"You always need to be on edge in order to perform," Pounder says of the countdown and the performance that follows. "It's the perfect balance of arousal and interest, like driving a stick shift in rush hour traffic."
Not every performer is as fastidious with the prep work but many will confirm the old Yogi Berra adage that "90 percent of the game is half mental." From eating and drinking in moderation to hiring the right support personnel to accepting your own physical limitations in the face of younger competitors, staying power — career staying power — is a function of doing the right things off the set as well as on the set.
Steele in Shape
"Moving into adult was really just an extension of how I conduct myself as an athlete," Lexington Steele says. A former collegiate soccer standout and semi-pro player, Steele made the jump to adult video in 1998. "If you're in better shape than the people you are competing against, or if you are in better shape than the person on your team, your performance will stand out."
For Steele, being in shape means primarily putting in the cardiovascular work that makes possible the calorie-burning scenes that have become his onscreen trademark. Steele says he makes sure to jog a two-mile loop at least five times a week. When it comes to weightlifting, his daily regimen generally leans toward lower weights and higher repetitions — a workout strategy that deliberately trades on-camera bulk for physical stamina.
"Cardiovascular is so much more important than muscle mass," Steele says. "When you're doing six positions per scene, the end result is that you arrive at about 45 minutes of energized, highly aggressive sex."
Physical stamina is only part of the equation, however. In an industry where a male performer's most vital asset tends to respond less the more it gets exercised, actors who don't learn how to block on-set distractions such as lights, cameras and female body odor win a quick one-way ticket back to the amateur ranks.
Steele credits an early team of handlers and mentors for schooling him on both on-set etiquette and the self-discipline that goes into finding "the edge" and staying there for 45 minutes or more.
"I was trained by Vince Voyeur, Mark Davis and Mr. Marcus," Steele says.
"Vince taught me camera angles and how to position myself so that the camera got the best shot. Mark taught me how to meet a girl on the set and make it comfortable for her. And finally, Mr. Marcus taught me the mental toughness that goes into being a male performer."
Mr. Marcus, a 12-year industry veteran who landed his first sex scene after crashing an industry gathering in Las Vegas, characterizes "mental toughness" as the internal discipline that allows the best male performers not only to block out distractions but also to rein in excitement on the lucky days when sexual performance is more than just a clock-punching chore.
"It's equal parts mental preparation and emotional control," Marcus says. "It's pacing yourself and being agile, hearing what you've got to do and letting your intuition guide you."
Apart from physical limitations, one reason solid performers stay in the business so long is that on-set experience is the best teacher when it comes to keeping emotions and body parts in check. Just as NFL quarterbacks tend to fall into two camps — Ben Roethlisberger-style upstarts or Brett Favre-style veterans — male porn stars boast either a handful of scenes or a few hundred on their resume.
"If you can perform on camera, word gets around the industry pretty quickly," notes Dave Cummings, 63, a performer since 1994. "Conversely, if you suddenly can't perform, word gets around pretty quickly, if not faster."
Cummings offers his own biography as case in point. A financial industry executive who gravitated into the Southern California swinging scene after a midlife divorce, Cummings wound up finishing the work of a swinging club counterpart during an on-camera scene shot for the purposes of a Playboy documentary. Within a month, Cummings says, he was receiving invites to participate in amateur scenes.
"The next month, I'm doing Julie Ashton in the 'Devil in Mrs. Jones 5,'" Cummings says.
Since then, Cummings has appeared in more than a thousand professional sex scenes and has produced 41 of his own adult titles. He credits his ongoing performance to a healthy diet, limited alcohol and a sustaining interest in the female sex.
"You gotta do it for fun as well as the money, and you've got to sustain the functionality aspect," Cummings says. He also has written several essays offering free advice to men who hope to follow his path.
To those men, he offers the warning of an old-timer: "Don't be relying on pills as your enhancement. Don't be drinkin' booze. Don't masturbate the night before."
However, not every veteran performer sees a need to forgo the secondary pleasures of the flesh. Billy Glide, a 10-year industry veteran, says he rarely watches his diet and sees pills like Viagra as a helpful aid on the days when a director has paired up one male performer with multiple starlets. He also isn't puritanical when it comes to alcohol. In fact, he credits it for upping the gonzo factor in his self-produced reality sex series "Billy Glide Adventures."
"We bring the alcohol along so people are having fun," Glide says, noting a recent production trip to a ski resort, a trip that included an even mixture of staged and impromptu sex scenes thanks to the party-time atmosphere. "It was just like a big vacation," Glide says.
Johnny Depth, a young performer with only 20-plus titles and 80 scenes, has an attitude reminiscent of Joe Namath. A Chicagoan who divides his career between a large-scale law firm and shooting scenes for Aphrodite Productions, Depth gears his workout toward bulking up for the camera, and gears his nightlife toward enjoying the remainder of his twenty-something years.
"To be honest, I'm probably not the most clean living of folks," he says. "I have my couple glasses of wine each night, and I'm a cigarette smoker, which I probably shouldn't be."
While Depth credits physical stamina as an important trait — "especially when you're shooting for 16 hours straight" — he sees emotional stamina as an even bigger challenge.
"I find one of the biggest problems sometimes to be my partner who I'm working with," Depth says. "If I get on set to meet her and we don't have chemistry, or we don't like each other in the way that makes it easy to do the scene, then my motivation ends up being a hate fuck, and that doesn't look good on the screen. It also isn't fun to do either."
In order to avoid on-screen conflicts, Depth says he studies photos of the actress ahead of time and arrives on set early to engage in a little introductory conversation in order to establish some form of emotional chemistry.
Depth credits female contract star Jenna Jameson, more than industry legends such as Ron Jeremy and Peter North, for providing a winning model on how to manage a career in the current porn trade.
Whereas past legends built their careers on quantity, logging thousands of sex scenes and crowding out other actors, today's savvier up-and-comers are focusing more on achieving mainstream recognition in the hopes of gaining an edge at the DVD rack.
"Back in the day when Viagra wasn't around, there was a handful of guys that could do it," Pounder says. "Now, with Viagra, you're competing against literally 10,000 videos. It's a crap-shoot. You have to sell the customer before they are even in the door."