Advertisement

The making of Supersex, Netflix’s most explicit show ever: ‘We wanted to dive into the core of masculinity’

‘She wanted to know what was inside [of] me… I was a little bit scared in the beginning’: Alessandro Borghi and Gaia Messerklinger in Netflix’s ‘Supersex’  (Lucia Iuorio/Netflix)
‘She wanted to know what was inside [of] me… I was a little bit scared in the beginning’: Alessandro Borghi and Gaia Messerklinger in Netflix’s ‘Supersex’ (Lucia Iuorio/Netflix)

Rocco Siffredi is an emblem, he’s an icon, he is the cock of the Western culture,” says Francesca Manieri, the filmmaker behind the Netflix drama Supersex, about one of history’s most prolific porn stars. “My goal was to put men in front of themselves. This is what we call the phallocentric system, the system in which the d*** is the centrum of the thought before everything. So what can you do right now, [in] 2024, to understand the relationship between men and women? And how can men put themselves in front of the image of their symbolic d*** and try to deconstruct all of this?”

These are the lofty aims of Supersex, a Netflix seven-parter inspired by Siffredi’s life. The star of more than 1,300 adult films, Siffredi retired from on-camera sex in 2004 – then returned to action five years later, then claimed to have once again stepped back from performing in 2022. In Supersex, Rocco Tano (played by Alessandro Borghi) is a boy growing up in the coastal Italian town of Ortona, who rises through the adult film industry like a rocket. Re-named Rocco Siffredi after the Alain Delon character in the 1970 gangster movie Borsalino, he stars in 1987 hit provocatively titled Sodopunition pour dépravées sexuelles and becomes a star.

I meet Siffredi in the ballroom of a Berlin hotel, and find a 59-year-old reflecting with some uncertainty the events of his life. “You have family, you have a wife, you have children and you never stop thinking, ‘Did I do the right thing or not?’” Tears begin to well in his eyes.

Among genre connoisseurs, Siffredi sits alongside John Holmes and Ron Jeremy as one of the top males in porn. But he suggests it came at a cost. “I was scared because I started in a business where everybody said, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’. They go to my family, ‘Why did you let him do this?’. I said, ‘I want to be this guy. I want to do this all my life. I will never change.’” The only person he didn’t want to hurt was his mother. “Because she already suffered too much herself. But when she said, ‘Don’t worry, do it’ – against everybody, even members of the family – I said, ‘I’m ready to f*** the world.’”

Siffredi certainly had a good go of it, with his partners numbering in the thousands (he did, for a time, experience sex addiction). The question is, post-#MeToo, can you even make a compelling, unironic drama about a real-life porn star? Supersex, at least, is the product of a woman – Manieri identifies as a feminist, and previously co-created the celebrated coming-of-age limited series We Are Who We Are with Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name). She argues that her plan was to “really deep dive [into] the core of masculinity”, as they unpacked the life of a skin flick legend.

Whether Supersex achieves this is debatable. The show comes across as a sleazy, European riposte to Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn industry classic Boogie Nights. The glitzy soundtrack brings us Eighties hits such as Visage’s “Fade to Grey” and Desireless’ “Voyage, Voyage”, laid across scenes of Rocco having intercourse in a Parisian sex club. It’s there he first catches the eye of his idol, Gabriel Pontello (Johann Dionnet), a French star and director of adult films, who introduces him to the wider world of X-rated entertainment.

Lots of children watch porn. And probably they don’t understand what they watch. Nobody [is] explaining to them… [but] I don’t consider this my responsibility, that’s for sure. We are entertainment for adults

Rocco Siffredi

As told in flashback, the young Rocco discovers eroticism via a softcore photo magazine called Supersex, which featured Pontello. Likewise, the show delves into Rocco’s relationship with his older brother Tommaso (Adriano Giannini) and with Tommaso’s partner Lucia (Jasmine Trinca), who becomes a sex worker on the streets of Pigalle in Paris. Maneri has cited as an influence Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, which features a notorious rape sequence – although surely placing your show next to that epic crime saga is wishful thinking.

Despite Supersex’s campier, melodramatic elements, it cut deep for Siffredi. “When I saw the series, seven hours, all at once… it was pretty difficult,” he says. “My mind was going so fast. So many memories. So much happiness but also much pain.” He said he had “friction” with Manieri when they were building the show, which is described in its opening credits as being “loosely” based on his life – he estimates 70 per cent of it is true. “She’s so deep. She wants to know what was inside [of] me… I was a little bit scared in the beginning.”

He wasn’t the only one. Borghi, 37, who shot to fame in the organised crime series Suburra, calls the show “absolutely the most complicated thing I’ve ever made in my life”. Not least because he was born in Rome, and Italy remains a strictly Roman Catholic country. “I was not really sure [about representing] that kind of complex issue, especially in my country,” he says. “You can talk about everything you want in Italy, but not about sex.” Supersex does at least allow us to reflect on the pervasive influence of pornography in the internet age. “I really grew up with porn,” Borghi says. “It was my sexual education. Nobody came to me telling me, ‘How does it work?’ on the internet. [Luckily], I had sex education from my parents, from my family. But maybe somebody [does] not have that kind of education.”

A star is porn: Siffredi in his X-rated heyday in 1999 (Tana Kayela/Shutterstock)
A star is porn: Siffredi in his X-rated heyday in 1999 (Tana Kayela/Shutterstock)

Siffredi, who has also directed and produced pornography, has given this a lot of thought. “We have [had] at least two different generations grow up with porn, [for] good and bad,” he says. “In some ways it is good, because people are less problematic than I was when I was young. Then [in] the other direction, porn becomes more and more, let’s say, colourful… any kind of porn [you could want] is there. And lots of children watch. And probably they don’t understand what they watch. Nobody [is] explaining to them… [but] I don’t consider this my responsibility, that’s for sure. We are entertainment for adults.”

As Manieri notes, porn is an unstoppable phenomenon in the digital age. “What we can do as a culture and industry is to ask questions about it and to reflect on the fact that porn in the Seventies was avant-garde, very futuristic,” she says. “At the beginning it was strictly connected with the power of sexuality.” Today it’s different, she argues. “In this series… we wanted to reflect not exactly on porn, but on what porn is hiding.”

Siffredi seems to think porn has changed for the better, arguing that the majority of adult movies are now directed by women. “When I started it was not like this,” he says. “If we used to call women ‘objects’, today I would call men objects because today porn is made by women.” Now, he believes women exert more control as they “choose to do porn”, or even manage their own careers via sites like OnlyFans.

He does, however, offer a warning to any prospective adult film stars out there. “Think three times, maybe four or five, before you choose to do something like this,” he says. “I [was] born to do this, but so many people think, ‘Oh, come on – I go, I make money, I become famous.’ It is not like this.”

‘Supersex’ streams on Netflix from 6 March