It is impossible to talk about pornography without falling for double entendres. Big talent. Hard work. Deep prospects. Yet these statements best describe the life and times of Michael Lucas. A Jewish boy born gay in the Soviet Union is an unlikely candidate to become world’s leading adult entertainer and entrepreneur. His is an iconic “only in New York, folks” story. Porn moves in mysterious ways. Here’s how it goes.
Michael entered the world under the constellation of Pisces in 1972 Moscow. His parents, Lev and Elena, gave their son the maternal maiden name of Slavic origin as a way to protect him. Anti-Semitism was so commonplace at the time in the USSR that the country was experiencing massive Jewish emigration westwards. Determined and disciplined, he excelled at school despite repressions and deficits that marked the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1995, within a year of getting his law degree from the prestigious Moscow State Law Academy, he abandoned an expected career in international law and escaped to Europe. He outstayed his tourist visa and settled in Munich, Germany and later in Paris appearing as a performer in several porn scenes. His classique looks, charisma and physical stamina caught attention of major studios. Several aliases and contract offers later, Michael Lucas arrived in Manhattan in 1997 as a Falcon model. Shortly thereafter he founded Lucas Entertainment which pioneered a new professional matrix for adult entertainers enabling Michael to act as a producer, director, performer, promoter and distributor of his own films. Today his company employs fifteen people and contracts hundreds of freelancers. New York Magazine dubbed him the “last of the New York porn moguls” as the ease of online access to entertainment, advent of social media and resulting spike in amateur content production radically challenged the industry. Lucas himself has embraced the technological changes early on. His personal blog archives date back to 2005 and he is actively engaging his fan base via Twitter and other platforms.
What is the ratio of business savvy, talent and luck in your success?
It is difficult for me to divide it this way. I also feel uncomfortable discussing my talent. Let others judge whether they think I am talented or not.
How would you prioritize your many labels? Some examples: gay, activist, entertainer, son, etc.
It depends on the situation. Whenever I am traveling to Russia, being gay becomes my number one identity. When I am at home in New York City, I am more identified as an activist and entertainer. I am also always very much connected to my family: my parents, grandparents, brother and boyfriend. My family is my treasure.
What do you fear? How do you cope with fear?
I fear losing my loved ones. There is no real way to cope with this fear. You just keep busy and try not to think about it. I work and travel a lot. You try to spend as much time as possible with them and enjoy that time while they are with you. I am also blessed with having lots of great friends.
How do you perceive USA-Russian relations now?
Cold. Russia is very arrogant for the sake of being arrogant.
His parents were an engineer and a teacher of Russian literature. Grand scale and top quality are in his DNA. The 2005 Michael Lucas’ Dangerous Liaisons production was the first in a series of high profile adult motion pictures that catapulted Lucas Entertainment into the mainstream pop culture and redefined porn convention. It featured celebrity cameos from RuPaul, Boy George, Graham Norton, Bruce Vilanch, Amanda Lepore, and other cult personalities. In 2007, a decade after Lucas arrived in America, Michael Lucas’ La Dolce Vita premiered to critical acclaim and resounding commercial success. To date it remains the most expensive pornographic gay film ever made and holds a yet unsurpassed record of fourteen honors at the GayVN Awards, the Oscars of the American porn industry. A company named International Media Films sued Lucas and his business partners for trademark and copyright infringement claiming ownership of the rights to Federico Fellini’s cinematic masterpiece La Dolce Vita. After a four year long precedent-setting trial that drew attention of both the legal and entertainment communities, the court ruled in favor of Lucas Entertainment. “If they thought that they could get a quick payday by walking all over a porn company, they were sorely mistaken. I am very proud that my company had the professionalism, the quality legal advice and the financial resources to stand up to this bullying,” said the CEO statement. The 2009 Lucas Entertainment release Men of Israel continued the streak of landmark films. It is the first gay pornographic movie shot on location in the country with an all-Israeli, all-Jewish cast. As such it was noted in Los Angeles Times and the Atlantic magazine.
How would you prioritize the challenges of today’s adult entertainment industry? Some examples: HIV, stigma, online piracy, etc. How do you cope with/overcome them?
The industry is divided on HIV. A few companies, like mine, are willing to take financial losses and do the right thing by producing movies with condoms that will make young people just coming out and having their first encounter with gay sex through porn take notice. They will see these good-looking men having hot sex and protecting themselves at the same time. Then there are those evil companies that produce bareback movies, which contribute to the HIV epidemic. Unfortunately, those bareback movies sell better because sex without condoms is more natural, but I prefer to make less money than go against my beliefs because I care about my community.
There is still a stigma attached, but it’s less of a problem as people become more open-minded. That is why we have more and more models that want to be in our films. It’s no longer a shocker.
Piracy is a major problem, but we are successfully suing pirates more and more and it’s becoming quite a simple procedure. To illegally download a movie or a song is not different from shoplifting. So people who pirate our movies should not be surprised to get a letter from the company’s lawyer to settle and they should be ready to pay a lot of money.
How do you see the use of CGI and 3D technologies in pornography?
I think all these technologies create little niches for studios… Adult Source did a great job with CGI in “Pirate’s Booty”, Dominic Ford made some hot 3D scenes and Titan, determined and steady, has built a good business around Blu-Ray. So they all make the industry more interesting but none of them are going to revolutionize it or take over the entire industry. In the end, for the customer, it is still about some good-looking guys having hot, believable sex. That is why storyline films are very popular these days. People want to know why guys are engaged in a sexual encounter.
While casting performers for your films what qualities beyond the physique do you look for?
Models should be drug-free and disciplined. It’s a big plus if he’s serious about his career in porn and wants to go all the way to the top. I am very good with promoting the model but nothing can happen unless the model is engaged in the process of promoting himself.
What fashion designer would you want to collaborate with for your film and why?
In a fantasy world, with Tom Ford. I love his clothes. I love his suits and I wear a lot of them. There is nothing sexier than a man in a beautiful suit.
His cultural heritage plays a distinct role in shaping his worldview and actions. Since his early days marked by state-sanctioned and socially accepted anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, he has strongly advocated on behalf of Jewish causes and the state of Israel. Lucas is a self-proclaimed Jewish atheist and Zionist. During the 2006 armed conflict with Hezbollah he did his own version of a classic USO Tour to boost the morale of gay soldiers who may serve openly in the Israeli military. In 2009 he became a citizen of Israel. Some within the New York activist communities have earmarked 2011 as the year of Michael Lucas vs. the city’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center controversy. Twice he has publically challenged the Center on its decision to act as a host for Anti Israeli Apartheid events. Twice he achieved cancellations and ultimately an organizational moratorium on renting space to “groups that organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Political correctness does not seem to be a value he holds in much esteem. He stands by his highly controversial views on Islam. His staunch opposition to recreational drug use and unsafe sex practices as well as calls for fair pay and anti-abuse regulations made him a lightning rod within the porn industry. These views are unmistakably his own and he is not shy to speak his mind or engage in debate. Such volatile mix of reason and opinion made him a popular speaker on the academic circuit. He has appeared at many universities including Yale, Stanford and Oxford. He is also one of the most discussed columnists at the Advocate, the largest mainstream les-bi-gay-trans periodical in the United States.
How do you see pornography in relation to other social issues?
Attitudes to pornography mirror attitudes about personal freedoms. As sex has come out of the closet as a subject we increasingly talk about openly and honestly, pornography has followed right behind.
Do pornography and globalization interrelate?
The porn industry has globalized as much as any other industry. On our website, we have members from 56 different countries and our movies often mix casts from different nations. At the same time, globalization has also created the opportunities to cater to more regional tastes and still achieve viable commercial scale. Scaly lads, for example, are a pretty English taste but there are enough people in other countries who like that type to create a serious customer base.
How do you see the role of women in adult entertainment? And in queer pornography?
Women are everything in straight porn and men do not count in straight porn at all. Women do not matter in gay porn, with few exceptions, like my videographer Pamela Dore, who works under the name Mr. Pam. She is very influential because she is a great professional.
What books, films, music in/formed your inner world and how?
Biographies of those I respect and, of course, their own works. A great example would be the journalist Oriana Fallaci. “There are moments in Life when keeping silent becomes a fault, and speaking an obligation.” This is one of her famous statements.
His own website positions Michael Lucas as “a new breed of celebrity: a porn star evolved.” The seemingly chaotic trajectory of his life path is indeed most fascinating. Wherever it may lead the public is likely to follow, or at least track its progress with honest enthusiasm. Mainstream media acknowledged Lucas’ achievements as well. He was one of the subjects in 2004 HBO documentary Thinking XXX and the 2009 New York magazine profile of Big Apple’s greatest success stories. A naturalized US citizen since 2004, he married his longtime boyfriend Richard Winger in the fall of 2008. A loving commitment ceremony was also another act of social defiance. And zeitgeist prophecy. As New Yorkers, the couple may enjoy legal marriage equality now due to recent passage of such historic law in the state. However Michael’s statement on the matter is uncharacteristically reserved: “I was very actively involved in the campaign for gay marriage and contributed money to the cause. I’m both very proud and happy that New York finally passed this law and think it will serve as an example for other states.” When it comes to porn, politics and profits Michael Lucas knows which way is up.
What is the most persistent untruth/myth about you?
That I am an emotionless and cold person. I am actually a very warm and kind person, but I am tough.
What does a popular term “healthy lifestyle” mean to you?
No drugs. No cigarettes. No alcohol. Gym and a good night’s sleep. I eat everything except red meat. My favorite dish would be fish. My favorite beverage is water.
If you were to change career paths, what would you do?
I do not want to change career paths.
In which ways do you consider yourself to be a role model?
Alexey Timbul specially for DEPESHA.
Special thanks to Alexander Lipovtsev and David Kay for assistance on this article.