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Life as a Warhol Superstar: Joe Dallesandro’s Conversation with Bruce LaBruce

Being a fan of the Warhol Superstars (whom my fellow Toronto queercore coconspirators and I emulated in the ’80s), I eagerly seized the opportunity to interview the formidable , also known as “Little Joe.” I had the pleasure of meeting Joe previously in 1998 when I photographed him for Index magazine. On that occasion, when we picked Joe up outside the Hotel Brevoort, an L.A. apartment building he oversees, he appeared somewhat disgruntled. To break the ice, I inquired about the building’s history. His response was succinct yet profound, stating, “Somebody built it and now people live in it.” It was a perspective I had not encountered before. However, after treating him to Taco Bell, his demeanor shifted, leading to a pleasant and professional photo session.

Joe Dallesandro rose to prominence for portraying hustler or hustler-related roles in the Warhol films directed by Paul Morrissey, including Flesh (1968), Trash (1970), and Heat (1972). Subsequently, he appeared in the Warhol/Morrissey horror parodies Flesh for Frankenstein (1973) and Blood for Dracula (1974), alongside the iconic Udo Kier. While many associate him primarily with these performances, Joe’s acting career extended well beyond the Warhol era, encompassing over a decade of work in art and exploitation cinema in France and Italy. Throughout our conversation, I endeavored to focus on his extensive body of work, steering away from the more sensational aspects of his life. Joe’s openness about his sexuality, being openly bisexual as per Wikipedia, led to some memorable quotes in Flesh that underscored his philosophy on sexuality and mental health—an ethos worth embracing in life.


SUNDAY, DEC 3, 12 PM, 2023 LA

BRUCE LABRUCE: Hello, Mr. Dallesandro. How are you today?

JOE DALLESANDRO: I’m well. Please, call me Joe.

LABRUCE: Thank you for taking the time on a Sunday afternoon, Joe.

DALLESANDRO: Sundays are my free days. I can do whatever I please on a Sunday.

LABRUCE: That sounds relaxing. How do you typically spend the rest of your week?

DALLESANDRO: I manage a building, overseeing rent collection, maintenance scheduling, and ensuring the building’s upkeep.

LABRUCE: That building being the Brevoort, right?

DALLESANDRO: Yes, just a regular building with an intriguing history. The Black Dahlia resided there with her boyfriend a year before her tragic demise. Interestingly, I filmed Hustler White, where I pursued Tony Ward through the streets and over a wall, only to discover it was the Brevoort.

LABRUCE: You’ve crossed paths with Tony Ward, haven’t you? I recall seeing photos of you two on your Twitter.


LABRUCE: Hustler White [1996] paid homage to your roles in the Paul Morrissey films Flesh[1968], Trash[1970], and Heat[1972]. As a cinephile, I’m keen to delve into your filmography. But before that, there’s a tale of you stealing a car at 15 and engaging in a dramatic car chase through the Holland Tunnel with the police.

A promotional still featuring Joe Dallesandro and Sylvia Miles in Heat, 1972.

DALLESANDRO: A true story.

LABRUCE: Suffering a gunshot wound during the chase must have been intense. How did you handle the pain?

DALLESANDRO: Surprisingly, it wasn’t painful initially. I only realized I was shot upon seeing blood. The bullet remained lodged in my leg, necessitating a hospital visit for extraction.

LABRUCE: Did you hitch a ride or walk to the hospital?

DALLESANDRO: I spotted an unattended car with the engine running due to the winter chill. Discarding a set of keys, I swiftly entered the car, driving home cautiously, guided by signs as I was unfamiliar with the area. Upon reaching home, my father insisted on a hospital visit, where the police awaited, aware of the stolen car incident. I opted to confess.

LABRUCE: Did the experience feel like a scene from a movie?

DALLESANDRO: Far from it. It was a daunting ordeal, evoking a sense of impending trouble. My subsequent stint in a reform school, or rather a work camp, marked a challenging chapter.

LABRUCE: What kind of work did you undertake there?

DALLESANDRO: Engaged in forestry tasks like tree felling and pruning to avert fire hazards. While not ideal for a 15-year-old, the experience imparted practical skills for the future.

LABRUCE: Your proficiency with tools and gardening featured prominently in your later Italian films, resonating with elements of your own life. Season for Assassins[1975] comes to mind.

DALLESANDRO: Ah, Season for Assassins[1975], a memorable project indeed.

LABRUCE: Working alongside legendary actors like Martin Balsam must have left an impression.

DALLESANDRO: Balsam epitomized true professionalism, though his demanding demeanor with crew members was notable. His dedication to the craft was commendable, albeit challenging at times.

LABRUCE: Your repertoire includes portraying a range of characters, from sadistic roles to sexually charged ones, akin to La Marge[1976]. Did these roles stem from your association with the Warhol aesthetic?

DALLESANDRO: La Marge[1976] with Sylvia Kristel presented a unique dynamic. While she transitioned away from nudity, I embraced it when necessary, albeit without enthusiasm. Nudity in scripts was accommodated without hesitation, though my youthful aspiration of creating a child-friendly cartoon remained unfulfilled.

LABRUCE: Your prolific European career during the sexually liberated ‘70s reflects a cultural ethos that influenced your cinematic trajectory.

DALLESANDRO: Indeed, my transition to European cinema post-Warhol era was guided by audience expectations and industry trends, leading to collaborations with notable figures like Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.

LABRUCE: Working with Serge Gainsbourg must have been enriching.

DALLESANDRO: A memorable experience indeed. Their avant-garde approach and artistic vision resonated with me, resulting in a fruitful collaboration ahead of its time.

LABRUCE: The surrealism in films like Black Moon and the challenges of working with animals and children added depth to the cinematic experience.

DALLESANDRO: True, the unpredictability of animals and children posed unique challenges. However, the unconventional setting and camaraderie among the cast made the filming process enjoyable.

LABRUCE: Your preference for crew camaraderie over cast interactions is intriguing.

DALLESANDRO: Producers’ assertiveness often clashed with my perspective, valuing the contributions of the crew who ensured a conducive working environment on set.

LABRUCE: Television roles marked a shift in pace and demands compared to the European cinema landscape.

DALLESANDRO: Television productions necessitated a faster rhythm akin to underground films, demanding efficient work ethics and adaptability.

LABRUCE: Reflecting on your Warhol era experiences, films like Lonesome Cowboys[1968] captured a carefree essence. Where was that filmed?

DALLESANDRO: Arizona provided the backdrop for the unconventional shoot, contrasting Morrissey’s structured approach with Warhol’s laissez-faire style, emphasizing spontaneity and vibrant personalities on set.

LABRUCE: Viva’s vivaciousness evidently left an impression.

DALLESANDRO: Indeed, her spirited demeanor defined the set dynamics, emphasizing individuality and unscripted interactions, a hallmark of Warhol’s unorthodox filmmaking.

LABRUCE: Your journey from a model with Bob Mizer to a prolific actor spanning 55 films is remarkable.

DALLESANDRO: The transition from modeling to acting was serendipitous, providing sustenance and paving the way for a multifaceted career trajectory.

LABRUCE: Your collaboration with John Waters on Cry-Baby[1990] hinted at untapped potential.

DALLESANDRO: Regrettably, the opportunity for further collaboration with John was limited. Nonetheless, the experience was cherished, underscoring the transient nature of creative partnerships.

LABRUCE: Your enduring legacy as one of the last Superstars resonates with cinephiles worldwide.

DALLESANDRO: Each cinematic chapter contributed to a diverse tapestry of experiences, embodying authenticity and adaptability in a dynamic industry landscape.

LABRUCE: Thank you for sharing your insights, Joe.

DALLESANDRO: It was a pleasure.

Joe Dallesandro in 1970 [Constantin-Film postcard].


Photography Assistant: Sam Massey

Hair: Johnny Stuntz using Stuntz Beauty at Uncommon Artists

Makeup: Darian Darling

Archival photos courtesy of The Paul Morrissey Archive.