'it's a different approach'

Porn actor Colby Keller offers a new kind of performance on ‘High Maintenance’

HBO

Some familiar faces turn up in the first episode of High Maintenance—the Vimeo web series-turned-HBO program that premieres tonight at 11 p.m.—and I don’t just mean recurring character Max, who’s back to terrorize the show’s unnamed weed-dealing protagonist once more.

About halfway through the episode, we find Max, played by actor Max Jenkins, bent over a wooden dining room table getting fucked by some dude he met on Grindr. The scene feels appropriately passionate, with plenty of slow-panning camerawork and angelic soprano soundtracking. But as those slow pans shift from the two men’s bodies to the white marble kitchen island to the moldings to the high ceilings, you realize that at least half of Max’s mounting orgasm can be attributed to the real estate boner raging between his legs. “Oh, Jesus,” Max gasps between breaths as he knocks a Mason jar of pens off the table. “Oh, my god. What is your rent like?”

It’s precisely this kind of unexpected yet oh-so-real way of capturing the hilarious minutiae of New York life that drew fans to the show, co-created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair, who also stars as the series lead. But Max’s casual way of asking about the rent regardless of circumstance isn’t the only thing worth noting about the scene; the guy from Grindr he’s having sex with is played by porn performer slash artist Colby Keller in his first major acting role outside of the adult film industry.

Colby Keller on "High Maintenance"HBO

Colby Keller on "High Maintenance"

While this will probably be Colby Keller’s first introduction to most of High Maintenance‘s viewing audience, gay men have been following his career as a porn performer at studios like CockyBoys and Sean Cody for over a decade now.

More recently, he’s garnered attention for his art project, “Colby Does America,” in which he trekked across the country with the goal of having sex with someone, on camera, in every state. (Vice dubbed him “The Marina Abramović of Gay Porn” in response, while The Kernel opted for the more general “Hipster King of Gay Porn.”) But Keller, speaking to me over the phone after a long-ass flight he spent watching The Clan and The Lobster, says that his experience on the set of High Maintenance came with a whole new set of challenges for him as a performer.

“I’ve done short films—very, very minor roles with no lines—but this is my first real exposure to acting,” Keller tells me. “You do quite a bit of acting in porn. Like with [director] Joe Gage, most of the video, maybe 60% of it, is just running lines. But in porn, you don’t have to deliver the line effectively. As long as you say what you have to say, that’s good enough.” He laughs, adding that it’s “a different approach.”

Christopher Caldwell, a.k.a. Bob the Drag Queen, on "High Maintenance"HBO

Christopher Caldwell, a.k.a. Bob the Drag Queen, on "High Maintenance"

Colby isn’t the only familiar face, and familiar fave among queer circles, to turn up on Friday night’s episode of High Maintenance. Without spoiling the plot, Keller and Max Jenkins’ characters move to a new location post-coitus where they meet another character played expertly and sensitively by Christopher Caldwell—a.k.a. Bob the Drag Queen, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season eight. New York cabaret icon Justin Vivian Bond will also make an appearance later on in the season.

“[Caldwell is] just a really genuine, friendly, nice, outgoing person,” 35-year-old Keller tells me. “He was really good at making sure everyone felt comfortable on set. He’s just really funny and can carry a conversation, which are definitely skills I don’t have so I admire them in other people. Jack Ferver [who played Jimmy Tickles on Strangers with Candy and also appears in Friday’s episode of High Maintenance], too… It was so fun being in the presence of people like that. You learn a great deal, even when the camera’s not rolling. It was all so challenging for me, but being with people who are so comfortable [with acting] put me at ease.”

Keller, who is based out of New York and Tucson—not that he spends much time in either city, he says—tells me that he’d like to continue to pursue acting beyond the High Maintenance guest spot. He couldn’t reveal any concrete details, but he did hint at a few other projects including a web series and a short film by a “very well known director,” although he didn’t name names. Perhaps this familiar face is about to get a little more familiar in the near future.