Along with the compelling stage name Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford has more sides to her than the ones for which she has become best known – porn film star and giant thorn in the side of the President of the United States.
Clifford’s lesser known side is that she is a prolific director of movies, albeit porn titles that include Sex Door Neighbors, Lust on the Prairie, and Space Nuts. At a moment where women are gaining ever greater recognition for their ability to direct movies, I am recalling this as I read stories about Stormy Daniels and her attorney’s attempts to supersede a non-disclosure agreement so she can tell the full story of her encounter with Donald Trump on this Sunday’s 60 Minutes, and the $130,000 hush money payoff delivered by his lawyer on the eve of Trump’s historic presidential election victory.
I interviewed her about her work as an adult filmmaker on Shoot Out, the show I hosted for years with Peter Guber. What I remember from watching her movies, for research, was her skill and confidence behind the camera and that she was good at it. Difficult qualities to achieve when working at a pace that helmers like Clint Eastwood and Sidney Lumet – both famous for directing like they were double parked – would call remarkably efficient. I also recall that after watching her interview, my TV partner told her she seemed talented enough to direct a film where the actors stayed vertical and kept their clothes on.
Though her conflict with Trump is now part of the national conversation, Stormy Daniels has never wanted to be typed as antagonistic to men, or marginalized as some kind of sex object. As a filmmaker, she insisted in our interview: “I know how to get good performances from men. And I do it without bruising their egos.” But if men behave inappropriately, she warned, “I know how to sneak up on them.”
Inappropriate behavior is at the core of a precedent-setting law suit filed by President Trump’s attorneys last week, claiming that Stormy Daniels violated a confidentiality agreement and may be subject to damages totaling at least $20 million. She had been paid $130,000 to remain silent about an affair she allegedly had with Trump but now is prepared to discuss that affair on 60 Minutes.
If she fulfills that commitment, viewers will find her to be as smart and articulate as when I interviewed her on national television in 2007. She appeared on an episode that featured Jeffrey Katzenberg. I’d extended the invitation to her then because, having interviewed a range of important filmmakers on the show from Spielberg to Eastwood and Coppola, I realized that I’d never talked with a representative of the world of porn. Joy King, a top executive at Wicked Pictures, quickly assented to the invitation, pointing out that Stormy was a diligent student of filmmaking who would love to discuss her craft. I interviewed her on set with my co-anchor, Guber.
“I admire good filmmaking and try to see as many movies as I can,” Stormy Daniels pointed out. “When I’m on the set of a Hollywood movie, however, I always feel there are twice as many people in the crew as needed.” On a porn movie, she noted, the crews are small and mobile. “We have to jump from take to take. We have tight schedules and they are demanding.”
She had some experience as an actress in Judd Apatow’s films, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. She said she admires the way a director like Apatow works with actors – “he gets right down, face to face with the cast, explaining exactly what he wants.” With porn, she points out, “you have to be prepared and demanding, yet also respectful. I like being the puppet master.”
In her view, porn is intrinsically funny – “we’re dealing with erotic fantasies.” Hence, most of her films have a satiric bent, she said, with titles such as Operation Desert Stormy or Operation Tropic Stormy.
Will her war with the President have a negative impact on her career? “Look, a key to my success is to keep a high opinion of men,” she declared, “and vice versa. I started as a dancer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That’s a rough way to start.” Throughout her career, she explained, she sought to maintain a high level of esteem and, as such, she was “treated respectfully.” A chance meeting with Brad Armstrong, a prolific porn director, led to offers as a performer, then director, of adult films.
At the time we talked on television, Stormy Daniels had no idea that she was destined to have a famous face-off with the President. Trump’s initial strategy was to distance himself from the dispute, maintaining an alias on the payoff which was made through his attorney, Michael Cohen. Many of his supporters were surprised, therefore, when he dropped his cover and weighed in directly on the case late last week. His attorneys now seek to shift the case to a federal court which may lead to arbitration, hence out of the public view.
Stormy Daniels in 2008 won a trophy as Best Crossover Star, recognizing her versatility in mainstream film (Superbad), in a Maroon 5 music video, in a recurring role on Courtney Cox’s Dirt, and in her other activities.
A potential triumph in her litigation with the President would assure her even broader recognition. It might also convey the message that politics, like porn, is essentially comedic.