I spoke with Brooklyn Lee shortly before she won AVN’s Best New Starlet award. Lee, who was born in Ohio but has lived in about a dozen places since, came to Los Angeles in 2010 with “$800 to [her] name.”
Now Lee has picked up what is probably AVN’s most recognized trophy, joining names like Jenna Jameson, Kylie Ireland, Shayla LaVeaux, Violet Blue, Tera Patrick, Alisha Klass, Stormy Daniels, Cytherea, and Stoya in a list exponentially more memorable than, say, past winners of Best Threeway Sex Scene.
“I have no delusion that I’m a rock star,” says Lee. “This is a short run. Maybe five years at most. I don’t want to look back 10, 15 years from now and say ‘Where did all that money go?'”
I met Lee on the set of Harmony’s “Wasted” last July. The film was a mockumentary of porn excess, and she had to get vomited on (it was grape juice) by a drunk James Deen [see the original story on Fleshbot].
Afterward, as she smoked a cigarette by a warehouse window, I thought she had a quality that generations of pinup and porn fans would find relatable.
And that’s a rare find in porn. The collection of individual parts is enough for most people, or the stereotype of the machine-crafted blonde or the brunette dominatrix, but Lee doesn’t look like either of those things. In fact, she looked a little pensive, which made her sexier; like Sasha Grey without the agenda.
“I’m a little antisocial,” she says. “I’ve always been content to be by myself. I’m hermetic; I just spent 300 bucks on books that I am really hoping I’ll read in the next year.”
Gram: So what was the transition between hermetic and the almost-clinical extroversion of porn?
“Well, I guess I’ve always been spunky but I’m much more meek. It was a very gradual process for the curiosity of performing to outweigh the fear.”
Lee went to college in Boston for a while. She says she liked her classes but just didn’t attend them (“maybe a little ADD there,” she says). She was working as an administrative assistant and taking the infamous Fung Wah bus from Boston’s Chinatown to New York City’s Chinatown when she decided to make the big move, landing a job as a cocktail waitress at New York’s Penthouse Club.
Lee took her nom de porn from her favorite borough, and says she’d move back there in a second.
“It makes my heart ache to even watch TV shows shot in New York…ever since I got off that fucking Fung Wah bus in Boston!”
Still, she knew that there was a ceiling to adult performance in the Big Apple.
“I wasn’t the best, but I did realize there wasn’t much room for advancement in Stripperdom. What was I going to be: the best dancer in the club?
“I just wanted people to think I was hot,” she says. “And I grudgingly accept that people do. Sometimes I am uncomfortable with that knowledge. But if anyone says that they don’t experience moments of severe self-doubt about their attractiveness, they’re lying.”
Lee seems disarmingly self-aware for being 22, and if you don’t think there is room for self-awareness in porn, the great thing about watching one of Lee’s scenes is that she’s not always self-consciously mugging for the camera.
Gram: Has your style changed since you started?
“I imagine I’d be mortified to see some of my early scenes,” she says. “But I’m a chameleon. I think I’m always evolving—maybe regressing—but always changing.”
Gram: What are some of the things you learned on the job?
“I knew how to make myself squirt, but I didn’t know how to make anyone else squirt. Also, I knew about Viagra but I didn’t know about Caverject…how you can inject something into your dick is pretty hardcore.”
This weekend’s Adult Entertainment Expo was Lee’s first exposure to thousands of stateside porn fans in the same room. She says she dresses like a hobo when she’s not working.
“It’s rare that people recognize me on the street, though I was walking down Collins Ave. in Miami and some guy yelled ‘Brooklyn!’—which came as a shock that I had to adapt to pretty fast.”
Gram: Porn Valley is a little bubble. What is it like interacting with the larger world of fans?
“The fans might think they know [porn performers] a little better than they actually do. We talk on Twitter, [web] forums, exchange gifts via hidden email addresses…but I haven’t had any particularly scary experiences. Sometimes people get a little overzealous.
“But I appreciate the niceness.”
It is condescending to say that Lee has a good head on her shoulders, but I think the overlooked aspect of what makes being a porn performer occasionally difficult is that other fame-related jobs carry with them image handlers to whitewash quotes, to curate Twitter interactions, and to strategically limit exposure.
In porn, the savvy performer knows that she likely only has a brief opportunity to make money and must ride the wave as far as it will take her. This can lead to financial missteps and a host of other bad decisions that quick cash and instant adoration bring with them.
Yet Lee seems to have a good head on her shoulders.
“Oh, don’t go that far,” she says. “I’m not living the high life; I’m a little distressed to admit that my bills have increased along with my income. But it’s not too hard to take a breath and realize that we’re not celebrities…we’re not running our own little version of Hollywood here. I think some people forget.”
Gram: How do people from your past react to your porn career?
“With no surprise whatsoever. I was watching porn when I was 10 (Can I say that? If it’s true, Sure!). I know some people have their own opinions about this choice; they might not agree or support it, but I haven’t shocked anyone with the news.”
Gram: Name someone you admire in the porn industry.
“John Stagliano. I was just in awe of him and all his eccentricities, his process, and the way his mind worked.”
Evil Angel founder Stagliano shot his vampire project “Voracious” at Rocco Siffredi’s complex near Budapest.
“He does what interests him,” Lee says of Stagliano (Stagliano seems flattered but rejects this, saying “She’s not accurate”). “I hope to some day be at a point that I’m just sound enough to do what I want.”
Gram: Has porn changed your relationships with other people, or to yourself?
“Well, however much a little more freedom changes you. But the things I hold true about other people and about myself I knew beforehand.”