I wasn’t quite sure what or rather whom I expected to find as I wandered into the modern, empty restaurant centered amidst the heart of the Times Square District in Manhattan. I had viewed the trailer of “Tiger Orange” and was touched by the theme, and I read the celebrated reviews, however, I still wasn’t certain if I were meeting a brand-new actor with an empowered sense of artistry with the name Frankie Valenti or the handsome, former adult film star Johnny Hazzard…and frankly, I wasn’t positive which one I preferred meeting.
“Tiger Orange” will be released as a DVD on Tuesday, July 7, from Wolfe Video, and stars Valenti debuting in his first serious acting role. The film by Wade Gasque unfolds in a small town and is about two estranged gay brothers, endeavoring to reconnect after their father’s death. Todd, portrayed by Valenti, is a vivacious, out character, while Chet, his brother, played by Mark Strano, is very much the opposite. The film has both explosive and sentimental moments, and through its entirety Valenti truly shines.
I immediately spotted the young Richard Gere lookalike sitting comfortably alone, and within minutes I was more than pleasantly ecstatic. I found him to be not only an actor with a promising career, but a gentle, warm and candid artist with an almost child-like innocence. Valenti not only responded to our conversation with a heartfelt honesty and thoughtfulness, but with a touching sense of brilliance as well.
How do you compare this experience to your former career? And if you’d rather not talk about that time in your life, it’s OK.
I will never not talk about where I came from. It’s a huge part of me. Without it I probably wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have had anything that I had without it. It’s nice to be recognized and praised for something I actually had a part in doing, because when I was doing porn people would always say, “I love your work; you’re so good.” I am like, no, I’m not. I keep my dick hard and I have a good hair line. You know what I mean?
What did you find the most fun about doing the movie?
I liked the KickStarter campaign. It was a chance for me to put my “fame” to good use, as opposed to selling my skin.
Do you feel that Todd, your character in the film, had any similarities to Frankie Valenti?
Strangely enough, that entire character was me. My dad died when I was very young. I never told him I was gay. I carry his ashes around with me wherever I go.
Yeah. My brother and I, we don’t get along, but we don’t not get along.
Is he gay?
He’s not gay; that’s the only difference. I’m from a small town-ish.
Where are you from?
Cleveland, Ohio, in the suburbs, and I could not fit in. I stood way the fuck out in every way possible. I left home as soon as I got pubic hair, and then I never looked back.
What was it like for you growing up? When did you find out you were gay?
Fourth grade. My math teacher’s pants were so tight, and his ass…I just could not take my eyes off it. I knew then that there was something different. It took me a while to figure out what it was. Growing up, my family was great. My dad was kind of an absent figure, but he loved us, and did the best he could. My mom was great. We never wanted for anything. We all got whatever we wanted, what we needed. Very strong family ties. Even to this day we are all really tight.
Where do you call home now?
I spend half the year in Los Angeles [and] half the year in Provincetown. So on my way to Provincetown, there’s Fort Lauderdale, Ohio and New York. Ohio is obviously still home.
Are you planning on continuing with this new career?
I feel like I owe it to myself to try. I never wanted to be an actor. All of this appeared out of nowhere.
But you are so good at it.
That’s why I owe it to myself to really do it and give it a good old college try. But I’ll tell you what though, I’ve lived in LA long enough, and have had a lot of friends that have played this game for a long time, and their days are spent driving around the Valley to and from, to and from, and then they go to work waiting tables and pouring cocktails. That doesn’t really appeal to me, so I’m going to have to see how it goes.
How did you begin doing porn?
I woke up one morning, and I was watching a VHS. I said to myself, “That looks like fun. That would be fun to do, and just say that I did it and be done with it.” If someone had sat me down and said, “Kid, this is what’s going to happen if you make this choice,” I still would have done it.
After you finished doing porn, what did you expect to do? Did you have a plan?
When I first got into porn I had two goals: pay off my student loans and buy some investment property. I did both those. Then the market turned, and I lost everything. So my head’s like, basically, “Well, that was not in my plan, and now I’m mad, so now I’m just going to live this life freestyle.” I declared bankruptcy. Then I just let it all go, and I didn’t really think about anything to be honest.
When did you do your first adult film, and when did you end it all?
My God. I think it was 2004 when it was rumored that the first movie came out. I pretty much stopped officially the last couple of years, so a good decade.
Are there any gay porn stars anymore?
No. The word porn star has been so bastardized and mangled to include anyone with a Wi-Fi connection and a camera.
If I were to look into your heart right now, what would I find?
You would see a big shed that your dad had when you were growing up, where nothing has been cleaned out. There’s just shit everywhere.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, [due to] my past combined with the fact that I travel continuously, plus I’m really independent. I like being by myself. So the sum of both parts do not equal a relationship.
Do you ever want one?
Yeah, as I’m getting older.
What do you do for fun?
I have a clothing line called Spit Shine LA. I make jewelry. I’m always making something.
What was the hardest thing about acting in “Tiger Orange”?
As opposed to doing porn?
The night shoots. It throws off your schedule. You would be getting up at 9 p.m., and you would work until the sun came up. You’re doing take after take, and it’s cold, and you’re outside, and your shirt’s off, and you have to scream a lot.
It’s a guy movie.
It is, but the one thing I love to tell people is that the beauty about this movie is that it’s not your typical gay story. Meaning it’s not about two lesbians or two gay boys running around the city drinking and playing with drag queens. It’s not about AIDS. It’s not about drugs. It’s not about coming out. It’s about shit. It’s about family shit. Whether you’re gay or straight you can identify with something in that movie, which I really like about it.
Were you surprised when you were asked to do the film?
I was not surprised that they asked me; I was surprised when they actually got the funding. I get a lot of requests to do projects, and my standard response is: “Sounds really great, thanks for thinking about me, call me when you guys figure it out.” At that point I never hear from them again. I did not read the script. I deleted it. I didn’t think I’d ever hear from them again, and then they called me. I was like “Can I have that script back?”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself being an interpreter for the deaf.
I know sign language enough to figure it out, to get my point across and help somebody out. Out of high school I went to a community college. One of their prerequisites was a foreign language, and that school offered sign language. I fell right into it. It kind of stuck with me, and I have deaf friends, and I’m Italian, so we always talk with our hands anyway.
What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?
There were two really dark times. One was when I was in junior high school, sixth grade. You know how kids are at that age. They have to find out the one that’s different and they all gang up on them. Well, I was that one. I got notes in my locker saying “fag.” I was picked on a lot. The way I got through that was just school ended every day. Thank God that I didn’t have Facebook and all this shit when I was growing up, because that’s the worst thing for these kids. It never leaves. They leave school, and it still continues. The second time was when I was in my late teens. My dad was dying, and I had not come out to anybody. I was in a self-destructive mode. I was doing a lot of drugs, a lot of drinking, and divine intervention just played a part. I moved away from home, and I realized that I cannot do this as an adult now. I have a rent check that I have to produce, and I have a life to live.
If you could start all over, is there anything you would do over?
Yep. I would have had a plan B. That’s my only regret.