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Working stiff: actor Michael Cunio explains why he was up to playing the title character in The Fluffer. (Film).

"When I was a kid, fluffing meant farting," actor Michael Cunio recalls. But the titular role he embodies in the dark new dramedy The Fluffer has nothing to do with prepubescent flatulence, dryer settings, or even quilting. Instead, this fluffer is the helpful person on a porn set who ensures that a male performer is, er, up and running.

Codirected by creative and love partners Richard Glatzer (Grief) and Wash West, The Fluffer is actually less concerned with porn than with universal themes of obsession, lust, and narcissism. Pillow-lipped, sultry-eyed Cunio plays Sean McGinnis, a young filmmaker wanna-be who becomes obsessed with gay porn video star Johnny Rebel (Bay-watch's Scott Gurney). Circumstances lead to Sean's fluffing this strapping object of desire and obsessive love, but Johnny turns out to be not only gay-for-pay but a self-destructive, reckless vanity case, trying to stay afloat despite a pregnant stripper girlfriend (Roxanne Day) and worsening drug habits.

The Fluffer's porn universe was researched thoroughly by gay adult film director West, whose genre-transcendent, award-winning efforts include Naked Highway and the recent Devil Is a Bottom. Many real-life porn personalities, including Cole Tucker, Chad Donovan, and Chi Chi LaRue, make appearances in The Fluffer, as do writer-actor Guinevere Turner and singer-actor Deborah Harry.

Hailing from Seattle, Cunio--who appeared in the cheesy Disney TV film Motocrossed as a dastardly, silly-accented Frenchman--admits he was vaguely familiar with the act of fluffing thanks to a drug-dealing neighbor who fluffed part-time. But like his naive character, Cunio admits, the porn world's minutiae were completely alien to him at first.

"At first you're like, `E-e-ew, what's that? Oh, there's a leather thing that you hang from,'" he recalls. "But then five minutes later it's `Where's the coffee? What are we having for lunch?' It's incredibly, incredibly boring, and the people involved in it are just regular people. On the second day [we shot a scene with] this big fuckin' badass, scary-looking guy, Cole Tucker. I thought to myself, What the hell did I get myself into? I'm so not ready for this. But we started talking, and he was the sweetest, kindest, most wonderful person. He had his partner with him; they were very much in love and had been together a hundred million years, yet he had this professional life that seemed at first glance subversive, but he was so totally together. He was one of my favorite people on the set."

To retain the film's strained sense of distance between Sean and Johnny, Cunio and Gurney avoided each other when cameras weren't rolling. But adherence to his character's situation ended there. Cunio, who's straight, says he has avoided obviously ill-advised obsessions in real life, and he found it a huge challenge to portray Sean's tendency to fall into them. "His heart is really in the right place, and he means well and wants to do good, but he keeps fucking up," Cunio opines. "How do you make that human--make him a person with dignity and strength in the midst of that?"

Glatzer admits that Cunio was so pitch- and picture-perfect as Sean that "Wash would [even] hire Michael as a fluffer on a porn set--no one would need Viagra with him around!" But Cunio is dubious that his performance will launch such a second career--if Mom has anything to do with it, that is: "My mom's like, `Well, if this film is successful, I sure hope people don't think you're going to go off and fluff too!'"

Ferber contributes to Time Out New York and other publications.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Ferber, Lawrence
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 20, 2001
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