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B/A PODCAST: STOYA meets MOTHERLAND

In an open talk with Ilija Milošević, Stoya speaks about her first crossover to mainstream film, sex workers, America today, Serbia, adult industry, her own company TrenchcoatX and feminism.

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STOYA (porn superstar, l’enfant terrible of the adult industry today, independent and succesfull business woman, actress, director, witty columnist and writer, unpretentious and extremely effective fighter against injustice) is in Belgrade, working on a long feature film Ederlezi Rising, SF story by Dimitrije Vojnov directed by Lazar Bodroža.

We met quite early in the morning near the Parliament for a quick chat before her rehearsal – the conversation could have lasted forever, but we somehow stopped after an hour or so. One of the conclusions we both agreed on was that we are – Good people! Good HUMANS!

And why?

You’re in Serbia, you have some roots here, and this is not the first time for you here? So, how do you like us, how do you like Belgrade?

I love it here. I was talking to my business partner, Kayden Kross, and she asked me how it was. I was just in Athens right before, and I said: it’s the most amazing thing; in Greece and Serbia, I haven’t been harassed on the street once! I don’t speak either of the languages, but you can still tell from the tone and the manners that nobody said anything nasty or misogynist to me, and people are just really respectful and treat me like an actual person which is super-great. And it’s beautiful here!

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You’re here on business; you’re working on a film here? It’s not an adult movie, it’s actually a Sci-Fi story, an art-house film set in space. We don’t know much about it and I`d like to keep the suspense building up. However, tell us what you are doing today and what’s it like for you in this process?

It’s a science fiction story where this astronaut goes to space with a very life-like robot – I’m the robot. I’m sure Dimitrije, the writer, would have his own ideas about everything that’s going on in the script, but the thing that is most interesting to me is how it addresses male-female gender relations. One of the great things about any Science Fiction is that you can take things that happen, like war and prejudice and sexism and all that, and you put it in this crazy universe so it’s removed from people’s day-to-day experience and they’re able to look at these issues without being immediately invested in them personally. What was interesting to me was that there are two people in the spaceship and all of different dynamics play out in a way that maybe is easier to examine what really happens than if it was a comedy or if the scenes took place in a kitchen between husband and wife.

Sunglasses: @dusanreljin :)

A photo posted by Stoya (@stoya) on

How do you see this moment in your career? What made you decide to do this?

I was approached about the film 3 years ago which was at a very different point in my life, I was under contract to an adult production studio, and so really all I had to do was shoot maybe 30 days a year and of course all the promotional stuff where you have to keep up with the internet, keep up with your physical appearance, etc. I thought: yeah, awesome, I’ve got all the time in the world! And it’s been years and years and now I’ve just launched a business and also still performing but for myself and everything’s crazy…

This may be your first crossover to mainstream cinematography, but you’re not lonely in this. There are more than a few of your colleagues who tried out in the mainstream. I can imagine it can be rather difficult to re-present yourself and break the prejudice, prior to expressing your creativity and artistic skills.  How is this going for you? How do you see your own creative process shaping?

With my work in the adults, I always approached it more as a performer rather than an actor, so it’s much more like dancing to me than acting, or what I imagined acting was like. So, on one level, it’s doing something that to me seems completely different, it’s a completely different media; rather than getting in front of the camera and doing a thing – it’s getting in front of the camera and creating a thing. It’s hard. It takes a lot of work. But it’s fun and interesting and I think it’ll be totally worth having done and I’m excited to be doing it. It’s completely different.

On the other hand, with my colleagues in adults who have done television or Hollywood films or independent films, the women tend to play themselves, or prostitutes, strippers, or sex workers of some kind, and then there’s James Deen in The Canyons who played the overly sexualized sociopath – probably the male version of being cast as a stripper or a hooker.

Ederlezi Rising is a love story between a man and a woman, so there are sexual elements to it, but I’m not playing a robot-hooker. I waited until someone who’s interested would cast me in something interesting that wasn’t from the field of characters that are expected.

 

How does the American market, being still very stiff and conservative, react to these crossovers?

First of all, the USA is a huge country. Each state, or even in case of California, within one state you have different cultures, you have Silicone Valley up north and then Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley, and there’s all the stuff in the middle. So, people react in a variety of different ways. But still, people think that we ought to just go away and that any discussion of adult performers outside of the porn trade publication or sex stores, is potentially setting a horrible example that’s going to morally corrupt their children. And there are other people that see it as sex being a part of life, and sexuality is a part of life. In the US, being a country which the Europeans colonized for religious persecution, you have this illusion of separation of Church and State, but it’s such a load of crap. All the laws and cultural models were largely built by people who are really religiously uptight and moralizing. So, there are also people who see it as: Oh, finally we’re treating sex like it’s a thing, so we can all eventually be more functional and healthy about it. Imagine if we treated food the way we treat sex in the US, we’d all be either anorexic or obese. Well, maybe the US does treat food as sex! It’s terrible!

Is it common for your fellow porn stars to experiment in mainstream or any other film industry?

It certainly seems like it’s more common in the past few years with HBO and Showtime starting to show more nudity in prime-time program, or at least toplessness. When you need an actress but you don’t really need much acting out of them, but you do need them to be really chill about showing their breasts, then you go to porn and you cast a performer. So, there’s been a lot more cameos on the shows and so on.

So, new genres might actually develop from it. Adult industry is very influential to all of us, so this opening of new territories might actually open up space for some new creative thinking?

It might. You have Lars von Trier, though I don’t know if you can call Lars von Trier mainstream, but he’s one of the more recent instances that are showing more explicit sexuality – but, it’s never sexy in my opinion. It’s graphic, but it kind of hurts. Also, Gaspar Noe with Enter the Void, you have these extended sex scenes with the lights coming out of people’s genitals – it’s not sexy at all, and I’m like: How are you making a sex scene, like, a worst thing ever? So, I’m interested to see where such a project comes from and how they manage to achieve it – something that has serious narrative and layers of storyline, but they don’t shy away from the sex scene when they get to it. I’m really curious to see when that’s going to happen.

Being myself a man of porn, I`d use this opportunity to dig up a little bit more on your own creative processes? I believe that porn is the most direct of all film genres, as it’s triggering our own very intimate thoughts, and we then create and enjoy our own stories for a very precise goal – sexual excitement. Being psychologically provoked in this way, we modify our own very personal fantasies, and basically create our own films in which we’re casted along with actors, like you. So, it’s a fifty-fifty equal relationship between a performer and the viewer in creation of the effect of these stories. How do you see your role as an initiator of this process, the first creator of these imaginative circumstances in which we develop these “intimate productions” together?

For the first seven years of my career, largely what I did was show up and have the director tell me what they wanted me to do and then do that. As I started moving into directing, the first project that I actually shot was what I thought should be just very beautiful, just visually and esthetically interesting, with no plot, no dialogue, just some gorgeous people doing sexual things together. And then once we were in the editing process, I was looking at it and realized: Oh, that second scene in the project called Graphic Depictions, why did I need to show the audience? Why did I put them in masks?

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Still frame from GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS, episode 2

Essentially, when you boil down to what it is that I do, it’s professionally being looked at. I thought: God, I spent a decade of my life being professionally looked at! One of the things that’s so weird about it when it’s professional and on a larger scale, is that you don’t know who’s looking at you.

As a teenager, you’d go out to a small party at your friend’s house and you’re all looking at each other, but you know all the people and it’s like an equal footing of knowledge about each other. Now I have no idea who all of these people are. Sometimes they might share their background or something, or have a description of who they are, but it’s the Internet, so they can be completely full of shit. So, they’re all masked, and you take off your clothes and you see the audience jerking off behind these masks, and the curtain closes and there’s a sex scene that happens behind the curtain but you can still see some of the people or shadows of them still jerking off. On set, you’re only being looked at by people who are on set, but then you always know in the back of your head that it is going to be edited and put online and ideally, everyone in the world sees it… everyone who’s over the age of 18 and lives in a place where it’s legal to view such things. So, I still don’t know how I feel about that relationship.

It’s a very strange place in the world to go to work and serve as something for people to project their own desires, needs and ideas about how things work onto.

I get everything; from women coming up to me and saying they admire me so much because I am such a stone-cold capitalist in a world under the glass ceiling where women make 70 cents to a man’s dollar, and I’m laughing on a pile of cash, and I’d be like: You have no idea how little I make. I’m also really bad at capitalism’. But, OK. If it inspires you to think that there’s a woman in the world who’s beating capitalism and taking men’s wallets, so if that’s what helps you wake up in the morning and go to work and maybe negotiate a better salary, I’m not going to disillusion you.

How do you deal with this intimacy that your viewers believe they share with you?

It’s very complex. Before I was a performer in porn, much less a known one, I was a young woman. At least in America, there is definitely this entitlement that men feel to your body, to leer at it, comment on it, touch it and sometimes worse, so that feeling of: Oh, you’re just going to use me and my existence in the world for whatever is going to serve your needs. That was sort of a fact of life for me, but then there are other times where there is that intimacy with people, who, for example, follow me on Twitter. I met some amazing people. Sometimes, between the Internet and the amount of visibility that I have which is higher than average, I’ve been able to make amazing friends. There is actual friend intimacy there, so it’s super-interesting.

When I was watching your work, the first impression I got was that you were very present and sincere in a way, so if it’s acting then it’s a super high-quality acting…

It’s not acting.

I supposed so and that’s why I asked you that question about intimacy because, even though most of the genres you were working in were not really my type of thing, I could feel the connection. That’s quite unique, especially in adult industry and not to mention the mainstream; there’s a lot of bad acting there! However, do you think this kind of practice is different in other genres that you’re now exploring?

Very. With the sex scene in pornography, I always needed to be able to choose the performer that I was going to be working with. I couldn’t just pick them out of a book or an agency website, I needed to meet them for a minute at least, to be able to say – yes, I genuinely think I’ll enjoy having sex with this person, or at least be interested in it.

Is this an exception?

I think so. When I started performing, I had my terms. I needed to feel confident in my ability to do it without hurting me emotionally or damaging me as a person. I don’t have the ability to intimately do something I don’t want to. It’s the same with my personal relationships, I’m not a woman who is just going to roll over and close her eyes and think about the grocery list, I just can’t. But I absolutely respect the choices other women make, who are sometimes like: “Well, you know, I don’t really want to, but it’s not like it’s going to be terrible, or violent, so whatever, I’ll just go along with it…” For me, that doesn’t work. So, there was no acting in my work as a performer, aside from a little bit of bad acting with the dialogue, such as: “Oh, the pizza-man. And I can’t find my wallet. How am I going to pay you?!”

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I must admit that I always enjoyed these scenes quite a lot!

Yeah, I think they were serious when they started doing these sorts of scenes in the early ‘80s, but now it’s become a parody of itself! But with acting, there was no way for me to meet my partner beforehand, and also with different emotions that are in the script – we’re in love with each other and he’s in love with me and I’m deeply resentful and punishing him, and then I have come around and I’m in love with him and then he’s over it, but not really over it, etc. So, this entire emotional story, where you‘d be like: “Hi, nice to meet you, I want to pretend I want to have sex with you while also being in love with you and hate you” (…) it’s a lot more intricate of a process.

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OK, what is currently happening in the adult entertainment industry? It’s changing; we can see that, the technology has set more than a few standards in the last decade. The production changed, distribution changed, the laws changed, the way of consuming changed. You started easy and careful enough, not a usual thing in this field – you actually started as a contract girl which is also not a standard. So, you had a chance to experience all the pros and cons of mainstream in adult, and provoked by this monopoly being more and more visible, you then started your own business. Not just promoting your new distribution model, you’re also setting new quality standards of these productions. What led to this decision?

There’s a company that was called Manwin, it’s now called Mindgeek. They built all of the free tube sites and still control the majority of them, and then they started buying up the production companies – Slate called them monopolists, and I’m inclined to believe that. Eventually, they purchased Digital Playground, the company that I’ve been with. It wasn’t like I’d stop by the office once a week with a picnic basket and we’d skip through a field of sunflowers and stuff, but we were able to respect each other and work together in a way that was acceptable. Then Mindgeek bought them and the conditions have deteriorated quite a bit. At the same time, the laws in California were starting to change and also there’s an organization that advocates for the producers’ rights, which now is in charge of health and safety system which the performers use, which is a serious conflict of interest. So I thought, maybe we should organize? Maybe we should organize the labor in pornography? So, a couple of other performers agreed that we should have a voice in this. That didn’t work so great, partially because it’s still very difficult for anyone in the government, for instance, to get past their stereotype of persons who perform in pornography, to listen to what they have to say, and if you speak to the media, then a joke headline is going to get slapped on it.

Of course, with one company having a monopoly in the industry, we weren’t going to get very far with trying to organize the labor pool, trying to talk to the government bodies that wouldn’t talk. Also, how do you achieve workers’ rights when there’s one company that dominates an entire industry?

Personally, I refused to work for Manwin under the conditions that I don’t see as acceptable, so I decided to go and start my own thing. To a certain extent, now it doesn’t matter to me how other companies choose to run their business. When I book a performer, I can say to them: “Hey, I want to book you for this sort of scene, with me or this other performer, what do you think about that? What sort of safer sex procedures do you want? Do you want testing, do you want bare use, do you want a combination?” So, you make sure that it matches up so that it’s truly a choice for the performer, whether they use condoms or not, whether they release their test results or not, etc.

And what does the law imply, in the States or at least in California, to narrow it down?

I don’t shoot in California anymore. In the rest of the United States, there aren’t really laws about it, which can be a somewhat dodgy position. Hypothetically, if I’m shooting in New York and someone decides to prosecute me, they use an old anti-trafficking law, or they could possibly try to prosecute me as a john, a client in a prostitution relationship, which is ridiculous. I also think that prostitution ought to be decriminalized because with the way that the laws are now – it’s not helping anyone, not making anyone safer, not putting a stop to it. It’s just very legally complex.

So, all that works now is based on very old sex work laws that not even sex workers are actually aware of? So, if this part of entertainment industry is depending on some of the human rights regulations and labor rights, it can get kind of tricky?

Yeah, it’s entertainment, but it’s also sex work. There is a performer organization I’m no longer involved with, partially because of a sentiment of the people in charge of it – that we need to distance ourselves from all other sex workers. I’ve seen a guy who’s in charge of it saying: “If the government would just understand that we’re not hookers, we’re entertainers”. And I say – actually we’re both. For example, I was just shooting in Western Europe, and it was me, and the camera and either a check or this stack of cash that I was giving to the performer who was having sex with me. So, from one angle – yes, we’re doing this to create a video with some sort of merit (though I think that the sex in it should be enough of a merit), but we’re creating a video that I’m going to sell, so of course that the performer is being compensated. And from the other angle – I am paying a person to have sex with me. So, it’s both, which is where it gets so tricky, especially in the US, where you have all these laws that come at it from the perspective that sex is something that only should happen between a man and a woman in a married relationship with intent to have children. Even though parts of the world might be past that, the legal systems still have all these laws, so you’re dealing with laws that are for entertainment and laws that are against sex and sex work. I think in Alabama you still have a law that says oral sex is illegal!

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Photo: Steve Prue

What about using hands? Is that legal?

I don’t know! Imagine trying to shoot a scene in a place like that.

Obviously, you’re facing a lot of difficulties in today’s independent business. Is changing these circumstances and rules, or influencing them, also part of a TrenchcoatX mission?

No, I prefer to stay as far away from a court, or a jail cell or the police, as possible. But changing the working conditions? For me personally, I think things should be done like this. I think performers should be able to say what safer sex measures they want to use and then they should be matched up accordingly. If one person can’t use condoms, or won’t, and another person really wants to, they shouldn’t be put together. I think it is how it should happen, and now it’s my company and I can just do that!

I’ve noticed this creative line you’re trying to show in all of productions that can be seen on TrenchcoatX, so is that very important for you?

Yes. So, what TrenchcoatX does is an a-la-carte, pay-per-scene model, and with videos that we have, we’d very much like to broaden the range of artists and types of sexuality displayed, but the one really important thing right now is: does the scene seem like someone really cared when it was being made? It doesn’t have to be everyone, I’m also not on board with requiring of the worker to do their job with a smile – sometimes you authentically want to have sex, sometimes you authentically need to pay your rent. But, someone has to have really cared – the camera person or the director, or one of the performers. Ideally, it’s one of those magic scenes where everything is lined up and it’s just perfect in every way and everybody’s having the best time ever. So, it’s sort of a certain level of quality, but then quality doesn’t necessarily mean very high production value, or a certain sort of aesthetic. The idea is to have a whole range.

I like this kind of open concept to it that you’re following. You’re learning as you go and that works.

I think it’s an anarchist saying that you don’t have to know what you do want, it’s enough to know what you don’t want. We started from that.

The whole concept of Trenchcoat X reminds me a bit of Puzzy Power, a Lars von Trier’s Zentropa production company project from the late ‘90s. They wanted to transfer pornographic films to mainstream and switch focus from these all-for-men genres, having a woman creating this high-quality porn for women. Naturally, the public noticed this feminist line. Reading you, I got the impression that you have some very strong beliefs, and obviously your work is a proof of that. So, do you think that now, almost twenty years later, your options to speak up against this unbalanced ratio and circumstances are more open?

Absolutely. My ability to have the career that I’ve had and do what I’m doing now, is built on principles that go all the way back to Emma Goldman, the Suffragette movement, and also the work that Jenna Jameson did – even though what she did was very blonde, tanned and super-curvy, so very standard stereotypical femininity, but at the same time very much in need to have that moment of ‘let’s make porn for women’. Now, I believe, we need to make porn for People. To me, the idea of porn for women is deeply insulting and sexist, because it implies that all women want the same thing. This is one of the rare points where I’m sympathetic to men as it also implies that all men want the same thing or that no men are interested in a storyline or care about continuity errors, and it puts men into this brutish position, like they’re not supposed to care about anything but what’s someone’s idea of porn. We need to get past that binary. We also need to start or make more of an effort to portray the people, and about the things going on the product, as a nuance to a thing of value. You hear a lot from certain companies in pornography that aren’t Manwin/Midngeek, saying: “Pay for your porn!” Well, if you want people to pay for your porn, present your performers like they are real people, don’t call them ‘useless whores’, or ‘worthless trash’. Why would I pay to see ‘worthless trash’ get nailed hard? Why would I pay for that? I don’t care. Because it’s worthless, right?

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The more that we treat each other with respect, and our performers with respect and our directors with respect, the better the product will be and also: porn should not be where people learn about sex from, but unfortunately, a lot of the time it is.

So, the more that we show a range of sexual activity and show it in a way that says ‘this is ok; this is within a healthy range of sex’, the better. Sometimes a man doesn’t ejaculate – it’s fine. Sometimes there’s something going on with them, emotionally, or even physically, and they don’t really have like a total erection. That’s fine. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with the woman, or the man. It’s just a thing that happens. The more that you show how sex actually happens, the whole range of it, the better it will be for everyone, instead of watching a ‘worthless whore’ trying to fuck a limp dick! So, less of that and more of: two people in a relationship have sex for a little bit and then go do something else. It’s better all around.

Even though you’re against dividing porn for men and porn for women, but being an independent woman in adult industry, do you allow your actions to be understood as feminist?

I’m going to use the C-word again: it’s very complicated. My working for a production company, going to a set, doing a scene, taking my check, putting it in a bank, is no more feminist than if I got up, went to a cafe, worked the coffee machine for six hours, took my check and went home. On the other hand, in New York I have a person who comes every week, sort of like an assistant, and when I needed one of those, I said: “OK, no heterosexual men. It can be a woman, a gay man, trans person, anything but – a heterosexual white male. They’ve got plenty of jobs.” So, that’s not feminist, that’s sexist. I mean, I’m sure there are a lot of heterosexual men who are unemployed or don’t want to be, but historically speaking, how hard is your hard? Not as hard as for the rest of the world. So, sometimes I’m a me-ist, and sometimes I’m sexist, and then occasionally even a feminist, yeah.

But do you get angry when you see a headline: Stoya, the feminist?

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No, I’m just like: oh, another one. Fact-checking isn’t much of a thing as it used to be, and especially with adults. I think the media system feels like it doesn’t have to take the time to understand neither the industry nor the community, like they would with finances, for example. Also, historically speaking, ten years ago media used to have this overtone, like: you’re lucky we’re even talking to you or writing about you at all. I’m so used to taking things out of the context, or earlier in my career, journalists would just make things up and put them in quotes. So, what am I gonna do about it? You’re right – nothing, there’s nothing I can do about it. So I’m really used to people making things up and sometimes they’re gonna misrepresent things for their own agenda, and other times they are just going to project what they want onto me.

Nietzsche has this thing about the purpose that mythology used to serve, which is for people to project things onto. They would project things onto Artemis or Zeus, then after that we had monarchs who were flesh-and-blood people, and then we had Hollywood stars, and now we’ve got all these so-called microcelebrities, that’s what I would be. People need something to project their own shit onto, and it’s fine. I just didn’t realize I was signing up for it, but that’s the way it is. And when I need a break from it, I can just turn off my phone and hide in my apartment for a couple of days.

You speak loud for justice and it’s really visible. Do you think that you have this activist potential in you? All the tools that you can use to share these ideas, the work that you’re doing, the words that you’re writing, sort of show it. I would like if this just goes naturally for you, because it would be more effective. So, does it?

I was home-schooled, so I didn’t really interact with much of the outside world until I was a teenager, and my mother had always repeated to me “You’re a person. You’re no less of a person or more of a person than any other person. OK, you have a vulva, you’re a girl, and you’ll be a woman, but you’re still a person.” Then I got out into the world, and had a job and doing things, and first few times when somebody who was male talked down to me with ‘little lady’ and that entire sexist manner, I thought: “God, you’re like a Neanderthal! You belong in a museum!”. And then, when I started working in adults, I eventually realized there were entire layers of garbage, for me and for other people, sometimes dealing with the same layer of garbage and sometimes different, but still seeing it and realizing: “Yeah, that’s messed up.”

So, I sort of had to care, because politics were in the way of me living my life. Once I started paying attention, I realized it was systemic. If it wasn’t in my way, I wouldn’t have ever cared.

But yeah, I was raised with this core belief that I am a person, just like every other person and we all have a certain basic level of rights, we have individual strengths and weaknesses, and this is how the world is, but I quickly realized that the world is nothing like it, so as much as I can, I’m going to strong-arm the world near me.

What is it that provokes you the most in this current sociopolitical climate? What’s triggering your rebellion?

The thing that makes me most mad, where I have an immediate reaction, is some dude that has no clue! For example, in my apartment in New York, a bird got in through the ceiling and set up a nest in a little storage space. I’m kind of afraid of birds, so I’ve been waiting for my roommate to deal with the bird, and then this guy says to me: “So, why don’t you just move?” Well, because when I apply for an apartment and the landlord wants to see proof that I have money and income, then they see what I do for a living and they won’t rent to me, because I am a sex worker. That’s why I don’t move! The thing that really irritates me is this obliviousness. Why in certain neighborhoods does this person not just run around the corner to get cigarettes or milk at a certain time of night? Oh, because they’re black and in New York sometimes people get killed by the police just for being black at the wrong time! And there’s always this dude who will say ‘why don’t you just move?’. It would be so much easier if those people, and those are frequently people in positions of power, understood that a lot of us can’t just something. I mean, you don’t want to get into the oppression Olympics and claim that your life is harder than somebody else’s, but there’s this group of people who does not understand that a lot of us, because of who we are, we can’t just do something.

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So, you’re obviously using a lot of different ways to channel your thoughts – performing, directing, writing, reading… What’s next?

Next we’re gonna go shoot a part of this movie in space, and then I get to go home for four whole days and see my cats and do my business. At least, I’ll do anything I can do on my cellphone with the cats on me.

Who’s your favorite painter?

Molly Crabapple.

What’s the last thing you googled?

Food delivery in Belgrade.

What’s your morning fruit?

Coffee. I know I ought to eat an actual breakfast but – coffee and cigarettes.

What cigarettes do you smoke?

It used to be Parliament, but I’ve been in Europe for weeks so now I just smoke whatever I can get my hands on. Marlboro`s, I’m pretty happy with the Marlboro Golds.

See you at the opening night, then?

Yes!

 

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