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"I like to be as naked as possible," says Garrett Clayton. "If friends come over, I'll just have on basketball shorts with no socks, no shirt, and maybe underwear. I hate clothes."
It's a different act entirely, though, to shed layers on camera, possibly for millions to see -- which is what Clayton does as the lead in King Cobra, director Justin Kelly's knowingly sleazy biopic about the life of former gay-porn sensation Brent Corrigan (born Sean Paul Lockhart). Says Clayton, "I was just hoping I wasn't gonna look back and be like, 'Wow, you really shouldn't have had any more Buffalo Wild Wings.' "
The actor, 25, needn't worry. Exuding a latter-day James Dean hunkery and evoking that half-chiseled, barely legal danger that captivated Corrigan's millions of fans in the mid-2000s (one character describes him as a "twunk"), Clayton came armed with all the right assets to portray Corrigan. In a sense, he's exactly what the film needed: an ex-Mouseketeer ready to check his innocence at the dressing room door.
From Christina Aguilera to Zac Efron, former Disney stars have long been ditching their roots to explore a sexualized maturity. But few make the leap like they were hurled by a slingshot. It was only in 2013 that Clayton was starring in Teen Beach Movie, a chaste Disney Channel musical full of gum-snapping kids in capris. Now, the Michigan native is front and center in a movie in which he dominates orgies, sleeps with Christian Slater (who plays Stephen, a fictionalized version of slain porn producer -- and Corrigan mentor -- Bryan Kocis), and flirts with James Franco (who, as a rival producer, is shown being rigorously topped by Pretty Little Liars' Keegan Allen).
"I don't view sex as taboo," says Clayton, "but it was important that there wasn't sex for no reason. When a sexual act was happening, Justin and I talked about how it promoted the plot. If it didn't, I wouldn't do it."
Inevitably, Clayton now finds himself in similar territory to his costar Franco, where he's starring in gay and gay-slanted projects that call his own orientation into question (Clayton is also playing Link Larkin in NBC's upcoming Hairspray Live! -- based on the John Waters classic). Just don't expect an answer. "I don't really like talking about my personal life," Clayton says. "I like a certain amount of veil. I've been very lucky this year. I haven't been brought down because people are focused on who I'm dating, what I'm eating, or what handbag is the best handbag -- that's so cheap to me. But if others want to open up about their personal lives, that is their choice. It's not for me to judge."
Clayton also chose to set judgment aside when playing Corrigan, even when, he says, the former porn prince took to Twitter and criticized, among other things, the actor's "boxcut Speedos." From the get-go, Kelly and his creative team told Clayton they preferred that he steer clear of Corrigan so he could avoid mimicry and develop his own character.
"We never wanted to mock it or make it seem like we were making a joke out of it," Clayton says of the film's dicey subject matter.
As if drawing his casting cues from many a gay man's id, Kelly rounds out King Cobra's ensemble with Molly Ringwald, who plays Stephen's sister, and Alicia Silverstone, who stars as Clayton's shielded, then rudely awakened, mom (Corrigan's life took a publicly scandalous turn when he outed his mentor as a pedophile).
How does Clayton's own mother feel about her son baring (almost) all on film?
"She's dying to see this movie," he says. "She read an interview with Melanie Griffith about Dakota Johnson and Fifty Shades of Grey where Melanie said, 'I could never see my daughter do things like that.' My mom got pissed about it and told me, 'I want people to know your work is separate from you as a person, and I support you in your career and your choices.' "
One of those choices: to have just a single ass shot in his contract -- and (spoiler alert) King Cobra saves it for the end. Adorned with a temporary version of Corrigan's star tattoo on one cheek, the actor approached the scene with his token casualness and a mind for longevity. "The makeup artist is painting my ass, and the AD is like, 'We're losing light!' " Clayton recalls with a laugh. "And I'm like, 'This is gonna project about 40 feet high, and I'm gonna see it for the rest of my life. So let's get it right.'"
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