‘Consent is a law & rule for everybody so get on board, properly!’ Hayley Squires on new TV show, Adult Material, which humanises sex workers & challenges perceptions of consent in porn

‘Consent is a law & rule for everybody so get

“The performance is all in the wig, to be honest,” Hayley Squires jokes minutes into our interview as we discuss her game-changing new Channel 4 TV show, Adult Material. Well, it did take up to 5 hours to get Hayley into her MILF ‘armour,’ so maybe the wig needed an acting credit all of its own.

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Seriously, however, TV shows don’t come with more conversation starters than Adult Material. As the series follows Hayley’s Jolene Doller, a mother of three who happens to also be one of the top porn stars in the UK, it questions our views on consent, feminism and society’s outdated approach to not only female sex workers, but any woman who seeks to control and dictate the narrative of their own careers and lives.

Here, Hayley talks about visiting porn sets to prepare for her role, sexual consent for sex workers and sexism in the porn industry and beyond…

What did you do to prepare for the role of Jolene in Adult Material? I hear you visited an actual porn set – how did that change your preconceptions about porn?

It took some work to get onto a porn set the world of porn feels a bit like the magician’s circle in the sense that the city is closed for a reason so that secrets aren’t revealed and so the people involved are protected. I think because of how society views it; it feels like an industry that needs to protect each other. We eventually managed to get on to one. It was on a Saturday morning, I won’t say where, but it was in a warehouse studio space.

We got there and there was all of the male crew, which is actually very small. There’s the director, a stills photographer and then there were three guys who were operating the different cameras and the lighting. What was quite interesting was just how heavy the talk about technology was. The director/producer was coming at it from a point of view of the targets that needed to be met when it went on the internet and the algorithms that had provided them with the information of what they were going to shoot. This was a very big corporation that owns pretty much the majority of legitimate free porn on the internet so it’s a huge business. So, the director was talking us through the algorithms that happen on PornHub and YouPornwhich then dictates the content that they choose to shoot.

When I spoke to the performer I sat in with her when she was getting her makeup done. She was just talking me through how long she’d been doing it for. She was in the ‘MILF category’ but she was relatively new to it. Dawn, the director, really wanted to focus on the details and wanted to look at the details of the catering like what snacks are available. There were croissants, brioche and Salisbury’s multi-packs of different things, nuts, a big bowl of fruit. For me as well, it was about those behind the scenes details because that features quite heavily in the show. It was fascinating to go and look at that.

Going onto the porn set and seeing how male dominated it was, did it in a weird way feel not too dissimilar to the film sets you have been on throughout your career?

Yeah, actually! I think in the same that happens in our industry, when porn is female led in terms of writer, producer, director, I think it’s as much of a thing as it is in our industry. It is deemed unusual and deemed progress. There were definitely things that could be recognised like a way of working or a way of speaking to each other especially with the way the men spoke to each other, rather than the way the men speak to the women. There was definitely a similarity to when I’ve seen on male dominated sets and how they interact with each other, the talk and the banter that exists.

Does playing characters like this almost further compound how much further we have to go as a society to get rid of these sexist and outdated perceptions of women who come from differing professions as well?

Yeah, definitely! I feel like for so long porn was the thing that was at the forefront of conversation when it came to sexism. Porn was the go-to main problem in terms of objectifying women, doing things from the male gaze, women needing to reach a certain unrealistic beauty standard, the way that men viewed sex or what was expected from women. Having made this show my radar for it has been turned up. Now, even when you go on Instagram, for example, there’s a sense of female empowerment but also there’s a sense of this being about the male gaze, what men need and what men want. It’s in every area of life and I think that the main thing is, continuing the conversation and continuing to address it. We need to understand that people’s views about porn and the sexism is the sort of most extreme, obvious version of sexism, and then it’s about also understanding all the intricate ways that sexism comes into conversation or comes into everyday life.

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It is so important for us to have shows like Adult Material to keep this conversation around sexism going…

I think so. With Jolene as far as I’m concerned, she’s a feminist. She fights very hard for and very hard for what she has. She works to better herself within her means. She confronts these men as well as the women. She goes after the women; she goes after herself in the end as well. She’s complex, she’s multilayered, you are never spoon-fed whether what she is doing is right or wrong. The other thing that I think it does is ask that question of, if this was the other way around, if there were men in the position that these women are in and it’s so obvious that the treatment would be different. I’ve had moments where I’ve been in meetings about work and questions have been asked or moments have happened on set and it’s not that I’ve gone into an outrage, but just in my head, I go, “I know that this wouldn’t happen if I was a man.”

What would be some sort of triggering sexist things that you’ve experienced?

I like to make myself a little bit busy on set but sometimes I think that they want actors to just shut up and do their job. I just like to know what’s going on. There’s been times on different sets where I would ask that question, not in a pushy way, not in a difficult way and often there’s a reaction from crew members that’s a little on edge, like you’re being difficult. I’ve been on sets with male cast, they would ask the same question and the answer would be there. It’s so strange how it’s ingrained that if you question as a woman, there’s sometimes a sense that you’re being difficult.

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How amazing were the wigs in helping you transform into Jolene?

It was so helpful. Originally, she was very classic MILF with huge fake boobs and big blonde hair but there was no way blonde was going to work with these eyebrows. I actually found a picture of Kim Kardashian leaving a photo shoot and she had red hair shoulder length hair wearing a red latex catsuit. I suggested we went red as she looked like a fierce superhero. When she’s at the height of ‘porn star,’ every morning it was new fake nails on, the Jolene dollar tattoo, the fake tan, the wig, the eyelashes and do all of the makeup including the lips. I said to the women on set, a couple of times, “You’ve done 50% of my job.” I didn’t feel like I needed to look in the mirror as it gave me a huge amount of confidence. It was like a superhero costume that you could then just commit to all of these mad moments.

How long did it take to get into the ‘sex worker superhero costume’ head to toe, every day?

We ended up getting it down to an hour, in the end but that was two people working on me at the same time. But we had days where we were putting the boobs on between. And if there was a boob day with full hair and makeup it would be about four to five hours. The boobs take over three hours to get on. Once they were on, and they weren’t my breasts, there was such a confidence about it, it was like armour.

What is the conversation you want to start with Adult Material and what kind of taboos do you want to shatter, smash and destroy?

I feel like one of the main ones are about consent and sexual abuse. The #MeToo movementthat has happened and is happening was such a massive conversation in our industry. I think it’s definitely contributed to this sort of second wave of feminism with women speaking up for themselves and men joining that cause. With the script we ask the question, “does sexual consent exist for sex workers?” and how asking that question is pushing the conversation of consent to the furthest point. I love it because it’s like, are we going to do this for all women? Or is it only women that you deem your version of feminists? Or your version of empowered? Are you going to be open enough to understand that for some women this is empowerment? Working in this industry makes them feel empowered or it gives them something in their lives that they deem a success. So, are we going to protect those women in the same way that we would protect women that are working in offices? I think that’s a huge conversation starter, and something that I hope people will look at.

That goes hand-in-hand with breaking down all of those society clichés that we have, that these women are either victims, or whores that work in this industry. They are much more complex than that. I hope people start understanding these people as human beings, rather than the sort of fantastical sexual figures that we see when we go on Pornhub. We need to understand that they have lives and they have mental health as well; they have minds that they have to live with every day – they’re not robots! They’re not just vulgar people that you don’t understand, or that you’re scared of. They’re dealing with all of the same juggling of life that we are like kids, relationships, paying bills, what their future’s going to be and what’s happened in their past. Humanising sex workers, if we were going to be broad about it, is an important conversation starter.

That’s so true, we’ve come so far in terms of promoting feminist conversations, but it seems to be about an exclusive form of feminism. The whole point of feminism is equality full stop…

Equality for everybody – exactly! That is the bottom line, for me, and there are no two ways about it. Nobody in this world should be abused. Nobody in this world should have advantage taken of them. Consent is a law and a rule for everybody so if you want to get on board, get on board properly.

Adult Material starts on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm with all episodes immediately appearing on All4 afterwards.

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