After recently reading about Jillian Lauren’s new book Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, I went to Happy Ending a week later to see Lauren read a chapter from it. She completely floored me, as I knew she would, but she wasn’t the only one. Also there to read was the legendary Candida Royalle. And the theme of the evening—this particular reading series, Sex Worker Literati, spices up each performance with a saucy theme—was “embarrassing things I’ve done for money.” With a cast of current or ex-sex workers, this was a particularly interesting topic of choice. Even more comical is that ironically, co-host Audacia Ray’s performance wasn’t about a sexual experience at all, and instead, a writing one. But anyway . . .
Candida Royalle is perhaps best known for her career as an adult film star, and for being a brunette babe—recently gone silver—but she is also sharp and interesting and does not fit the outdated stereotype of what many often think a “porn star” to be. Not to mention the fact that Ms. Royalle was one of the first women (if not the first woman) to change the face of adult movies forever by addressing women’s needs and portraying sexual experiences closer to real, actual sex than male fantasies of sex. Aside from starring in them, Royalle wrote, produced, directed, and edited adult erotica films (my favorite among them, Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls where Royalle and three other delivery girls not only offer “special toppings,” but ride skateboards). She is also the creator of the Natural Contours line of intimate massagers for women, and author of the book How to Tell a Naked Man What to Do (yes, please).
Royalle still goes out to openings and parties (though she has traded her New York apartment for a house in the country); she has sleepovers at her girlfriends’ apartments; she is as beautiful and lovely as she was in her acting days, but she is not trying to recreate them. Royalle is youthful but not afraid to act any age but her own. Most refreshingly, Royalle acts like herself.
In an attempt to do something different and not ask Candida Royalle the same old questions I already knew the answers to (go here for an amazingly extensive FAQ all about her life and career), I asked her about her guilty pleasures, what she’s reading right now, and a bit about her latest endeavors. Turns out Royalle likes the same corny stuff we all do; she has guilty pleasures that are more like the Doritos-eating and bad-TV-watching kind than those of the sexual nature, and the Kama Sutra is certainly not the only book on her shelf.
Jesse: How’s it going?
Candida: Good, good. How are you doing?
Jesse: Good! I thought I would ask you a few questions just to see what’s going on with you now, and then the rest will be sort of fun . . . like best ofs, what’s your favorite meal, stuff like that.
Candida: Oh, OK great! That sounds like fun.
Jesse: Yeah, nothing too serious. What’s the most exciting project you’re working on right now? I know you have a bunch of stuff going on, but what’s the thing you’re sort of most into at the moment?
Candida: Well, I’m enthusiastic about all my stuff. I have new products coming out under Natural Contours, which is exciting—I have the new little BonBon that we just released, and I’m busy promoting that. And I love my project of trying to find and promote new women directors that are doing something really innovative to release through my Femme line, so these are all things that keep me very busy. I really think the thing that has my creative juices going now in another direction [came] as a result of the performance I gave that you were at.
I’ve been really trying to figure out what to do with my life story, how to frame it, how to write it, what the theme should be, and I think I found it through this. I think I’m going to be writing a series of short stories and essays and pieces from different moments and chapters in my life. I've just had such an interesting, colorful, wacky life that I don’t necessarily want to try and put it all together and make it this long, rambling autobiography and give it a heavy message. This way I get to just tell stories that are fun and interesting hopefully and maybe inspiring, and people can pick it up (the book) and read it when they want. And I would write them in such a way that I can also do spoken word performances with them. So that’s the thing that really has my juices going right now. I’m actually working on a schedule so I can take a couple of weeks off during the summer and put all my other work aside and start really developing this.
Jesse: Wow, that sounds awesome! That’s really exciting. Did you just come up with that idea from the reading you did, or had you been planning it for a while?
Candida: Well, it was sort of played around with a little bit. You know my—do you know JamYe WaXman?
Jesse: No, I don’t think so . . .
Candida: Oh! JamYe is very cool. You should know her. She is very, very cool, and she’s a good friend of mine, and she actually had suggested this approach to me just prior to when I did that reading. And so when I did the reading and I saw how much fun it was to write the piece and then perform it, I thought, You know what? I really am going to do it this way because it can be, not only a written piece, but also a performed piece.
Jesse: Mm-hmm, yeah. That sounds great.
Candida: So it’s something that was bandied about and then that just solidified it.
Jesse: I really enjoyed your story, so I feel like that’s a great direction to go in.
Candida: Thank you!
Jesse: You kind of touched on this briefly, so I’m excited that it sounds like you’ll have a response. Are there any current female/feminist adult film producers or directors that you know of or admire in today’s generation doing similar stuff to what you were doing when you first started revolutionizing the porn industry?
Candida: I have to say, I’m finding the most interesting work coming from women directors outside the US, from Europe and Australia. There’s a woman named Anna Brownfield and she did a movie called The Band, and it is so good and so hot, and it’s basically just about this rock band and the women in their lives. It’s a real study of their lives, their romance, their sexuality. And it’s got great sex that’s really inherent to the story. It’s just fabulous!
Jesse: That sounds awesome.
Candida: It really is good. And then, of course, there’s Petra Joy who’s doing very innovative stuff. I released her movie Feeling It, and I’m looking to release another one. There’s another woman named Erika Lust from Spain who’s doing very interesting stuff. But I just think a lot of the young women starting to direct now, they’re coming from the real Porn Valley look and culture so that a lot of it still really looks just like regular porno, and then this idea that because a woman is directing it, it’s part of this whole new movement . . . I don’t find, unless there’s someone whose work I haven’t seen yet, any of it particularly innovative or much different than regular porno we’re seeing, so I can’t get real excited about it right now.
I think you might get a different answer from someone else. I think a lot of young women are starting to get into the super hardcore pornos, and so they might like some of those womens’ work, but I just think there’s a huge market of women that don’t want to see the same thing. The super graphic quality, the lack of connection between the people, and the still overused money shot that is just in every single porno scene that’s been produced, except mine basically, in the last thirty years. So I really can’t say that I’m excited by their work because it all just kind of looks like another take on the same old, same old.
Jesse: Yeah, I think that's really interesting actually. You brought up a point I didn't even think of. Just because you're a woman making a porn movie or an adult erotica film, that doesn't mean it's necessarily a feminist film or coming from a feminist perspective, so that's kind of deceiving.
Candida: Right. Their idea seems to be that, "Just because I'm a woman doing it, that makes me a feminist, that makes it a feminist movie," but I just don't agree.
Jesse: Yeah, I feel like there’s a lot more to it than that. Like you actually have to try to instill feminist values . . .
Candida: Yeah! And that it should be something women really relate to, that speaks to them. It’s not enough to say, “Well hey, you know what? I’m a girl, and I like having cum in my face.”
Jesse: [Laughing] Right.
Candida: You know, once in a while, it could be good dirty fun, but to have that be the staple, and to have your movie look exactly like every other porno film that’s come out in the last thirty years [but] just because you have a woman’s name as director [it’s feminism] is just bullshit to me.
Jesse: Yeah, like what’s the point?
Candida: Yeah. Call it porno. That’s what it is.
Jesse: Totally! On that note, do you have any advice for young women that want to work in the adult film industry that are looking for some more meaning in the work they do, and looking for more of a feminist take on things? Especially for women just starting out in that field?
Candida: Well, I would tell them the same thing I tell anyone looking to get into the adult industry—and I don’t really know what the age of your audience is, you might get in trouble for even discussing women getting into the porn film industry if they’re under eighteen—but what I would say to young women is that there is still such a tremendous need for a woman’s voice and a woman’s sensibility in the adult and erotic film genre. That, and there’s such a need for work that has integrity and that doesn’t look like the same old porno that’s been out there. And to please come up with your own ideas, speak from your heart, speak from your own truths, and really try to give it a woman’s spin.
And if not just for the sake of advancing our voice in general, but also as a business enterprise because there are too many movies—there are over ten thousand releases a year and most of them are garbage. You’re not going to get noticed if you don’t do it differently, if you don’t find some kind of new approach to a voice, some new stand . . . you’ll be one of the thousands that are just a blip on the screen. So that’s what I would say. Look to be different, look to speak from your heart, speak from your own truth, make it genuine and authentic and, in particular, help women develop their voice and their role in a still horribly male-dominated industry.
Jesse: Yeah, that sounds great. Perfect. Thank you.
Candida: You’re welcome.
Jesse: OK, so here are some of the more fun questions. You can take this one as seriously or not seriously as you want. What is your favorite quality about yourself?
Candida: [Laughing] Huh. I think my favorite quality is, hmmm, let me see. You know what? There are two things I think that are in tie for first place. One is my ability to really have fun and enjoy life from a very youthful perspective, and the other is my kindness and compassion for all living creatures, especially the animal world.
Jesse: I love it. Perfect. What meal do you make best?
Candida: Well I’m not a fabulous chef, so I would have to say that I am known for my really yummy, interesting salads that have all kinds of really delicious, healthy, organic items including creamy, delicious skin-enhancing avocado.
Jesse: Nice. That sounds really good right now!
Candida: Yeah, maybe I’ll go make myself one after this!
Jesse: Are you reading anything right now, and if yes, what?
Candida: I actually just finished a really great novel. I love historical fiction, and I just read this novel called New York: the Novel by Edward Rutherfurd. It [goes through] four centuries of New York history beginning with the first Dutch colonists merging with the English colonists and follows the same family up until the present.
I just love that, when [an author] will put in some known historical figures but then creates fictional characters too so that it enables you to learn so much history; and [also] about how people lived, by personalizing it and giving these people lives you can really hook into. So I loved, loved, loved that book. Being a lifelong New Yorker, I learned so many new things about New York, and it was just really engrossing.
Jesse: Oh wow, that sounds awesome! Shifting gears a bit, what is an embarrassing secret you’re willing to tell?
Candida: [Laughing] Wasn’t the performance I gave enough?
Jesse: [Laughing] I know, I was thinking that! I was like, Wait, I kind of already went to see this.
Candida: OK, I’ll tell this because it’s so silly. One of my silliest guilty pleasures, and something I do to get a little laugh therapy, is I sometimes watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Jesse: [Both laughing] That’s awesome!
Candida: Because the episodes are just so stupid and goofy. And TV is so bad that if I feel like [zoning] out in front of the tube there’s so little that’s any good on. So if there’s nothing on I’ll just tune into the Family Channel where they always have these things running. And they're stupid and goofy, but you know there's going to be—especially the pet ones are great, I love the pet ones—one or two that causes you to have a really good out loud belly laugh, and for me, that's great laugh therapy. It's worth the hour of sitting through the mediocre ones.
Jesse: [Both laughing] I love it. That’s perfect.
Candida: I’m such a dork!
Jesse: No! Those are really funny. Whenever they’re on, I totally get a kick out of them, as well.
Candida: And when I get a new boyfriend, eventually I’ll say, OK I have something I have to confess to you just so you know now what you’re getting into. And they’re always like, Oh my god! But let me tell you, they always end up watching them with me.
Jesse: That’s amazing.
Candida: That’s the thing. You know, I’m known for this racy life, and lord knows I really have had some great sex, but the truth is I’m really just like anyone else. I’m monogamous when I’m in love; I watch the same dorky stuff on TV. You know, I love to do all the same things everyone else does. So when it comes down to it, we’re all the same.
Jesse: That’s great! And so true . . . Speaking of guilty pleasures, do you have a food guilty pleasure?
Candida: You know what? I would say for the last thirty years one of the ways I’ve dealt with loving to eat in front of the TV late at night before I go to sleep, to keep myself from eating things like cookies and stuff, I made up something I call apple treat. This is really embarrassing! I cut up really delicious sweet, crispy apples, and I smear a bunch of either tahini or peanut butter on them, and I cut [the apple] into really little slices, so it takes a long time to eat it. For me, the perfect embarrassing moment is [eating] apple treat in front of America’s Funniest Home Videos.
Candida: [Laughing]Now you’ve got the truth about Candida Royalle! This is what I’m doing out in the country when I’m by myself, when everyone thinks I’m at some wild orgy. I’m really sitting in front of the TV eating apple treat in front of America’s Funniest Home Videos. No one will ever look at me the same after they read this!
Jesse: Wow, I love it. That is perfect. Apple treat sounds delicious! Speaking of sitting in front of the TV, what movie could you watch again and again? If any.
Candida: I do have favorites so let’s see if I can remember them. OK, the first one that comes to mind—this again shows what a dork I am. Do you know the movie Overboard with Goldie Hawn and the guy she’s been living with for all those years . . .
Jesse: Kurt Russell!
Candida: Yeah, Kurt Russell . . .
Jesse: I love that movie, love it.
Candida: Do you?! It’s just the silliest, funniest movie, so I guess that’s the one. And the other one I’m just going to say real quick, there’s that one and then there’s the one with Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis . . . Trading Places! So as you can see, I love comedies because I’m really big on laugh therapy and they’re both wildly funny!
Jesse: Totally! What record would you bring to a desert island?
Candida: Ooh, what record would I bring? That’s a tough one. OK, I’ve got it. I would bring Annie Lennox, Diva.
Jesse: Oh, awesome!
Candida: Yeah, I love her. And it’s, you know what? It’s a tie now with her new one. Her latest one, Songs of Mass Destruction, is really, really great. It’s almost, if not as good . . . especially, there’s this great number called, “On My Colored Bedspread.” And there are just so many songs that make me get up and dance.
Jesse: Nice. While we’re on Annie Lennox, who is a woman (or women) that you most admire?
Candida: I admire so many women, oh my gosh! All right, here’s sort of a weird one, but I saw a PBS documentary on her last year, and I was so impressed, Eleanor Roosevelt.
Jesse: Oh yeah, that’s a great one.
Candida: Because she just came up against so many odds in her life. There were so many obstacles [standing in the way of] her happiness. She endured being considered an ugly girl and didn’t let it stop her from having this incredibly powerful presence. She had this wonderful marriage and then had to endure knowing that her husband, who she so admired, was having an affair with his secretary all those years, and she stayed with him anyway but really went on her own. She really was behind a lot of the very important things he did, including changing the laws around race. She was an amazing woman, really to be admired.
Jesse: Yeah. That’s a great answer. Do you have any role models? You might have just answered that question, but if there was ever anyone that you particularly thought of us as a role model, or that you think of as a role model now . . .
Candida: Hmm, a role model. I’m not sure who I would [choose] because there are a lot of women I admire, but I’ve never felt like they were necessarily my role models, you know?
Jesse: Yeah, I agree. Role models are really hard. I’ve always wanted like this one perfect mentor, and I don’t know if I’ve ever found one, you know?
Candida: Yeah, I know. I just don’t know if there is one like that. I was a young feminist in college, and then I was the first to do a lot of things or to not do a lot of things. I was the first woman to give a woman’s voice to adult movies, so in a lot of ways, I’ve had to pave the way, and I didn’t have women beforehand that did things [like that].
So I don’t know, I’m not sure how I would answer that. I would saysomeone I admire a lot that could be a role model is Nadine Strossen. She is a wonderful role model for women. She was the first female president of the ACLU, which, that alone is so impressive. She’s done so much important work around free speech and the First Amendment, and she even came out with a book called Defending Pornography. She has this wonderful, wonderful long-term marriage with her husband, so even her domestic life is a happy one—it’s unconventional; they never had children. So I would say, I don’t know if she was my role model, but I certainly think she’s a great role model and was a great influence on me.
Jesse: Awesome, that’s a great one! OK this one is obviously pretty big, but if you could pick one thing you would like to change about the world, what would it be?
Candida: [Laughing] Oh boy, where do I start? I can only pick one? I guess what I would like is to see an incredible jump in human evolution so that we suddenly have the kind of compassion that is needed to actually stop inflicting war and pain and cruelty and injustice on each other and on all living creatures including animals.
Jesse: Yeah, that’s great. On a totally different note, if you could run into one person from your past, who would it be and why?
Candida: I learned from when I was in therapy years ago that the first thing that comes to your mind is usually the answer. So I know this is really kind of deep, and it’s not something I necessarily talk about in interviews, but I would have to say I would like to have a chance to see my mother who left when I was eighteen months old.
Jesse: Oh, wow . . .
Candida: And get to know her and understand why she never stayed in touch with my sister and me.
Jesse: Yeah, that’s huge and obviously an understandable one for sure. Do you want me to not print this one? Because I don’t have to. If it’s too personal, I totally get that.
Candida: If you think it’s too morbid, then don’t.
Jesse: No! I don’t think it’s morbid.
Candida: I’ll leave it up to your discretion. I don’t mind at all.
Candida: In fact, my feeling is like, who knows? Maybe if I start saying it in public someone will read it knowing who my birth mother is, and if she’s still alive maybe she’ll [catch wind of this interview] and if my half brother that went with her reads it . . . who knows!
Jesse: Yeah . . .
Candida: That’s the way things happen sometimes.
Jesse: I totally agree.
Candida: But if you think it’s too depressing or sad, then . . .
Jesse: No, I don’t think that at all! I think it’s great. I think honesty is always really nice.
Candida: Yeah! Just think of the lives you might touch out there of readers who might have [had] the same experience.
Jesse: Exactly, yeah.
Candida: I’ve learned that the way to really reach people and engage them is to touch them where they live. So if things are too surface and predictable you kind of miss the boat.
Jesse: Yes, I totally agree.
Candida: I’m sure that will surprise some people. They’re probably expecting me to say some past boyfriend or something, but nope, how about mom [both laughing]!
Jesse: Totally! OK let’s see . . . two more questions, and they are both a little bit more fun than that one! Are you superstitious?
Candida: No, I don’t think so. I cast off those things. In fact I herald Friday the 13th as a day wonderful for witches, and I mean that in the best way. I think most of that stuff was religious based and [came from] the fear of powerful women, and it’s just silly. And the only way to prevent yourself from giving in to superstitions is to look them in the face and tell yourself the opposite. A broken mirror, that’s seven years of good luck [laughing]!
Jesse: Yeah! I just broke a mirror the other day and I was like, Oh no, do I have to worry about this? And then I was like, No! Of course I don’t have to worry about it. That’s ridiculous [laughing].
Candida: Exactly. It’s like they can only cast a spell on you if you let them, if you believe in it.
Jesse: Yeah, exactly. On a similar note but not totally, do you believe in ghosts?
Candida: I believe that, and I have lived through proof, that there is indeed another dimension, that when people die they often do hang around in some form for a few days. I am actually someone who has a slightly more developed psychic ability than the average person, and I’ve been used by departed family members to convey messages and [resolve] unfinished business for them.
Candida: Yeah so, on the one hand I always say, Well I don’t really know if it’s all true, and I won’t know until I pass on myself. But I’ve had enough intimately personal experiences to know that there’s something out there, though we don’t quite know what it is, and that can be very frightening when you are actually touched by it.
Jesse: Wow, that sounds really amazing and interesting.
Candida: Yeah, it really is.
Jesse: Awesome. So, this was really fun. Thanks again for doing this.
Candida: Sure, it was really fun!
Jesse: Talk to you soon!
Candida: OK, Jesse. Bye!
Photos courtesy of Candida Royalle