Michael Lucas is not exactly what you'd call a "born diplomat." He's opinionated, arrogant, self-absorbed, and, at times, downright obnoxious. (In fact, if this reporter had three weeks to live, he'd spend them with Lucas, because every minute with him seems like a year). But say what you will about Lucas, he's a master of public relations. Somehow, this immigrant from Russia managed to not only become a well-known porn star, producer and director… he's become his own brand. Lucas, who churns out 30 movies a year (that's about one every week and half), has managed to stay relevant in an industry where people's shelf life roughly equals that of a carton of milk.
His latest project is called Undressing Israel, and contrary to its suggestive title, it's the first movie in which his subjects don't lunge into a 69 position within seconds of meeting each other. Undressing Israel is a documentary about gay life in the Holy Land. And what do you know? It's actually quite good.
Lucas, doing his best Oprah, interviews everyone from soldiers to drag queens, even an Arab-Israeli journalist. And even though some of his questions are hard to understand, the movie manages to tell a cohesive story.
Lucas, who's Jewish, shines a light on what it's like to be gay in Israel. The country, which is the size of New Jersey, is one of the most advanced places on earth when it comes to gay issues. A recent survey by American Airlines and GayCities named Tel Aviv the gayest city in the world.
This isn't Lucas' first visit to Israel. In fact, one could argue his porn flick, Men of Israel, had something to do with the spike in gay tourism in Tel Aviv. But this is the first time Lucas is going legit. We spoke about what made him button up and pop his mainstream cherry.
So, this your first movie where nobody takes their clothes off. Is the porn business going through a slump?
That must be the first time in history that someone has suggested that it’s easier to make money with documentaries than with porn! Actually, it’s only because my adult-film company is doing so well that I have the luxury of working on things like Undressing Israel, or on my current project: a documentary about the LGBT community in Russia and homophobic laws that have recently been introduced there.
This was a rather ambitious project. Was it harder than directing porn? (No pun intended!)
I like to take on ambitious projects. I’m a very ambitious person! And yes, of course, it is much harder then directing porn. Making a documentary takes months of work, whereas you can turn an adult film around in a week. And I don’t actually direct or deal with the production aspects at Lucas Entertainment anymore. We have an excellent in-house team that handles that now.
Why did you decide to do this movie?
I have been frustrated for some time with what I see as a general lack of understanding about gay life in Israel. At the start of the movie, I interview people in Times Square; you can see how little people know about this subject. And no other documentarians, to my knowledge, had done a film like this before. Many people only think of Israel in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that conflict often presents Israel as indifferent to human rights. But in fact, Israel is very liberal and progressive—more than any other country in the region—and its thriving gay community demonstrates that.
You've been an outspoken advocate of Israel. You're also Jewish. Do you think people might think you're biased?
I’m also gay, but you didn’t ask me if that makes me biased in looking at the question of gay rights! Of course gay people have a greater interest in gay issues, and of course Jewish people have a greater interest in Israel. Including me: I’m very proud of what Israel has accomplished. But this documentary is not about my opinions. Everything in it is factual and easily verifiable. When it comes to gay rights, Israel is more progressive then the United States and many European countries. That has nothing to do with my being Jewish or gay; it’s simply true.
What do you want people to take away from your movie?
I hope people see that Israel is a great country to visit. I’ve never met a person who has been there and not wanted to go back.
You've shot a few porn movies in Israel, how was this experience different?
I have had absolute freedom there and have never faced a problem filming either type of movie. Everyone has been encouraging and eager to help.
Has it been sold anywhere?
It’s currently making the rounds of film festivals around the world. Hard copies and video-on-demand rentals will be available at the end of July.
Why did you decide to include yourself in the film? Was that a deliberate choice?
I act as a kind of host in the movie, but I don't give my own opinions. Basically, I included myself because I’m well known in the gay community, and that makes it easier to attract audiences. Also, Barbara Walters wasn't available.
Your views have sometimes been called extreme. You've been very vocal about your views on the Arab world. Were you worried people in Israel, especially liberal gays, might not want you representing them?
I do have a problem with aspects of the Muslim world, particularly religious fundamentalism and its effects on human rights. In many Muslim countries, gay people are being persecuted and killed, prisoners are being mutilated and women are suppressed and treated as second-class citizens. But these “problems” stem from the fact that I am passionately liberal when it comes to social issues. Liberals in Israel understand this and had no problem participating in my film.
You shoot porn flicks in a matter of a few days. How long did it take to shoot this movie?
I went to Israel twice, as I was not fully satisfied with the footage I got on my first trip. Then the editing took about three months. The whole thing took about a year from start to finish.
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Israel while shooting this movie?
I have been going to Israel since 2004, so I was not especially surprised by anything in the film. It confirmed what I already knew.
What's next for you?
As I mentioned earlier, I'm preparing a new documentary in Russia, and I hope it will help bring attention to the suffering of gay people there. I was born in Russia and spent half of my life there, so I think I’m the right person to make this; I’m sure there are better filmmakers out there, but they don’t seem to find these topics as urgent as I do, so I took the liberty of doing it myself. Other than that, I have no big plans. At this point I’m happy with what I have, and I’m just enjoying my life. It's important to learn how to do that.
For more on Undressing Israel, check out the film’s website and Facebook page: www.undressingisrael-themovie.com & www.facebook.com/UndressingIsrael