I surely believe that creative inspiration is sparked through influence and there are many wonderful people who inspire me everyday. My mother is my biggest inspiration because of her strength and courage to always persevere no matter what. This is a huge driving force to pursue my passion and to stay focused and optimistic.
Also, fine artists like Robert De Niro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Jennifer Lawrence, Radhika Apte, Nawazuddin, Meryl Streep, Alia Bhatt, Morgan Freeman, Amitabh Bachchan, and Leonardo DiCaprio just to name the least; inspire me to work hard everyday on my craft and to never stop learning and growing creatively.
Is there a type of role you dream of playing but haven’t had the opportunity yet?
Natasha Balakrishnan: Oh yeah of course, there’s tons I dream of playing! I definitely have miles to go and want to live a thousand lives through this career path of mine.
I would LOVE to play an action-packed role like a boxer or a marvel superhero!! I love watching strong female oriented roles and I would love to take on those.
In addition to acting, tell me about the other areas of entertainment you’re pursuing.
Natasha Balakrishnan: Apart from my love for acting, I also have an immense passion for dance, music, and poetry. I started my own YouTube channel back in 2014 which is my biggest creative outlet. I began producing, directing, and choreographing my own dance/concept videos by reaching out to local artists and collaborating with them to create art.
It’s an amazing feeling to see your vision come to life through team efforts and I truly enjoy working on them. When I first started my YouTube Channel, I just needed a platform to be creatively inclined. I never really imagined how many people I could reach out to until one of my videos went viral and hit close to 3 million views.
It’s a wonderful feeling when people around the world enjoy your work and it really encouraged me to constantly keep producing anything and everything I had the urge to create. I definitely have tons of creative stuff planned in terms of acting, dance, and music that I can’t wait to release them.
With so much going on in the world today, what’s your motivation to be a performer? Do you act to explain? To get away? To move past? To widen our knowledge? To incite a conversation?
Natasha Balakrishnan: All of the above really! Film and television is a source of entertainment, an escape, a fantasy, a story that incites conversation, and conceivably allows one to look into things that might have never sparked their interest before and I just absolutely love all of it.
I enjoy being in front of the camera, taking on different lives, and studying them. Art is a study of humanity and understanding the beings that live amongst us. Art is a universal language that truly connects people across the world and can be used as a very informative/influential tool. My motivation as an artist is to tell real people’s stories because in the words of my guru – “Art imitates reality”.
What’s next for you as a creator/actor/performer?
Natasha Balakrishnan: While I am constantly auditioning and working on my craft as an actor/performer; as a creator, I have always loved poetry/music and I write quite a bit of poetry/lyrics on my own time.
This spontaneously ventured into a very exciting new realm for me this year. I wrote, produced, sang, and creatively directed my first single with the help of a brilliant team. It is currently in post-production as I am eagerly and nervously waiting for its release.