Born in San Mateo, Calif., Thompson’s career began when she fell in love with theater as a child. She went on to star in plays and films, eventually adding modeling to her credits. In 2008, she relocated to Los Angeles, where she continues to model and act. She also remains closely connected to her San Francisco theater group.
In this interview, Judy Thompson discusses the challenges of portraying Cherry, shares her observations as a newcomer to the adult realm, and offers perspective about the characters she takes on and the changing paradigm for actresses in mainstream and adult.
GT: How did you find out about Cherry?
JT: It was through a casting site. It was a very complex character and dialogue and required that the actress be comfortable with sexual situations and nudity. I submitted out of curiosity — my photos are more commercial and theatrical — and the casting director contacted me and asked for pictures that were a little sexier. I submitted those and didn’t think anything of it. Two weeks later, Kay Brandt contacted me. She was very upfront and didn’t want anybody to be on the fence about committing to this project. She said, “There’s going to be adult content. You’re going to have to be fine with kissing women. I won’t ask you to engage in any sexual performances, but I need a strong actress that is comfortable with this sort of stuff. If you’re interested, I want to see you on Friday.” I took a week to think about what she told me and mull it over with family members and friends to make sure that I was going in completely and not just entertaining the idea. I needed to be committed to this if I got hired to do it.
GT: What attracted you to Cherry?
JT: I love the character. She’s very complicated, and I knew that being where I was in my life, I could give her more layers and dimension. She also had a lot of sort of masculine tones to her, and I thought it would be interesting to see a woman kind of in a male role. So many times I’m presented with the soccer mom or this mom or the drunk; it’s funny the roles that you get, and you do the best with them, but this person had so many facets to her. She wasn’t just a nightclub owner or just a lesbian; there are a lot of different layers to her that were real and I could go so many different places. I was excited to be able to act, and I was up to being challenged by this role. Upon getting the scripts, it wasn’t so much the sex I reading into; it was finding this person and why she was putting herself in very difficult situations. My interview with Kay lasted two or three hours and she expressed where this came from and what she needed from me. We come from similar backgrounds. We both come from theatre, and I loved the challenge of Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee, and she was a director. We connected with that because that’s our first love.
GT: How did you prepare for the audition?
JT: I really am an open person and I felt that this was an opportunity to learn about myself. The preparation to be in the moment — I think the best way to go for it is to be very open and to trust your instincts. When I had to engage with my costar, Riley Steele, I had to connect with her in a very personal way. It was about making connections to the people that I interacted with, so to prepare to be on an adult set, it’s just to try to put any preconceived ideas away and go in with wonderment and explore that. It was a really amazing experience as far as the crew and the women that are in this business, the genuine kindness and openness that they have is really welcoming. I came in as an actor wanting to do the job as best as I could, but at the same time I knew that when I connected with these actresses, I was going to have to come from an honest place of being intimate with them in a very human way.
GT: There’s a quote from you that says, “I work constantly on mainstream projects. However, I’m an ‘indie girl’ at heart, so I like projects that take me out of my comfort zone. Being comfortable as an actor is pretty much death.” Did Cherry take you out of that comfort zone?
JT: Oh god, yes! I was completely thrown off all the time. It was an amazing thing for me as an actor going into this, and being onset and thrown into that environment. In the behind-the-scenes you see me having to work it out and let go and get into what is going on with the dynamics of these people. It was so challenging every single day. We were there from 7 a.m. until sometimes after midnight, and you’re waiting for that moment when you get up there. The energy was very, very hard to maintain all day, and shooting two episodes at the same time, out of sequence, was really a challenge. My character is so controlled all the time. There are moments when she lets little glimpses of emotion escape her and they’re uncomfortable, and also being onset with these women — they’re beautiful human beings who put themselves up to being judged a lot. To be able to connect with them was wonderful because I’m not used to being around people who let it all hang out. I appreciated how real they were and they really didn’t have any airs or anything to hide. Right there was a different experience, so every day onset was an experience. Cherry [herself] is a challenge in so many different ways, and part of it is the stuff that most people always try to keep hidden away. As humans, we don’t want to show the negative traits, as people would say. Cherry exposes those parts all the time. Being able to do that is uncomfortable but also very freeing, because you get to let that part of you breathe a little that’s always being pushed down. What I love about Kay is that when it’s not coming from an honest place, being a theatre director for a long time, she called me on it. I knew I wasn’t fooling anybody and she challenged me. She would go, “Bullshit!” And I’m like, “I know.” I respected the fact that she would not let me get away with not fully exposing myself. She wasn’t going to buy it. It’s nice when you have someone to call you on that and work hard to bring it out of you. There was a lot of breaking down at certain points, with long hours and trying to pull it up and let it go.
GT: How did you adjust to being not only the new girl on the block, but also one who was in her first adult role?
JT: I’m so much older than the rest of the girls and I am somewhat maternal, so the dynamics were interesting because they didn’t know who the hell I was! You’re there for half the day going through makeup, and that’s a long process, and they had no idea sometimes when the days first started. I’d say, “Hi, I’m Judy,” and they’re like, “Oh, hi.” I didn’t make a point of saying, “By the way, I’m Cherry, the lead!” I kept it simple. The first question from a couple of them was, “How long have you been in the business?” I said, “I’m not.” “What do you mean?” “Well, this is my first time on an adult set.” Lux [Kassidy] was so cute; she said, “You must be freaking out!” She plays the other girl that wakes up with me. My character is always bookended by beautiful women, and I thought, This is what it’s like for rock stars — waking up with beautiful women every morning! They were surprised, “You just act?” I was like, “Yeah.” They were curious, too. I wasn’t encroaching on their space; I really wanted to come in and have fun with this and get to know these women. Coming to the set, I didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised at how welcome I was.
I went to AVN and felt like a little kid in the experiences I was having and watching what is sold and how people market their business. It was really interesting. These girls work so hard. They promote and sign and meet their fans. The hours they travel and how much they dedicate themselves to their fan base — they’re workaholics. They have strong work ethics and sense for business and putting themselves so out there to be judged. It’s a very intimate thing when people are watching someone be intimate; they think they’re somehow connected to them. The fan base is why I’ve been going and meeting people and seeing what it’s like. I want to educate myself as to what it is and how this business works. As somebody new to this, I have to see what it’s about. I can’t stay ignorant to it. I’m interested to see what sort of people I meet and the opportunities that come up. I’m curious about what it’s going to turn into.
GT: You began with community theatre when you were 8 years old, went on to mainstream film as an adult, and returned to theatre. How important is that background to an acting career?
JT: I constantly come across people in this town that never had an acting class, yet they have an agent. There are thespians who love, love, love the art, the craft — my acting teacher would go to church and pray to be good actress, she loved it so much. Then there are people for whom it’s fun. You never know. Some have natural ability, or they’re marketable to somebody. For me, it’s a very personal thing. I love and respect it so much. It’s important for me to give the audience as much as I can. Other actors come to this town, and by chance they are in the right place at the right time, meet the right person and they are cast. As a child, it became my first love and that’s why I feel it’s just who I am, but this is a funny business — people can have the right look and marketability and that works for them, so I can only speak from my own experiences. Also, I felt my theatre group was like my second family, so every time I got away from it, I missed that community and building something together. I’m still very close to the people that were in my theatre group in San Francisco. We are constantly in touch. As far as being in the business, I’m not sure it’s important to everyone else or even to directors. I can only speak for myself.
GT: Your bio states, “Focused on broadening her talents, Judy starred in over 20 independent films, often being cast as characters twisted and deeply flawed.” Do you see a thread here?
JT: Yeah, I’m so fucked up! The writing in independent films is not fluffy at all. Independent filmmakers are usually these gritty freethinkers whose one goal is to make this film; they become obsessed with it. I love them because they are so passionate, and often the people they write about aren’t nice people. I would read for them and they told me I brought a “bipolar complexity,” which they didn’t maybe see the first time or that other people weren’t bringing. I was happy to get cast in these characters and be a part of these young filmmakers and new filmmakers’ visions. It prepares you when you’re shooting such interesting characters and also under extreme circumstances, because they are limited. Independent films are very budgeted and it’s not the full makeup and stylist. You’re showing up and you’re working. The characters — I feel we have them in all of us as far as the twisted. I think we’re yin and yang, we really are light and dark. When you embrace the part of you that’s not perceived as the good part, you start to know yourself. You have to find those parts in you when you act and take on a role like this. You ask questions about what motivates this human being to do this, and what would be a similar circumstance in your own life that would be equal. I love the indie world. I always tell people that the vision of indie filmmakers is as big as Scorsese, but they don’t have the budget. Their fantasies and what’s in their hearts is just as big; they just don’t have the financial backing to do it. So it’s nice to bring these labors of love to life for them.
GT: Can you leave these characters onstage and on location at the end of the workday?
JT: You get exhausted. You have to go back and reset and fill your well because at the end of the day you often feel completely empty, like you’ve purged a lot of stuff out. One day in particular onset with Cherry, I want to say that it was the last or next to last day, was the most exhausting. It was really intense and it took a lot out of me. It’s good that I feel that. I look forward to going back and forth. I love visiting that world, but I love being quiet and in my routine and being home. It’s a blessing to be able to do it, but I love my simple existence.
GT: Are the pressures of the modeling world, where women are held to such unrealistic standards, more relaxed in adult, where there’s an audience for every body type and age?
JT: I was surprised. I thought I was at that age where I wouldn’t get notices that require being sexual and sensual. I thought those days were done. But I’m finding more roles are coming up for older women. It used to be there were roles for Anne Bancroft and Sophia Loren and all these beautiful women in mainstream that were older and adored. They got away from that, but I think we’re going to start going in that direction again. I know in the adult industry there’s always pressure for women to feel that there aren’t as many years in it, but with Kay’s project it was special because she was trying to incorporate maturity through life experiences that a young person might not have yet. It is shocking to see yourself in these situations. It’s hard to watch yourself, period. But when you’re watching yourself in these situations, it’s even more “Wow, there I am, that’s as real as it gets!” With mainstream modeling, I’ll tell you, Photoshop changed people’s lives. You don’t have to have a small butt or waist or perfect skin anymore. You can go in looking one way and they Photoshop the mess out of things. People need to be more forgiving of themselves. People don’t look like that at all. Very few people are perfect. I’m OK with where I am, with my age, and I’m good with being a sensual person and having lived a lot, so the adult world compared to mainstream — there is still more ground to cover, and the more they create roles like Cherry … I know there are men that appreciate adult mature women, and younger women need older women to look to for inspiration and for them to be OK with becoming an older woman in this industry. Because this is such a new experience, I’m not sure how forgiving the adult industry is to older actresses. Kay is very different, because the way she writes and directs, she’s trying to create emotional places for people to connect to. It’s very different than just a visual world that a lot of men in the industry are directing, and aesthetically they’re thinking, It’s got to be perfect. I hope this opens more avenues for women who want to explore that side of themselves and are tired of viewing adult content that is so young that they can’t relate.
GT: How do you categorize this film? It’s more than erotica but not hardcore.
JT: I would say it’s sensual adult content. I’m not sure what is considered hardcore. I haven’t seen a lot of adult movies lately except for this one. It’s definitely sensual. Porn always was strange to me because it kind of alienates any sort of … when I’m intimate with somebody, it’s “Let’s go in the room,” not “Let’s be porno.” Kay has made a sensual art house film. It feels that way. It’s nice because it’s like sensual fantasy art house all in one place. That’s fine, because with people looking to this for entertainment and living out fantasy, it fills that gap. The jackhammering, the hardcore, I’m sure there’s variety that’s necessary for people because they’re interesting beings, and what works for one, what gets them excited or curious, it’s always different. We’re so individual. This is a nice way for people who don’t usually want to look at adult content films because they don’t want to watch a girl get humiliated or look like she’s grimacing in pain, they can’t relate, this is a nice place for them to go. People who are more romantic in a sense or like to feel their fantasy — Kay has created that. I don’t judge any sort of place that people go. We’re very complex in that way. We all have very different needs in our sex lives. This is a place where women who want to watch with somebody can actually engage in this and not be scared away from it. Where they’ve been lost before, they’ll enjoy. Kay didn’t heavily direct this in the sense of “Let’s get this lighting,” and “It’s all about this angle.” She let her actors connect first and build up. There’s actually foreplay in the film and it brings people into it gradually. There’s a buildup of excitement that pulls them together in that moment.
GT: You mentioned discussing the movie with your family prior to accepting the role.
JT: I have a very strong support system with my family. I have two daughters, ages 9 and 11, and one son who is 25. He’s an artist. He’ll be here during the summer working at the Cartoon Network. He went to art school, and at 15 he was drawing nudes at his school, so his way of learning about the body was amazing. It was a very healthy way to study the human anatomy; he was drawing people from ages 20 to 70 naked. He’s a really cool kid and I’m very proud of him. He’s very supportive as well. I grew up in a house full of women and we are a unit. My daughters know I act; they handed out programs at the theatre and they watch me in all my stuff that they can see. One of them stumbled across the Cherry poster and she wants to show everybody!
GT: That said, Cherry isn’t exactly a “pizza night with the family” movie. How did they react when you told them about it?
JT: I’m blessed that I have the coolest family and circle of friends. I definitely created that circle. You can choose the people that are in your life, and I always only chose people who love and support me, because that’s what I give. My family — if I chose to have pizza night, they would totally be in, but I’m a little shy. It’s hard for me to watch my acting, let alone this. My mom is very cool. She’s a strong woman. She emigrated from Cuba by herself in the 1950s, raised my sister and me, she’s a woman that’s lived a lot and took care of us. She couldn’t speak any English coming to this country, and she loved this country so much because of the opportunities. She was a waitress for 20 years, then went back to school and became a nurse. She’s an extremely smart woman and did everything she could to take care of us. She always raised us in a way that she doesn’t judge her kids. She loves us, and I’m really lucky. So when I brought it to her attention that I had this opportunity, she gave me her support and said, “People who judge you don’t pay your bills. I trust you. Do what you feel.” When I was in Palm Springs for the Dinah Shore event, we were promoting the series and I was on the phone with my son, telling him what I was doing there. I have a unique situation in that the people in my life genuinely don’t judge me and really care about me. I am able to live a life of my choosing and not care what other people think. I feel honestly I am unique in the sense that I can have that life. I feel for people who are so afraid that they’re going to have to constantly defend themselves or explain themselves to other people. I’m so blessed that the people in my life — we accept each other. It’s your life to make choices and learn from them, and our only job is to be there for each other. I’m truly blessed and grateful for it. Even my ex-husband and I are very good friends. The things that are important to people these days aren’t what’s really important. I just speak for myself, because everyone has their priorities, but I live my life in a sense that I’m kind and respectful to people. I don’t have all the answers, so it’s not my job to be in other people’s business. It’s just for me to live my life honestly and do what feels right for me. I have a good support system that recognizes and lets me do that.
THANK YOU JUDY! XOXO
Interviewed by Vonda Dix
To purchase the wonderful and erotic filled film, “CHERRY” click here: