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The Blow Job That Made Movie History

Two S.F. filmmakers on why Linda Lovelace would have seen a little bit of herself in Kim Kardashian.

Jeffrey Friedman (left) and Rob Epstein in their Arkansas Street office.
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Friedman (left) and Epstein in their editing studio, watching their new film.
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A photo of Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace and Peter Sarsgaard as Lovelace's controlling husband, Chuck Traynor.
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I read that Peter Sarsgaard debated whether to take the role of Linda’s husband because Chuck was so awful.
RE: Yes, he was very ambivalent, but he could not stop thinking about it. His wife [Maggie Gyllenhaal] told him that if he was that ambivalent, he should do it. He really understood how all of Chuck’s actions came from insecurity and neediness.
JF: Peter’s a total mensch in real life, and he does something amazing by bringing humanity to this person who is not a monster, but who does monstrous things.

Another piece of inspired casting was Sharon Stone as Linda’s mother. Did you do a Charlize Theron/Monster thing to her? That was quite a transformation into white trash.
RE: Sharon wanted to do that, but we convinced her that she could act it—she didn’t have to gain 30 pounds.
JF: She did it with her posture, and wigs, and makeup. She was phenomenal.
RE: Harvey [Weinstein, whose company bought the rights to Lovelace for $3 million after its debut at Sundance] didn’t realize it was Sharon until the credits—and they are friends.

Amanda Seyfried has said that during the scene in which she was supposedly going down on Peter Sarsgaard, she was using a Popsicle. And laughing hysterically.
JF: We were filming that in the early hours of the morning, and we were all slaphappy. The Popsicle was her idea!
RE:
And then we had to stock up on Popsicles. We got, like, a gross of them.
JF:
Amanda is wonderful—it should be a real breakthrough role for her.

You make the point well that while porn is a multibillion-dollar industry now, it was not mainstream at that time.
JF: Pornography was stigmatized then. You couldn’t just pull it up on your phone. Deep Throat made it OK for people to go see it. The movie brought fellatio into the public discussion. There was even a brief moment when porno was chic.
RE: I hear now from elderly aunts and uncles that they went to see it!
JF: It’s hard to get young people to understand a world without porn, when a blow job was a big deal, and why the movie was such a phenomenon. Our challenge was to portray porn as something special—or at least unique.

Do you think that Lovelace contains an important subtext about privacy—or the lack thereof—today?
RE:
The whole notion of privacy around sex is changing—people sexting pictures of themselves, this hookup culture. We’re in different territory now. At 22, Linda made this choice for herself— wittingly or unwittingly—which she would spend the rest of her life trying to overcome. There is a subtext about young people making choices for themselves—even whether it’s posting something on the Internet—and how sometimes those choices have consequences that they can’t begin to imagine. Linda represented one turning point in our culture, and I think we’re in the middle of another one.

This movie, and Howl, for that matter, could have made a fine documentary. How long have you been plotting to break out of that format?
RE: Jeff and I started a screenplay after The Times of Harvey Milk [1984]. But the next project I actually did was producing a PBS show. Jeff was an editor on that, and incrementally we discovered the many ways we might collaborate. Doing a scripted feature was always part of our five-year plan—it just took about 15 years to get to that five-year plan.
JF: The screenplay was some crazy action-fantasy thing. It began before the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, then it flashed forward in time, and that’s about all I can remember about it now.
RE: It was called Tiara, and I remember it had musicians. We were sitting in Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe [in North Beach] one day, and one of those Chinese funeral bands came by. The ones with the horns—do they still have those? They would parade through Chinatown, and they would always be these hipster musicians performing for Chinese funerals. So that ended up becoming the main character, this musician who played for the Chinese funerals.

Now that you’ve branched out with topics like the Beats and early porn, what’s next?
JF: We have a bunch of projects in the pipeline. There’s another true story, called The Girl Who Conned the Ivy League [about a con artist who scammed her way into Columbia]. Amanda was developing it and brought us in.
RE: We’re working on a documentary about the history of the Oscars, and a short film we did called The Battle of Amfar will be shown on HBO in December on World AIDS Day. It’s about how these two women—[researcher] Mathilde Krim and Elizabeth Taylor—came together early in the epidemic to fill in a void.
JF: There’s a novel that we’re also developing, You Deserve Nothing, by Alexander Maksik.
RE: It’s like Dead Poets Society, but with sex. And, of course, we’re doing a feature about Anita Bryant. The antigay icon?
RE: Yep. Chad Hodge is the writer, and Uma Thurman has just been cast in the title role. It’s a subject that we’ve been interested in for years. It’s [Bryant’s] story from her point of view. So you’re going from gay to antigay subject matter?
RE: Something I’ve always wanted to do was make a film about someone who was on the wrong side of history.

 

Originally published in the August 2013 issue of San Francisco

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