Silhouetted by the bright San Fernando Valley sunlight, John stood outside of his hotel room as he lit his Camel unfiltered cigarette and took a deep drag of it. Looking down at the ground, he was deep in thought for the moment. A jangle of nerves, he was preparing to film his biggest feature film with his own money, and the Northridge quake had already postponed his schedule. The house that would serve as our location for the first two days of filming was damaged; the interior walls and ceilings cracked from the 6.7 seismic event.
John turned his head to me and smiled. “It doesn’t matter.” He said it directly to me but it seemed he was saying it to himself and to the universe. “This is a movie that will be something you can look back later with pride. All the other movies you’ll do after this won’t matter. This will be the one that lives long past you.”
Kathleen, John’s wife, was kind enough to drop by yesterday and give me a DVD copy of the ‘John Leslie Tribute’. I sat there watching and remembering one of my many experiences with John. He had chosen me to play the lead character in his first feature film Dogwalker. When John had passed suddenly in December 2010, I was unable to attend the memorial here in the Southland as I was living in France. I was grateful for this opportunity to see him again, albeit on TV, and to have some time to reflect.
The reasons John is such a compelling person to me are many. He embodied something you just don’t see anymore.
He carried himself with class. He had passion for everything he did. You can feel it in the way he blows on his harmonica. If you’ve never seen John play the blues, you are missing a fine experience. A long time fan of the blues myself, we both shared a veneration for Muddy Waters, among other great blues players.
You can see his passion in his art. His watercolor work of various street scenes in San Francisco’s Chinatown are simply outstanding.
He had a style no one else had. His movies have a texture many try to emulate but never fully capture. He was opinionated but relaxed. But he could argue his point of view with reason, without the need for histrionics.
He was generous yet demanding. I recall one of the last things he said to me after I left our group read through of the script with Jamie Gillis, Jon Dough and Christina Angel. He told me “I don’t want you fucking any chicks during the time we’re making this film.” He pointed down at my cock. “Those loads are mine. I paid for them. I want every cent I paid.” He was making light of it but he expected me to give everything I had on the project. He was putting his own ass on the line and he demanded the same commitment from me and the others in the film.
He had a passion for making movies. He wanted to tell a story, not just shoot pretty pictures. The mystery of the encounter, the buildup, the lusting, the anticipation of sex was just as important to show as the sex act itself. What was implied but not said had far more weight than just speaking. Dogwalker, The Voyeur and Fresh Meat series are filled with sexual tension. Many times you would catch him watching a girl for a matter of moments and say “Look how sexy she is.” He was enamored by the female creature.
Being well rounded and having outside interests other than porn enabled him to have an impact on people. His love for his wife Kathleen, his art, music, cooking, entertaining friends; all these things shaped him and made him bigger than the sum of his work. As Kathleen recounted, “He gave me everything I wanted, and I didn’t want much.”
I think there is a model here to follow. Be passionate. Be compelling. Carry oneself with class. Have other interest totally unrelated to porn. You’ll be fuller, content and happy. You will be bigger than the sum of your parts.
A moment came as she looked down at the ground. A pause. Reflecting to herself, she looked up at me and then past my right shoulder, as if someone else was there behind me. She spoke.
“We had a great run together.”
Though she spoke aloud, I’m sure it was not for my benefit. Maybe a bit for hers, but I believe it was all to John.