Wednesday, January 10, 2007

T&A Q&A: Vanessa Del Rio

'Twas nearly 20 years ago that I met legendary porn star Vanessa Del Rio and interviewed her for the Washington Times. She’d quit the adult-film business to do another kind of pumping – pumping iron, as in bodybuilding. Duly remembered for her on-screen gusto, Del Rio turned out to be a cool, down-to-earth person with a brain and a sense of humor.

Cut to 1995. I'm on the writing staff of “NYPD Blue.” I decide to pitch a story about a porn star being stalked by an obsessed fan. I wanted to cast Vanessa Del Rio as Vanessa Del Rio. Amazingly, boss David Milch allowed this. (Actually, she had to do a screen test. Kid you not.)

I figured it’d be fun if Detective Martinez (Nick Turturro) happened to be a fan of hers. (Yo, policemen dig Vanessa Del Rio. Years ago, some on-duty cops in D.C. got caught waiting in line for her to sign autographs.) Alas, David Milch said it would damage Martinez as a character if we portrayed him as a porno hound, so I came up with a “buddy” who could express the requisite excitement about Martinez’s XXX encounter.

Coincidentally, there was an odd little Vanessa Del Rio revival happening in the pop culture during the mid-‘90s. She appeared in a Junior M.A.F.I.A. rap video; Vibe magazine did a write-up on her. To this day, Vanessa remains one of the living legends of porn. (Note to self: Persuade Eva Mendes to make “The Vanessa Del Rio Story.” It’s the role she was born to play!)

Between the filming of that “NYPD Blue” episode and its February ’96 airdate, I rang up Vanessa Del Rio at her Brooklyn home and interviewed her for a now-defunct website. Here’s that interview:
DAVID MILLS: I never got a chance to ask you how you enjoyed doing the "NYPD Blue" episode. Was it a good experience?

VANESSA DEL RIO: It was nerve-wracking because I was so nervous. (laughs) I was overwhelmed by it. My mouth felt like it was full of marbles, my tongue was all tied up. But then after a while I got loose.

MILLS: The fact that you'd perfomed in more than a hundred movies, that didn’t make you comfortable being in front of the camera this time?

DEL RIO: Basically, being in front of a camera I have done before. I have even said in my interviews that what I was worried about most, even when I did the X films, was being able to say my lines right. So that's the most nerve-wracking thing. Just watching everybody work, how many takes they do, because we never did that [in porn]. It was just two takes, three takes, then hope for the best, you know. And this was like fifteen rehearsals and fifteen takes.

MILLS: Did you get to talk with any of the main actors?

DEL RIO: I keep telling everybody: My one big line with Jimmy Smits is "Excuse me." (laughs) They're all asking me, "How is everybody?" I say, "They're all so sweet." Everybody was really nice. I got everybody to sign my script.

MILLS: Could this lead to more acting work for you? Would you want that?

DEL RIO: Yeah. I mean, I wasn't looking for it. Everybody's kind of shocked that I wasn't going to stay out there [in California] and look for more work. I didn't even have my SAG card, this is the first thing I've done. I hadn't been in front of a camera in like ten years.

If something comes of it, sure, I'd love it. They work so hard that I say: Gee, what's the motivating factor in wanting to be a movie star? It cannot be money, because there could be a million people and maybe two make it, right? It's definitely a drive of the ego. Because you can go into real estate and start making money, so that's not the motivating factor, to become rich and famous. I think it's famous, then rich.

MILLS: I hear Vibe magazine got a ton of feedback from that article they did on you. How many letters did they get? Did they let you know?

DEL RIO: I got about two thousand letters.

MILLS: Wow. When did you realize you're now kind of a hip-hop icon, getting mentioned in rap songs?

DEL RIO: I never really get full of myself or anything like that. I just hear about it and I think it's neat. I've met a few of the groups, as way back as Digital Underground. I've been mentioned in a lot of stuff. Who else? Chubb Rock, just a whole bunch of them.

MILLS: And the video you did – ?

DEL RIO: "Get Money," the Junior M.A.F.I.A. thing? That just crossed over onto MTV. I ran into the editor, oddly enough, at my bank here in my neighborhood. He says, "Oh I edited the video. Do you know that it's like really popular?" The other day I was watching MTV late. What is it, "Rap MTV"?

MILLS: "Yo MTV Raps"?

DEL RIO: Right, right. And I was clicking to see if I was on there. And sure enough, there I was.

Somebody called me about doing another rap video. But I kinda have to sift through and see which ones, because I don't want to just do it for the sake of doing it. I want to know who they are.

MILLS: When we talked almost ten years ago, when you quit porn, you were into bodybuilding and you wanted to do self-help and self-esteem lectures for women. What became of that?

DEL RIO: I was trying to investigate about doing stuff in the prisons. But there was a lot of red tape; it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought. I actually went to an NA [Narcotics Anonymous] meeting, because somebody was trying to help me figure out how to get into the system that way. Still, it was kind of hard to get in there.

I still work out. I'm not into bodybuilding the way I used to be, because that was an obsession, and how long can you keep an obsession up? I was supposed to compete. I had a competition all set up, but then I also got an offer to go to Italy to do a signing and some conventions. And their seven-course meals blew my diet. (laughs) And there's no way you're gonna refuse an Italian a meal, you know.

MILLS: How do you make a living now?

DEL RIO: I still dance a little. I do autograph signings at video stores. And I do a magazine or two to keep my name out there. And that's it. No movies or anything like that.

MILLS: Had you ever been tempted to go back into X-rated films?

DEL RIO: No. Just recently though I was made an offer, and I turned it down. It's just not worth it to me. I've found other ways, like the dancing and the autograph signings. The movies have never tempted me. For one, they're all in California and I live here in New York, so I don't know anybody in the business anymore, it's completely changed. Just recently I went to a Consumer Electronics Show where everybody was there, so I was made a few offers. And I'm like, nope, nope, nope. I'm not interested in going back to making those movies.

MILLS: Some people might say, if you're doing topless dancing, what's the difference between that and the movies?

DEL RIO: Well, it's the difference between stage and film, I suppose. The moment is yours on stage. Doing the movies, you're having sex, and it's not safe these days. Stage is safe, you know. It's just you up there.

MILLS: Last question. You say you don't get full of yourself, but you've got to face the fact, particularly now with the videos and the Vibe magazine and the two thousand letters – Out of all the women who've ever made X-rated movies, what is it about you, do you think, that ten years after you stopped making them, people are still talking about you, and are interested in Vanessa?

DEL RIO: I'm still trying to figure that out. I'm like: What'd I do? There's gotta be something. So I don't know. I guess it was an abandon that I did it with? I can't really pinpoint that. I'm just grateful that it's happening.


Alan Sepinwall said...

Best line of that script, and one I still use in everyday conversation: After listening to Lesniak whine and bitch about Vanessa Del Rio and porn, Martinez exhales and says, "It's a large nation."

Undercover Black Man said...

Wish I could take credit for that line, Alan. But it just rings of Milch, don't it?

Anonymous said...

I didn't get the "large nation" comment. Can you please explain? Anyway, I believed Vanessa in think the detective just uses his buddy as an escuse. It's just lame the detective can't admit he's a fan too (for example, Samuel L. Jackson and Vanessa both performed in Soul Men (2008), and Jackson had no problem admitting he's a fan!).

Exxxit said...

Hello, I'm a documentary film maker, and I'm looking to interview Vanessa for my film called "Exxxit: Life after porn." We're on IMDB:
I was hoping to get in touch with her, do you have an email address I can contact her at? Please feel free to email me at

Exxxit said...

Oh, and I'd be happy to give you a "special thanks" credit for helping us out. Thanks!