Talent Unbound: Lilly Bell Discusses Versatile Stardom

Talent Unbound: Lilly Bell Discusses Versatile Stardom

Say you’re booking a porn scene and you want to make sure it goes well. What’s your safest bet? Well, you could hire someone with a solid reputation for hard work and giving their all on set. You could book someone who’s proved to be “a good performer” — the industry euphemism for “fucks great on camera, looks like she’s having fun without looking too porny.” If the lead-up to the main event is pages and pages of dialogue and complicated emotional scenes, you could get a good actor. You can fall back on that always bankable classic: an hourglass blonde who can rock expensive lingerie, a high-cut bikini or a cheerleader uniform.

Or you can go with Lilly Bell, who fits all those bills.

After four years in the industry, Bell has racked up a resume marked by versatility and range, from the extreme pain-sluttery of Kink’s “Device Bondage” series, to candy-colored girliness. Most recently, she has amassed 11 nominations for the 2024 XBIZ Awards, including Female Performer of the Year and Best Supporting Acting, alongside a slew of Best Sex Scene noms crossing multiple genres.

As listeners of industry podcasts — where she has openly shared very personal stories to educate fans and inspire other sex workers — or attendees at conventions can attest, Bell’s main assets, on and off the screen, are authenticity and dedication. With Bell, what you see is indeed what you get.

“I definitely am myself,” she confirms during our interview, which takes place at a low-key, characteristically unassuming Spanish brunch place on the Valley’s storied Ventura Blvd. “I don’t put up a front. And I think that is true throughout all my time doing sex work, from camming and stripping in Oregon all the way to now doing porn in LA.

“I think a lot of people have personas or things like that,” she adds. “I’ve never had that. I’ve always just been myself, and they tell me it shows in my work.”

Another thing that’s genuine about her, she adds, is that she really does love sex.

“And you can see that too,” she says, smiling. “I think it’s important to show that I really love sex. You have to love it if you are going to continue doing this for as long as I have. One thing that I pride myself on is that I am genuine in my scenes, and I appreciate it a lot that people notice that. Sometimes I meet some girls who say, ‘Oh, I never cum during my scenes’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s so interesting…’” 

Eventually, however, Bell realized that she “only had so much in the tank.”

“I figured out that I needed to ‘save myself’ if I had a scene booked when I was in a relationship,” she reveals. “I started noticing that my mojo would be depleted a little bit because I’d be giving my orgasms to my partner — which I would want to, of course. But it was harder for me to finish quickly on set. I’d be forcing it a little bit more, which was frustrating.”

The Belle of Beaverton

Bell grew up in Beaverton — stop snickering — a suburb 20 minutes outside of Portland. Beaverton is virtually a company town for Nike, which is headquartered there. It’s the kind of wholesome, all-American place that people talk about getting away from to pursue their dream. Through sex work, Bell became one of the few who actually did so, to the amazement of many of her hometown friends and acquaintances.

“I’ve got a few people from my past that are cool with me and with sex work,” she says. “It’s kind of shocking sometimes, who is and who isn’t. My friend Kendall, I would never have thought that she’d be someone that supports me in my life and what I do, but she is someone who showed up. She has always supported me, and I really commend her for that. My hometown friends Michaela and Megan, who live in New York, have also had my back throughout.”

These days, however, it’s not the Portland area that feels like home, Bell says.

“Now when I go back on the road for an expo or other work and say, ‘God, I can’t wait to get back home,’ I’m talking about LA. Whenever I see models tweet, ‘I hate it out here. This move is so hard!’ I’m like, ‘Stick it out. Sometimes it can take a really long time, but it will happen.’ But it’s true that if you’re not prepared, LA can eat you up and spit you out. It’s one of those cities where it’s every man for himself a lot of the time. But then sometimes it’s not and you find your people who keep you balanced.”

Growing up, Bell was an artsy kid, the kind of free spirit common to the Pacific Northwest. Part of her education was in an arts school — something she shares with many people who end up in the adult industry — but she also itched to have a more traditional American high school experience, and so she transferred.

“I wish I would have stayed in the art school,” she reflects. “I often wonder what my life would have been like. But I wanted to go to football games, I wanted to experience that type of life. There were no jocks in art school — the cool kids were dancers and theater kids! So when I got to high school, I was a little fish in a big pond. It was hard. I remember I tried to climb the social ladder, and that took two years. In middle school, there was no social ladder to climb. Everyone was always just friends, which was a beautiful thing. And then all of a sudden it was like, cliques! And I was like, ‘What’s happening? I thought I was going to be popular!’”

In high school, Bell was a dancer, enrolled in a performing arts track that also included theater. She was also serious about photography.

“I actually took five years of it, developing film, the darkroom, the whole thing,” she recalls. “Maybe I’ll take it up again. I’m sure girls would love for me to take proper photos of them! I did always really enjoy shooting, and I was good at it. I remember one of my projects — I thought it was super artsy. I had a bunch of math homework everywhere, and then I took all my ADD medication and I spilled it all over, and I did some depth-of-field shit with the pills. I was like, ‘This is what high school is like for me, you know?’ I thought it was really dark and cool! I still have the picture.”

The Road to Porn

Bell had long considered porn from afar. For her own gratification, she was drawn to kink content.

“I was hugely into Tumblr,” she laughs. “I watched kink and read a lot of BDSM erotica on there. I love Kink.com. I always wanted to go to the Armory in San Francisco. That was a huge dream of mine. Then I was booked by them for my second scene ever and I was so excited — and then they told me production had moved to Vegas and that the Armory had been sold a couple of years back.”

Bell admired and studied marquee names of the era like Bonnie Rotten, Riley Nixon, Sasha Grey, Gina Valentina, Karlee Grey, Janice Griffith, Carter Cruise, Tori Black and Riley Reid, among others.

“I watched Netflix’s ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’ and I was fascinated by the Vanessa Veracruz segment, when she was in her cam room,” she recalls. “I decided I was going to copy her blueprint.”

Bell began camming through Camsoda, alongside sex-positive friends and roommates. She initially stuck to camming because her serious long-term boyfriend had jealousy issues about in-person contact, particularly with other men. When he ended up cheating on her, however, it was off to the races.

“As soon as I got out of that relationship, I started stripping,” she says.

After a honeymoon period with strip clubs, Bell realized that she had further ambitions. She decided to make the move to LA and get serious. She started by transforming her look.

“I had Portland pink hair at the time, and I decided to go blonde and started flying out for shoots in 2019,” she says.

It was a big change. Before joining the adult industry, Bell says, she had sex with only a handful of people.

“I was very monogamous,” she explains. “I was not promiscuous, but I was extremely sexual within my monogamous relationships. I got really slutted the fuck out when I moved out here to LA for porn, though. It’s so crazy when you move out here — all these people want to have sex with you, and you meet them and have sex with them first before you get to know them, which was a very bizarre thing for me. I would meet random dudes on set, we’d have sex and then go hang out and fuck afterward. It was like a frenzy every time I came out here to shoot. Which was cool at the time!”

Eventually she learned to be more careful with her body, which after all had become her main source of income.

“At first I had a few friends with benefits, and it was fun,” she says. “But then I realized with the amount that I was working, I couldn’t really keep doing that. I have to save my body for shoots.”

While making her early forays into the industry, Bell befriended Laney Grey, another up-and-comer who was looking to transition from Camsoda to the world of studio porn.

“I remember being with Laney during a trip to Vegas and back,” she reminisces. “We were like, ‘I wonder if one day we’re ever going to become porn girls. I wonder if we’re ever going to sign with an agency.”

Both signed with agencies shortly after.

“Later, when we were shooting together for Blacked, I just remember giving her a look that said, ‘This is so crazy,’” Bell recalls. “Like, ‘Here we are, where we wanted to be back in that Vegas hotel room.’ It’s funny how it all happened.”

Listening to Her Body

Bell is very open about the health challenges her body has endured during her time in the industry and feels like she has a duty to share her experiences with others. She stresses the importance of regular STI testing.

“I just think it’s important that people know that it’s not a walk in the park,” she says. “When I went on Holly Randall’s podcast, I talked about how, during my first year of porn, I got pelvic inflammatory disease and had to have emergency surgery and it was pretty brutal.”

When internet strangers and trolls used her candid account of her experiences to cast aspersions on her character, Bell reveals, she found it jarring.

“I had this idea of what I thought porn fame would be like,” she explains, tearing up. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great. But when you see how some people in the general public are hateful towards us, it’s really hurtful.”

After recovering, Bell began accumulating credits as a replacement performer, always ready to jump in when someone else flaked.

“I’m still a replacement all the time, and I love that. If anyone says, ‘Who are the top girls that we can book instead?’ and I am one of those, that’s great.”

Little by little, Bell recalls, she learned how to be an industry pro, and found her groove.

“By now, I can say confidently that I’m a really good performer,” she says. “It was a learning curve. It took two years of consistent performing for me to get here. I always watch myself — in fact, sometimes I feel a little narcissistic because I do enjoy watching myself quite a bit. I look at myself and think, ‘Damn, you’re really hot!’”

As examples of her best work, Bell singles out some of her scenes for Vixen Media Group brands, including a threesome with Laney Grey and Rob Piper, and an XBIZ-nominated tryst with Alex Jones.

“That one was amazing,” she says. “I pushed myself so much in that scene that I remember the next day I got a fever. The scenes where for whatever reason I feel like I need to push myself that much harder — like this year’s club hookup with Derrick Pierce for Ricky Greenwood’s ‘More’ — are the ones that end up the best.”

Bell has also started getting noticed for her acting, especially her work in productions directed by Greenwood and by Casey Calvert, and in her Dorcel and Delphine dialogue-rich scenes.

“Going to an art school growing up, I did a lot of acting,” she says. “But to be entirely honest, when I watched porn, I skipped all the acting parts! I would just cringe — ‘I don’t want to hear you try to talk — just no.’ I wanted to see the action. So it was bizarre to me when I learned there are people who actually watch the storyline.”

With her career showing no signs of slowing down heading into 2024, Bell says that she “just wants to go harder.”

“But I want to go harder responsibly,” she adds. “I want to go harder in the way that my body will allow because I have to listen to my body. I have so many things that I still want to achieve. There are certain scenes that I haven’t done — hello, blowbang? — or studios I haven’t worked for that I would like to check off my bucket list. And of course, I think I may be ready for my showcase. I’ve been plotting some ideas. I see myself having a glamcore showcase soon.”

Parallel to studio work, Bell adds, she would like to focus more on content creation, because that is what she sees as most likely to produce income long-term.

Part of being a sex worker, she concludes, is having to adapt.

“For years, I just thought, ‘Well, I have to put my name out there with studios and do as many scenes as possible, and eventually I can work on my content,’” she says. “Well, now I have finally started working on it, and I’m making a lot of money with it — more than I thought I was going to! It’s like, ‘Why have I not been doing this all along?’”

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