“King Cobra”is a campy thriller based on a real-life murder scandal in the gay porn industry that took place in the late 2000’s. Christian Slater stars as Stephen (based on real-life Bryan Kocis), a closeted gay porn mogul who grooms a young talent, Sean Paul Lockhart, aka, Brent Corrigan, (Garrett Clayton) whom he also falls in love with.
Corrigan soon feels smothered and exploited by Stephen, and attempts to break out on his own; but the terms of his contract limit him. When rival porn producers the Viper Boys, made up of Joe (James Franco, who also produced the film) and his lover Harlow (Keegan Allen), try to poach Corrigan, violence ensues.
The film, written and directed by Justin Kelly (“I am Michael”) has garnered comparisons to “Boogie Nights." Fun fact: throwback actors Alicia Silverstone (who, in "Clueless" famously says "Let's blow off seventh and eighth, go to the mall, have a calorie fest, and see the new Christian Slater") and Molly Ringwald also co-star.
We sat down with Slater, who has been busy playing mind games with viewers as Mr. Robot in the eponymously named USA show, to talk about the film and competing with James Franco in the sex scenes department. The 47-year-old actor, while more known for playing hearthrob/villains, a la "Heathers" — "it's these damn eyebrows, I guess," he says—tells us that for his largely sympathetic turn as Stephen, he drew on Mama Rose from "Gypsy."
What drew you to the project?
Christian Slater: I worked with James Franco on “The Adderall Diaries” and we got along very well. He presented me with this project and I thought 'Wow, this is unique and different than anything I’ve done before.' So I was thrilled, excited and nervous.
I really liked the character. I thought, if I was going to go into something like this, I would have to identify with the human, and I did. I liked that it wasn’t stereotypical. [Justin Kelly and I] talked about the sexual aspects and he said he was going to be handling everything with dignity and grace. That was the sense I got, and that he was letting me off the hook a little bit—James Franco would be covering it, he was going to do more of the heavy lifting there. And then I got competitive! I felt like if I was going to get involved with this, I wanted to have some fun and take some risks.
Your portrayal of Stephen is maybe more sympathetic than his real-life counterpart. As an actor, you’re probably better known for playing villains.
I did “Bed of Roses,” I was extraordinarily romantic in that. I did “Untamed Heart”— it was like "Beauty and the Beast!" I save the girl! In “Broken Arrow,” I was the action figure. I’ve done all kinds of things. But for some reason...it’s these damn eyebrows, I guess. There’s definitely an element of mischievousness and anarchy to a great deal of the characters that I play, with “Heathers” and “Pump up the Volume.”
With this role, I looked at “Star 80” as a good template for this project, and “Boogie Nights,” and “Gypsy,” as well. There was that element of being the Mama Rose in this film. This was my “Gypsy,” and Brent was Gypsy Rose Lee, I was gonna make him a star. The Ethel Merman moment I have with him [singing] in the car, that was definitely one of those improv moments, because that was something I grew up with. My mother was always singing and talking about Gypsy Rose Lee and Mama Rose. So it was my opportunity to play that.
In the film, there’s a theme of characters grappling with shame about being gay.
With my character, for sure. He’s a guy who wears a mask. He wears a mask with his family. His sister’s trying to set him up on a date with a woman. This guy has clearly kept some secrets he’s had to walk around with for years, and the agony and pain of that is extraordinary. That’s something I wanted to tap into.
[The film] is certainly an example that we've come a long way. I've gotta take my hat off to James Franco for giving filmmakers the opportunity to tell these stories. The direction the country has gone in has definitely led to people being more comfortable to be able to tell all kinds of stories, and hopefully we can keep moving in that direction.