Interview: Jesse Charif on anger, fear, and sensuality

Whether someone agrees or disagrees with the artistic choices made by an artist, they should still be able to make them”. With this line, Jesse Charif make the statement that’ll put the ground for my interview with him (below).

His first time acting on one of my films (SWEAT, released on May 25th) involves physical confrontation, fear, and a mind game leading to the question: what are the visual boundaries between violence and sex?

Jesse, who was born in Beirut and currently lives in Amsterdam, entered the indie erotica world with no one but Bruce LaBruce, and it’s considered a rising star in artistic sexuality. Below you’ll read his words on porn, artistic acceptance, role plays, and how can anger and violence get in terms with excitement.

 

Who is Jesse Charif?

Jesse Charif is a curious and imaginative boy originally from Beirut, Lebanon.

What’s your history with adult arts?

I’ve always been a big porn nerd, and like a lot of other guys I always imagined what it would be like to actually be on the set of a porn film. I find it so fascinating. I grew up scouring the internet for information about porn actors, trying to prove that they are real people with real experiences. I had never actively tried to pursue anything until 2016 when I saw Bruce LaBruce was casting actors for his film, Refugee’s Welcome, and thought “why not?”. At that time I had never even been in front of a camera before because I was too shy even to have my picture taken. In parallel, I was also focusing my research during my masters degree on the relationships between visuality and sexuality, so everything seemed to be coming full-circle.

How was the experience of working with Noel?

It was everything I thought it was going to be: easy, professional, and rewarding. I loved the experience, the people I met there, and the atmosphere that Noel works in. I’ve been a big fan of Noel’s for a long time, so to see him at work was a lot of fun.

SWEAT is a difficult film to watch. The discomfort about the battle is undeniable from a viewer point of view. What was your first thoughts when you read the script?

Well, the fact that it’s uncomfortable is the reason why I liked the script. I’m always attracted to work that walks that thin line between acceptable and unacceptable. Whether someone agrees or disagrees with the artistic choices made by an artist, they should still be able to make them; I think the discussion that comes from those choices is what matters. The fact that we can have a conversation or a debate about it. So yes, it was interesting for me to see such an explicit juxtaposition between violence and lust in the script.

How was it for you to perform in that scene?

It was an easy performance for me. I like shooting heavy or intense scenes because then you have no choice but to be very focused on what you’re doing. It can be a great release as well. That’s something I always admired about acting even before I went into it myself. Also, Parker my co-star was great to work with, he took good care of me.

What is your opinion about the way erotic films depicts violence? What do you think are the differences and similarities with violence in mainstream cinema?

Well, if we’re talking about mainstream erotic films or porn, they display violence in a way that’s still polished, not really ‘dangerous’. Which I understand, it’s like the acceptable dose of violence (or the idea of violence) that can be shown in a way that is still sexy and still presentable. Mainstream cinema also does the same, I think—it’s like danger gets us horny but only when it’s still pretty ‘safe’. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

One of the arguments on depicting violence is that people are used to extreme situations on screen it in a way that it just won’t affect them anymore. Do you agree? What would you say is the limit for cinema & the arts to portray physical violence?

I don’t know if I agree or disagree. I’m sure that people get desensitized to violence through being exposed to imagery of it, but what else does it do? Does it produce new desire, does it awaken old ones?  There’s so much possibility. I don’t know if there is a limit for how much the arts can portray violence—I think it’s up to each artist and the way they think their duty is to be explicit in their work.

At a certain time, Jesse (Mullen) seem to transit between fear and lust. How do you see the connection between force, and sex?

Sex is a drive and a force in its own right, so I strongly believe that other drives within our psyches are easily entangled with it. Sex can be related to drives that move towards happiness, abundance, life, and light, but also those that go towards anger, fear, violence, and even death. In my personal life I use sex as a playground to “role play” but not in the traditional sense — I use it to explore myself in different scenarios, different characters, different motivations, with different relationships towards others and myself.

Is there something you like especially within Noel’s filmography?

I think the first film I ever saw by Noel was “Doing Elliot” which I loved a lot — I remember thinking “that’s one of the hottest porns I’ve watched”. Noel’s focus on translating the intimacy between two people without stressing so hard on shots of holes and dicks makes his porn so much more exciting (and arousing).

Besides performing, in what other ways do you enjoy exploring your sexuality?

OK now I’m blushing. I’ll stop here!

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