Bartholet on Porn Acting [interview]

James Bartholet: "It's a shame that the glory of Hollywood is being lost."

Across Porn Valley, when directors seek an actor who can deliver the nuanced and professional performance that pieces like “This Ain’t Airplane! XXX” and “Rocki Whore Picture Show” require, they say one thing:

“Get me Bartholet.”

Representing a business where anal awards continue to expand and overlap, James Bartholet, 52, is the back-to-back winner of one of the adult industry’s most distinctive honors: AVN’s Best Non-Sex Actor award.

“I’m very ‘old school,'” says Bartholet. “I was a child actor. Mom and Dad would film me doing little skits. I did a lot of stage and television, and radio in my teens. Then I was on ‘General Hospital’ and ‘Beauty And the Beast.'”

Contrary to the career trajectories of other porn actors, Bartholet uses his own name in porn and employed a stage name when he did mainstream work.

“I’m proud of my work in this business,” he says. “It’s more work than people think.”

The demands of the porn script are not much different from those of Neil Simon and Woody Allen, Bartholet says, and he uses their scripts—he mentions Allen’s “Annie Hall, ” “Hannah And Her Sisters,” and “Bananas”— when he teaches acting to porn performers at his home.

“I have a big place off the Sunset Strip,” he says, “and we do improv exercises, develop characters, [and] work on cold readings. In the end, [the student] has a little monologue that she can do at mainstream auditions, too.

“One of the things that has helped me be a better character actor was watching Rich Little and Frank Gorshin,” Bartholet continues. “I liked the people who would mimic people and do impressions.”

Bartholet’s late mother, whom the actor reports had been under contract at Warner Brothers, introduced her son to the entertainment world.

“I met Bob Hope and Sid Caeasar,” he says. “I would pick their brains and get information about timing and comedy. I met Dom Deluise. I worked with Mariel Hemingway on a Blake Edwards movie (1988’s ‘Sunset’).”

Indeed, it is Bartholet’s very Charles Nelson Reilly qualities that make him the muse of men like Will Ryder, who has used Bartholet in several films, including as Bosley in “This Ain’t Charlie’s Angels” and Mr. Drysdale in “Not The Beverly Hillbillies.”

“Will Ryder is a dear friend,” says Bartholet. “And he knows it takes so much longer to film a movie if people don’t know their lines, so I bring that dedication to a film set.”

Bartholet says he will often isolate himself on a shoot to get into character, but he isn’t aloof.

“I’m not one of those guys who says, ‘Don’t look at me,'” he says. “But I take the work very seriously. [Directors like Axel Braun, Brad Armstrong, Andre Madness, Will Ryder] know when they cast me that they will have a real actor. When i get on a set there’s no fooling around.”

Bartholet says that when he gets a script, he sits down and researches the part, and “runs lines,” an acting term for learning dialogue.

“They know that when i come in, I’m delivering a 3-dimensional character,” he says.

A native of the Bay Area, Bartholet says he came to Los Angeles in the late 1970s. He was running a video store on Sherman Way in the San Fernando Valley in the mid-80’s when he met John Holmes.

“I remember that it was during the Traci Lords scandal,” Bartholet says. “We got a call telling us to take all the Traci Lords movies off the shelves, because she was underage. That was around the time period when John came in. He would rent the Bette Davis and Clark Gable movies. And one day he said, ‘We’re having a party at the house; why don’t you come up?'”

Bartholet recalls the house was “somewhere off Mulholland,” and that the performer Holly Body was there, but that his lasting impression was that the party was “glamorous” and that Holmes, who would have been in his post-Wonderland Murders comeback prior to his secret AIDS diagnosis, looked healthy.

“It was a different time,” says Bartholet, and then changes course slightly, commenting on speculation that porn production will move out of town if a recently-approved condom ordinance proves too onerous.

“Look at all the Hollywood production moving out of town. [Porn Valley] is the only industry making movies anymore. Our production values rival a lot of what you see on TV.”

With his advocacy, Bartholet may well edge out Bill Margold as the go-to Public Face of Porn Valley.

“It’s a shame that the glory of Hollywood is being lost,” he says. “And porn needs to step in.

“Porn stars are like rock stars now,” says Bartholet. “We were at the premiere of Axel Braun’s ‘Star Wars’ parody and there were people taking pictures of us; it’s important that we look good.”

With Hollywood’s runaway production, Bartholet says the porn industry is an important part of L.A.’s economy.

“I was talking to my dear friend Stephen Williams,” Bartholet says of the “21 Jump Street” actor, “and he is always traveling out of town to work. If adult production goes, that’s a whole lot of people not spending their money here in L.A.”

In addition to acting, Bartholet runs Galaxy Publicity, a PR firm for porn performers, and co-hosts the web radio show “Inside the Industry” with Emy Reyes.

“Emy and I are dear friends,” says Bartholet, noting that it was with Reyes that he performed his first on-screen sex work in Dick Chibbles’ “Saw” porn parody. “I figured, ‘I’m in the pool already; might as well swim over to the deep end.'”

Bartholet doesn’t have sex in each film he’s in, but leaves the option open.

“Sometimes the part just calls for an actor,” he says.

Bartholet is in a small club with other Best Non-Sex Actor winners, including Eli Cross and Frank Bukkwyd.

“I finally got to work with Frank recently,” says Bartholet. “It was a great opportunity to compare notes. I am more recognizable as an adult film star than when i was a mainstream star. For example, ‘The Rocki Whore Picture Show’ is a big hit with college kids. People are always coming up to me and saying ‘I saw you as this or that.”

Despite the adulation paid to him, Bartholet says that there is still a long way to go.

“There is a stigmata about porn,” he says. “People still think we’re all ‘Hi, I’m the pool guy. Let me help you, lady. And I love ya,’ when there are actually multi-page scripts.”

Bartholet is currently preparing to play Curley in a “Three Stooges” parody, and is developing a few projects that he is secretive about because “people hear about what you’re planning, they steal the idea, and they do it the next weekend.”

“I was very fortunate to have spoken with William H. Macy and hung out with him on several occasions,” Bartholet says. “Every part he does he breathes life into it. I hope to do that, too. I think it was on a Martin Scorcese movie where Leo DiCaprio said, ‘Marty, I don’t understand why I’m walking this way,’ and Scorcese says, ‘Leo, it doesn’t matter what you understand, it’s what your character understands.’

“I had a total epiphany.”

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: “Not Charlie’s Angels”—it involves cocaine
See also: James Bartholet

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