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Before they leave the restaurant, LaBruce and Sagat cluster around the ma'tre d' stand, shooting for a Canal+ documentary about Sagat. LaBruce explains that they first met when he was casting a photo shoot for French gay magazine T'tu. Planning to recreate Godard's Nouvelle Vague masterpiece Breathless, he looked at Sagat for the gamine Jean Seberg role. And passed.
The day after the New York City premiere, LaBruce meets me for breakfast at a West Village diner. Sagat may not make a good Jean Seberg, but LaBruce is quick to praise his acting skill, saying that for his film to work, "it has to be played completely straight, and that's what he managed to do. There wasn't one moment when he broke out of character." He then breathlessly details Sagat's ability to cry on cue and "fuck like crazy," even when paired with an actor "who was out of it on drugs and couldn't get a hard-on."
Author Dennis Cooper, who plays opposite Sagat in his other film, Christophe Honor's Man at Bath, is equally impressed with the porn star's talent. He says Sagat is "very modest and kind of insecure in a funny way, but he's a very good actor." The film is a mostly improvised piece that follows the separate paths of a gay couple as they split. Sagat's character remains in the Parisian suburb Gennevilliers while his lover jets to New York City.
"I have a long scene with him," Cooper explains. "I'm some weird American art collector in the suburbs of Paris. He comes by for money and has sex with me. On this occasion, I've just had sex, so I'm not interested, but he gets up and starts doing these poses. I tell him he's kitsch. I look at him and see everything about him in one second."
Terry Richardson's photo shoot with Sagat proceeds by the numbers. Nine Inch Nails pumps over the PA. Sagat has already cycled through six looks. He backs up to the cyclorama in unlaced army boots, pulling his black briefs well below his tan line. An arsenal of inflatable machine guns lie stacked in the background while Sagat holds a grenade. Richardson peers at the scene over his owl-like black glasses, encouraging Sagat to pull the pin with his teeth. Actual direction is supplemented with high squeals when things are working. After weeks with Sagat outside his element, it's easy to lose track of what he does, but watching him do it here is spellbinding.
This same magnetism attracted fetish couture maestro David Mason Chlopecki to begin a symbiotic business relationship with the porn star. Chlopecki clothes him for shoots and films while Sagat appears in videos and ads for Slick It Up, the designer's raunchy line. During his recent New York City visit, Sagat stayed in Chlopecki's apartment and shared his bed. The host is quick to mention that they merely slept together -- "no touchie touchie," he clarifies. In fact, he's more interested in Sagat's behavior the next morning. "He was such a great houseguest," Chlopecki says. "He did the dishes every day and made the bed. And he made it beautifully. I would see him smooth out the pillows and I think, Oh, Fran'ois cares for things."
Then he volunteers another comment, which seems telling, if unrelated. "We're MTM trannies," Chlopecki says. "If you're on hormones, it doesn't matter if you're male taking female hormones or male taking male hormones. That's a tranny. It doesn't matter which direction you're going, you're on tranny highway."
A few days after Sagat arrives in New York City, he meets me for lunch. He's dressed down in dark denim and a Slick It Up tee, his only
flourish a pair of winged Jeremy Scott Adidas high-tops. He complains about his transition from porn to film. "I was used in both projects as an object of fascination," he says, going on to sound like any anxious matinee idol. "We still don't know if I can support the movie on my shoulders," he worries. "We don't know if I have the real power or not."
This always bothers Sagat. When describing his childhood in France, he shows the same uncertainty. When he was 11 his parents divorced. "My father was not really into being my father," he explains. "He was not really into affection with me." Of his teenage years, he asks, "How do you say when you're not happy in high school? You get bullied? I was feminine. My appearance was very discreet, but my behavior was feminine. I was always shy, until I did porn when I was 25. Before that, I didn't know if I had this power or not."
He fled to Paris at 18 for fashion school. "It was a big change," he says. "I discovered so many gay people." He laughs. After graduation, he entered the fashion world, interning for Thierry Mugler, but quickly became frustrated. "I was not patient enough," he says. "I was 23, had no money, and had to work all the time. When you're an assistant, you work hard and don't get paid. It's like they're doing you a favor."
Sagat moved back in with his mother at 24, unhappy with his career. "I gave myself one year," he says. "My life didn't look like anything I wanted, so I said, Let's do something with your body instead. Let's do something with what you got now." What followed was a transition from frustrated duckling to badass swan. A year later, he moved back to Paris and began stripping. French porn studio Citebeur came calling, and he made three videos under the nom de porn Azzedine. The first movie, he says, was "a real sexual act. I was into the guy and there was one camera, so it was so much easier." Six months later, he was in the United States. Titan passed on him, but Raging Stallion did not.
"I would have preferred to work for Titan first," he says, "but I got screwed. When I was signing the contracts, I was not speaking such great English. I respected the time, but my contract was over." He had a meeting with Titan, and they didn't make the same mistake twice. Now he's on sabbatical. The last inquiry about his return was answered, "I miss you guys too, but not now. It's too soon."
So what does Sagat want? Another legit film, for starts, but the decks are stacked. In last year's roundup of 10 porn star crossovers, New York magazine listed only one male: Rocco Siffredi, who made two films with French director Catherine Breillat. Female porn stars stand better chances -- Italian porn star Cicciolina held office in the Italian parliament while continuing to make hardcore porn, and women like Traci Lords and Paris Hilton are household names, at least in grown-up households. Sagat's seems like a more circuitous route to success than the upstream/downstream migration of folks like CBS's Big Brother star Steven Daigle, who crossed over into porn, while porn stars like Jeremy Bilding and Dean Phoenix popped up on Bravo.
But none of those options appeal to Sagat. He is thinking of David Lynch. "Remember Laura Harring?" he asks of the brunette bombshell that topped critics' lists in 2001 headlining Lynch's lesbian potboiler Mulholland Drive. The film made Naomi Watts a star, but Harring was never heard from again. "She was amazing," Sagat says, "but then nothing happens. Maybe it's the same with me?"