Leone started modeling at 18. Her exotic beauty made her an instant standout, and in 2003, she was chosen Penthouse's Pet of the Year. Then came a contract with Vivid Entertainment, which, under the terms of the deal, she performed exclusively in girl/girl scenes. Her momentum hasn't let up since. The studio chose her as the star of its first all-interactive DVD, the recently released "Virtual Vivid Girl Sunny Leone." Her latest Vivid movie, "Sunny and Cher," which has the adult-feature debut of Lux Cassidy as Cher, came out in October.
Leone was also the first adult entertainer to sign a deal with mainstream Internet firm American IDC Corp. to launch her SmartSMS Mobile Fan Club, which notifies members of upcoming events and news regarding all things Leone.
Leone's sex appeal transcends the adult industry. As part of the "No More Bush Girls" campaign, she and other adult actresses shaved off their pubic hair to encourage voters to throw out the president in the 2004 election.
XBIZ recently spoke with Leone about her multifaceted career, including her website, SunnyLeone.com, and affiliate program SunnysMoney.com.
XBIZ: How did you get started in the adult industry?
SUNNY LEONE: I was in college, and the girl next to me in class gave me the number of an agent. He then introduced me to the photographer who did the shots for Penthouse magazine.
XBIZ: How does your family feel about your work?
LEONE: They love and accept me for who I am. Of course, like any parents, they don't want me in the adult industry, but they know that this makes me happy, and that is all they want.
XBIZ: Do you feel that your background and upbringing has influenced your views on working in the adult industry? For example, has it helped steer you away from the "rawer" parts of the business — gonzo, etc.?
LEONE: Of course it has. I see it as a business and not something I can do for six months and then it's over. I do what I think is sexy. There is nothing wrong with the raw parts of the industry. If a girl enjoys it, then that is all that matters. I am very happy with my career and the direction it has taken me. I never thought I would ever be a Vivid Girl, and I could not ask for more.
XBIZ: Have the media in India taken an interest in your work?
LEONE: At first the Indian community was stunned and not very happy. But as time passed and they saw that I was not going anywhere, they started liking me. The young Indian community would come up to me at shows and parties and say how much they liked me and were proud of my step forward.
XBIZ: You've mentioned an interest in becoming a pediatric nurse someday. Is that still part of your plans?
LEONE: I was planning on it, but when I started really getting into the Internet side of the adult industry, I changed my mind. I have a real passion for what I am doing. The Internet side is very challenging for me and keeps me on my toes at all times.
XBIZ: Are you still only doing girl/girl for Vivid? Are you bisexual in real life?
LEONE: Yes, I am still only doing girl/girl for Vivid. I am bisexual in my personal life. I have always enjoyed women, and that is why I decided to do girl/girl.
XBIZ: How do you like being a webmistress? How do you enjoy the business and entrepreneurial aspects of the work?
LEONE: I love running SunnyLeone.com and my affiliate program, Sunnys Money.com, which I launched a couple of years ago. It's very challenging, and it changes every day. I have tons of work to do all the time. I am currently starting to expand Sunny's Money, and it will be interesting to see how the webmaster community accepts it.
XBIZ: How are your site and affiliate program progressing? What things are you doing to make them stand out from the competition?
LEONE: They're going great. I offer my members something every day — glamour photos, amateur photos, candids of all my adventures, video updated three times a week, an appearance and news section, a girlfriends section, live shows and a bonus content section. The site is updated regularly with free hosted galleries, free movie galleries, content zip files, banners, half-page and full-page ads. I offer my webmasters a 50/50 revshare for all the signups they send me. If there are webmasters who needs specific content to promote me, then I will work with them to get what they need.
XBIZ: What types of marketing are you doing to build the brand name for your website?
LEONE: I do promotions all over the country, TV and radio shows, magazine interviews and layouts. I go to webmaster conventions and gatherings on a regular basis. I try to be involved with the adult webmaster community as much as possible.
XBIZ: What business activities do you have planned for the future?
LEONE: I'm going to be expanding Sunny's Money in the near future and launching a new affiliate program in the near future as well. SunnyLeone.com is undergoing a redesign and will look and feel a lot better then before. As far as movies, "Sunny and Cher" was just released by Vivid, and the next few movies will be released soon. "Sunny and Cher" should be a good one. I am hoping sales will be up just like the last ones. I want to be a Vivid Girl for as long as I can.
XBIZ: How would you advise other adult models/performers, especially women, on how they can take more control over their careers?
LEONE: Ask questions, decide in your mind where you want your career to go, make a list of your goals; see this industry as a business and not something that is going to last for a few months.
XBIZ: How would you advise them on how they can branch into other aspects of the industry, like production, business, marketing, etc.?
LEONE: Talk to your girlfriends. It's what I did. I asked them who to contact and who to deal with. Weigh out the pros and cons of what you are doing with someone you look up to. They can provide advice and suggestions that, say, your "agent-boyfriend" can't do. You will be able to make decisions that are good for you.
XBIZ: How did you get involved with "No More Bush Girls"? Do you feel that the group made an impact?
LEONE: One of my favorite photographers asked me to be a part of it a while back, and slowly it's gotten so much recognition. I love doing what I believe in.