How King Cobra Got a Disney Actor to Play Gay Porn Star Brent Corrigan

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Brent Corrigan (left) and Garrett Clayton (right). Photo: Getty Images

King Cobra might be best known as the gay porn–murder movie starring James Franco, but the film's actual star is Garrett Clayton, a unknown whose previous credits include the Disney Channel original movie Teen Beach Movie and a short stint on ABC Family's The Fosters. Clayton plays real-life twink porn star Brent Corrigan, and as director Justin Kelly told Vulture in a recent interview, his sparse résumé was a boon for the film: “I definitely thought that would really help for the role, if it could feel like we're discovering someone at the same time that [the porn industry] is.”

For those unfamiliar with the story of Brent Corrigan, the film follows the broad outline of his early career: As 17-year-old Sean Paul Lockhart, he moves to Los Angeles with a fake ID, gets his start in the porn industry, and becomes an overnight — and underage — sensation. As in real life, Clayton's Corrigan gets embroiled in a legal battle with his producer Stephen (Christian Slater) over the rights to his porn name, and the film ends with rival porn producers (Franco and Keegan Allen) killing Stephen in order to work with Brent — who promptly turns them in to the police. (The real Corrigan has spoken out against the film, saying it makes a mockery of gay porn.)

“We needed to find someone who not only had the look, the vibe, the acting ability, but also would be willing to play a gay porn star,” said Kelly. “The role requires that very special mix of someone who can play the naïve Sean Lockhart from San Diego, yet also the confident and sexy Brent Corrigan. It's a difficult balance to strike.” Kelly and his producers soon found Garrett Clayton, who was eager to leave the world of family-friendly entertainment. “After Disney, I was looking for more fascinating, leveled, adult work — not to be punny,” Clayton told Vulture. “But that's what I was looking for and that's what this gave.”

In his notes to the young actor, Kelly told Clayton to strike a balance between Corrigan's two personas. "There's an early scene where he stays the first night at Stephen's house and he's being very coy before going to bed," Kelly said. "He seems very boyish and charming and cute and a little flirty, and the second the door closes, he kind of exhales and you can tell he doesn't give a fuck about this guy. He just wants to make money." (You can watch the scene exclusively here on Vulture.)

Clayton got the part by sending in an audition tape of the film's opening, a familiar audition scene in which the fresh-faced Corrigan strips for Stephen, who watched from behind a video camera. “My acting coach is doing it with me, just standing behind the camera, which is hilarious because I have to take off my clothes,” Clayton recalled. “I remember I called my mom and I described it and I said, What do you think? And she goes, Well, you left your whole life behind. You left your family and you left college and you moved to L.A., 3,000 miles away, and that was a risk, so are you going to stop taking risks now? I was like, You’re right. I'm being dumb. I'm going to take the risk and I'm going to enjoy myself."

“Even though I wrote it, while I was watching it, it felt so uncomfortable,” said Kelly. “Because it felt so sleazy. He did such a great job at being very coy and nervous and shy, but also sexy.”

More than the porn aspect, what concerned Clayton the most about the role were the shirtless scenes. He went on a “crazy” high-protein diet avoiding carbs, sugar, and dairy, paired with three-hour workouts at the gym. “I think my body was sitting up at about the weight of 175 or 180. Even before I booked this role, I started thinking, if I'm going to do this I need to start losing weight now. Like seriously losing weight,” he said. “By the time I got to set for Cobra, I think I'd lost about 28 pounds in about a month and a half.”

“I didn't want to look back and be like, Wow, someone should stop eating PB and J's,” he added. “Like if I'm going to look back when I'm 80, I wanted to be like, Wow, okay, I looked pretty fit. I used my youth right.

The end was a concern as well. The final shot of King Cobra is the money shot, as Brent Corrigan emerges in control of his life and name after the murder of his former employer. So, he shows off his butt. “We knew we wanted to have one full butt shot because it's Brent Corrigan. He has an infamous kind of blue star tattoo and we had to recreate that,” Kelly said. “I had a No duh moment where I thought, Oh God, at the end of Boogie Nights, that's when you get the big reveal of Diggler's D. It felt like a great take back my identity moment. [He] feels powerful enough to show it off.”