In 2012 I was working on an installment of my short-lived VICE documentary series Skinema, featuring Michelle Sinclair. Today Sinclair is one of the actresses in Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice, but back then she was known as Belladonna. At the time she was at something of a crossroads in her life. As Belladonna, she was arguably one of the most successful and sexual beings to ever do it on camera, but at the time we were filming she was in the last days of her XXX career, as well as the twilight of her marriage to longtime collaborator and father to her child, Aiden Riley. We talked extensively on and off camera about which direction her life would take at a time when the world seemed spread out in front of her.
Over the past year and a half we have stayed in touch and exchanged parenting tips and baby stories. During that time she mentioned a few possible new career paths: aerial silks performer, Cirque du Soleil acrobat, sexual instructor, and the list goes on. Then one day out of the blue she texted me: "I have amazing news. You're not going to believe it."
She went on to tell me that she had landed a meaty role in PTA's stoner gumshoe flick Inherent Vice, which I like to describe as a reimagining of a Big Lewbowski prequel starring Joaquin Phoenix.
Her legions of adoring fans have no doubt been wondering what she's been doing since leaving the biz, and I'm sure they were shocked to see her pop up, fully clothed, in the trailer for Inherent Vice, so I decided to call up the star of Dick Sauce and My Ass Is Haunted to discuss how this new chapter in her life is going.
VICE: At the end of the final pat of your Skinema episode you walked off into the sunset, unsure what was next. Two years later, how are you? And how the hell did you end up in a Paul Thomas Anderson movie?
Michelle Sinclair: Well, I'm healthy, my daughter is well, and I have an amazing, incredible partner. You and I talked about me wanting romance when we did our last interview, and I never thought it would be like this. I definitely feel like I've found a life partner.
As for Inherent Vice, I'm friends with Joaquin Phoenix and randomly got a text from him saying: "I'm working on this project. Is it OK if I give the casting director your information? Because they're interested in casting you for a part in this movie." I was like, "Sure. Great." When they called I found out it was a Paul Thomas Anderson movie and I started freaking out. Then I asked what kind of scene it was, and of course it was a sex scene. At that point I was just not interested in being naked on camera or doing the things that I am known for, so I told her I wasn't interested in that part, but maybe they could find something different. She relayed the message, and Paul was like, "What are you talking about? This is a major motion picture. Are you crazy?" He couldn't understand how I could say no. I wanted to be a part of the film—it's Paul Thomas Anderson and he's an amazing filmmaker! So I thought about it, and figured if it wasn't a porn scene and instead maybe a softcore, tasteful-looking thing, then maybe I could do it. So I said yes.
How similar was the real Hollywood casting couch to the one used in the porn world?
Ha! Well, that depends on the porn company, I think. But no, it was very professional. I went in and met with a woman named Cassandra, and she videotaped me reading the part for Clancy Sherlock.
No! You would say that! It was just a dialogue part, and there was a ton of dialogue, actually. Then there's a bit where Joaquin walks in the door and sees me and Tariq fucking in his office. It was a very quick kind of thing. There wasn't meant to be a lot of focus on us having sex, which was another reason why I thought I could do it. I ended up reading and Paul loved it, so he had me do a reading with Joaquin.
I originally filmed a great scene with Joaquin and another guy, Mars Crain. They were really happy because I was super prepared and nailed it, but they ended up recasting the guy, Mars Crain, so we had to reshoot. The second time around there wasn't as much dialogue, and in the end the sex scene didn't even make the cut…which I'm very happy about. And listen, I get it. There's a lot of me having sex out there. You can't take away everything I've done, but it made me feel like people who are watching this and don't know Belladonna will just see some woman. They don't know who I am, and that gives me a chance to be someone different. It gives me a chance to be Michelle Sinclair.
Is mainstream acting your new calling?
I would love that, but I don't think it would be the only thing I'd want to do. I would love to be able to do other things. I've always thrived on variety. I'm thankful for people who give me opportunities to do something completely different. I don't want to be typecast and I don't want to be naked, which is what most people would want to cast me for.
I could see why you'd want to shy away from that, but maybe six months ago you were thinking about becoming a sex-positive speaker/instructor.
Since I retired three years ago it's been a trip. I don't know if it's like this for any other girl who leaves the adult industry, but for me, I'm trying to find myself. I'm trying to find out where my place is in this world and it's confusing and it's changing all the time. So no, I've thought about the sex-positive speaker route but I've also thought about a lot of things. I'm trying not to put so much pressure on myself to figure out what the answer is. I feel like I'm at the place where most people are when they're just out of college, or getting ready to go to college, and figuring out what it is they really want to do with their lives. I guess I'm doing it backward.
So instead of the stripper putting herself through college you're a former porn star trying to put herself through life.
Yeah, and trying to navigate that has been very, very hard. I dropped out of high school, I didn't go to college… porn was my life, my career, everything. And I was so blessed to be so successful in that world, because I went from having barely anything to being super financially successful. Walking away from that was very hard but it was what I really wanted. I wish I could say that I had it all figured out but I don't. I can tell you I'm a very involved, committed, amazing mother and that is my number one priority. That's my job right now.
Are you ever tempted to go back to porn?
No. Not at all. You know what I think about? What I was thriving on when I was in porn? The variety. The traveling. The performing. I loved performing. That I miss, being in front of an audience dancing or performing aerial acrobatics. I loved that. I loved meeting and connecting with people. I miss that and think that's what appeals to me so much about acting—you can have variety.
There is still a Belladonna imprint from Evil Angel with your ex-husband, Aiden Riley, at the helm. Do you have any involvement with that?
No, but he's still producing a movie every month like he was before, and I think financially he's doing fine. But I think it's not as exciting for him because he doesn't have that muse, or me as the creative director. I'd come up with all the ideas and he'd make them happen. Or we'd co-collaborate. It's nice to have that person to bounce off of.
Does he ever bring you garbage bags full of letters from fans wanting you back? Do people even write letters anymore? Or is it just comments on Twitter and Instagram?
Ha. No. I don't know if Aiden gets emails like that. Even if he did I don't know if he'd give them to me. He knows that I really want to be disconnected from it. I recently got back on Instagram when Inherent Vice came out to connect with people, but for a long time I didn't have Twitter or Instragram, or even internet for that matter. I even went without a cell phone for three months and it was beautiful. I really enjoyed that.
There was a little tip of the hat to your former self in Inherent Vice, where your character prefers two guys at the same time. What was your reaction when you read that?
I didn't have a reaction. I just thought, Well, that makes sense if you know who Belladonna is. That's perfect. I just kind of giggled when I saw it in the script.
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