The Lair is a campy fun soap opera that ran for three seasons mainly centered around a coven of gay vampires operating a sex club to lure their prey. Each season is full of subplots with a Dorian Gray-like portrait, an abusive boyfriend, a werewolf, a mad scientist, a killer plant, a Gorgon, a killer head, a magic ring and a disgruntled Vampiress. Oh yeah… and there’s a lot of hot guys and sex!
Recently I spoke with the show’s Writer/Producer/Director Fred Olen Ray to learn the history and development of The Lair. I also reached out to the entire main cast and had the honor of talking with stars Peter Stickles, Brian Nolan, Dylan Vox, Colton Ford and Frankie Valenti to discuss their experiences with The Lair and catch up on what they’re all doing now.
The Director: Fred Olen Ray
Fred Olen Ray was born in Wellston, Ohio and grew up in Sarasota, Florida. When Fred was a kid back in the 60s, there was a magazine called Famous Monsters he was really into. Every now and then they’d run an article about kids around the country using their parent’s 8mm home movie cameras making their own films. He thought that was pretty cool so around 1968 he got his own 8mm camera and began making his own horror movies. Fred wanted to get into feature films and thought he’d be a makeup artist and hadn’t really given any thought to directing. When Fred got out of the service he studied Broadcast Engineering, got his FCC license and went to work in television as an Engineer in Orlando, Florida. While working at the station Fred had made his first feature film with Buster Crabbe called The Alien Dead. He wasn’t happy working at the television station so, with nothing to lose, in 1982 he and his brother packed up and moved to California and went right to work in the unemployment line. He began working $5 an hour jobs to support him and his son. By 1983 he’d made his first feature film, Scalps on the weekends and another, Biohazard in 35mm; which some people paid a lot of money to buy it. The same people funded him the money to make The Tomb with John Carradine, Cameron Mitchell and Sybil Danning.
Fred was making a movie in Hawaii called Final Examination for Warner Bros. when he met Dante’s Cove Executive Producer Paul Colichman as they were looking to move the show from the Turks and Caicos Islands to Hawaii. Since Fred had already worked in Hawaii he was hired as the Supervising Producer for two seasons.
In the early days of Here TV, they really didn’t have much programming and kept playing the same few shows over and over. The network wanted more product and went to Fred because he had done a series of bikini-type movies for Cinemax and wanted something in that budget range, fast and cheap. The Lair was born. Due to the low budget The Lair was shot in Los Angeles and not Hawaii. Here TV gave Fred permission to do anything he wanted as long as the series was about a vampire driven sex club. Fred is a huge fan of the 60’s soap opera Dark Shadows so he decided to make The Lair the gay vampire version of Dark Shadows with all the different characters and creatures worked into the storylines.
The first season of The Lair was only six episodes and very underfunded, but for some reason people really liked it. Season two was 9 episodes and season three was 13 episodes. Fred wrote and directed every episode. Shooting was averaging two days per episode, which is a very heavy schedule with 15 or more pages per day. Fred’s biggest challenge was addressing every major character in every episode within 20 minutes. Each of the storylines had to be covered in every episode so fans of the actors wouldn’t be disappointed if their favorite wasn’t on. All storylines had to connect so by the end of the season there would be a cliffhanger that would make people want to see more.
When Fred is asked “how can you direct this when you’re straight and this is a gay show?” his response is “there are plenty of gay directors who are directing straight shows – why don’t you ask them the same question? At the end of the day what are you really doing but telling a story with a camera.” Unless it’s something Fred is morally opposed to like violence against women or people snorting cocaine then he’s ok with it.
These days Fred is working mostly on made for TV movies for Lifetime and Hallmark like Abner the Invisible Dog, Collision Course, Sniper: Special Ops, Stage Fright, A Christmas in Vermont, Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood, A Mother’s Revenge, A Prince for Christmas and Unwanted Guest just to name a few.
Actor: Peter Stickles (Damian Courtenay)
Peter was born in the Upstate New York town of Oswego and always wanted to be an actor since he was very young. He attended college at Fredonia State University near Buffalo, New York where he studied film making and video production. When it came to making the student films Peter took on the casting role and started casting himself in a lot of them. He always knew he wanted to work in film making but didn’t know how to go to school for film acting. He knew of theater and worked on the television station doing the campus soap opera called Credit Hours. After college, he moved to New York City to pursue his dream of being an actor where at first, he did a lot of background work on shows like Law & Order, Third Watch, Strangers With Candy and Sex in the City. His first actual paying job was a television show on the Oxygen channel called Guy Spy which happened right before 9/11. After 9/11 everything was pushed to the backburner and the project disappeared without ever airing.
Peter gained a lot of positive attention for his role as the voyeur in the “controversial”, sexually explicit and fantastic John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus. It was Peter’s fellow Shortbus castmate and friend, Jay Brannon, who had been contacted about a vampire show being made in Los Angeles. He had no interest in it but knew Peter would so he recommended Peter to production… only the email address Jay submitted is one Peter didn’t check regularly. Here TV did email Peter about a role but he didn’t see it until the email was about three weeks old and thought there was no way they were still interested. He called anyways, explained the situation and they were indeed still interested so within a day or two he was flown to Los Angeles to start work on The Lair without ever having read a script yet or knowing who any of his costars were.
At first Peter was told he would be playing the role of a reporter investigating all the murders, which is the Thom Etherton role. He wasn’t right for that role but he was perfect for the role of Damian Courtenay – head vampire and operator of The Lair. Fred Ray noted that normally for shows like this actors with porn experience are used. Because of the content, it’s difficult to get actors to do these types of roles. Peter’s role in Shortbus and his outstanding acting ability is what got him cast in The Lair.
Being part of The Lair taught Peter lasting skills in how to memorize an insane amount of dialog in a short period of time since the show was on such a tight production schedule. Fred ran a tight ship in a good way having to shoot so many pages of script each day. Peter and Fred have worked together a lot over the years. Recently Fred told Peter he’d love to consider him his muse but he already had a career going before they met because of Peter’s success with Shortbus. Peter likes to say that Fred is his Tim Burton to his Johnny Depp because Fred has believed in and rooted for Peter since they met. Peter feels like he owes a lot to Fred since he’s been such a cheerleader and he just loves that guy.
Peter still lived in New York for seasons 1 & 2, had moved to Los Angeles by season 3 and was roommates with Brian Nolan for a time. Brian is a very special guy and has been a significant part of Peter’s life for the last 10 years. Brian is the first-person Peter thinks of when he needs a +1 to an event, they spend holidays together and have become family.
Since The Lair’s debut, Peter has kept busy acting in a variety of films such as 2 Minutes Later, George’s Intervention, I Want to Get Married, Evil Bong 3: The Wrath of Bong, Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver, Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, The Trouble with Barry, Best Day Ever, All I Want for Christmas, Confessions and Shhhh. Peter’s most recent role is in a Lifetime movie called Stage Fright where he plays a very young “Anthony-Perkins-in-Psycho-like” stalker directed by none other than Fred Olen Ray. He recently did a local theater production of Othello and a season two episode of the episodic audio series, Darkest Night, written by the brilliant Michael Varrati and is available on iTunes. For the last few years Peter has been touring as a personal assistant and collaborator with the Michael Carbonaro Live Show assisting on stage with illusions and are preparing to go back on tour in September.
Actor: Brian Nolan (Frankie)
Brian Nolan was born in Orlando, Florida and grew up in Temple Lake Mary, Florida where he started doing theater in high school. He went to college for musical theater and when he graduated he did some theater in the Southeast. After a year he moved to Los Angeles at 24 years old. His first professional acting job in L.A. was a Domino’s Pizza commercial while he did the usual odd jobs like waiting tables and was a casting assistant to pay the bills.
Brian first heard about The Lair on Actors Access Breakdown. He submitted for it but nothing happened so he had postcards made with his headshot, agent and contact information on it and sent it to the casting office. The Lair Producer Kim Ray saw it, thought he looked like a young Tom Hanks and called him in to audition from that. Brian originally read for the part of Thom Etherton but wasn’t right for that role. He was about to leave when Fred Olen Ray told him he needed a really good actor for the role of Frankie and he was a really good actor. That compliment from Fred was everything. Brian was nervous about auditioning for the Frankie role because he wasn’t prepared. He was given a little bit of time and after about 10 minutes he went back in and he nailed it. A couple of days later they called him and told him he got the part. Brian is a huge fan of Dante’s Cove so he was so excited to be on The Lair.
Since the entire cast was there every single day, Brian remembers the first season of The Lair being like summer camp; 12 hour days hanging out. They were shooting at a place in Downtown Los Angeles called The Entertainium, which was a swinger’s club that had a lot of hallways, caverns, weird locker rooms and beds everywhere and between scenes they’d all get lost checking it all out.
Brian comes from the theater world where he was so over the top, big and comedic; he taught himself how to be an on-camera actor from being on The Lair. His character is so different between seasons 1 & 2. In season one Frankie was a nervous and scared human pretty much on the brink of tears a lot of the time and in season two Frankie the ghost became the comic relief of the show. For a time, Brian didn’t think he was going to be in season two because Frankie was dead but he thanks Fred and Kim Ray for bringing him back.
The Lair opened doors to other acting opportunities for Brian: appearances on Hannah Montana, films such as Role/Play, George’s Intervention, Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, Abner the Invisible Dog, the short film Groom’s Cake and it’s feature length sequel Birthday Cake, web series like The Glass Slipper Confessionals and Child of the ‘70s.
Now Brian produces made for TV movies at Hybrid, LLC. He got into that world because of Fred and Kim Ray and feels he owes his success in this chapter of his life to them. He’s built an impressive resume of movies he’s produced: Ominous, A Prince for Christmas, Kidnapped: The Hannah Anderson Story, 12 Gifts of Christmas, The Wrong Roommate, Sniper: Special Ops and His Secret Past to name just a few. As an actor Brian is only there for his part but as a producer he’s in the project from the beginning to the end and it’s creatively fulfilling. The great part about Brian’s job now is he gets to act in some of the movies he produces as well: A Christmas in Vermont, Holiday Road Trip and The Wrong Neighbor. Brian’s most recent project as a producer is the upcoming made for TV biopic called Lost Boys: A Tale of 2 Corey’s about Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. Brian will also have a role in that movie as Tom Hanks in The Burbs.
Actor: Dylan Vox (Colin)
Dylan Vox grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. He went to school for Political Science, Journalism and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia. He was a competitive ice skater and trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He then received an MBA at the University of Colorado. While Dylan likes Jon Snow, he hated the Colorado snow so he moved to California and enrolled at Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu. Someone pointed out to Dylan that he should be on television so he did a reality show on E! called Fight for Fame. By that time, he had stopped skating but still wanted to do something performance based. He graduated Law School, became a lawyer and hated it.
Dylan had gotten the opportunity to audition for Dante’s Cove. They asked him if he would bleach his hair blonde. He said, “sure no problem” but probably should have said no after finding out what it did to his head doing that for four years. Fred explained the producers of Dante’s Cove had an episode that was a bit scant where they hadn’t reached the erotic content people expected so they shot a few scenes with the character Colin operating a sex club, played by Dylan completely naked except for boots to cut into that episode to spice it up. When it came time to do The Lair, Here TV said to use Dylan so he would connect the two shows. It was never established in Dante’s Cove that Colin was a vampire.
Dylan also talked about the insane shooting schedule and praised Fred Olen Ray as being the only person on the planet who could pull that off and keep the style and substance that is needed to make a movie or TV show. Dylan also credits the cast members who could learn the dialog quickly and deliver it when need be because there was no rehearsal, not a lot of action… it was a get up you’re ready to go type of situation. Dylan developed the skill of learning a vast amount of dialog in a short period of time and to always be present in the moment. He notices it on other film productions when an actor may be struggling to learn a few lines and in turn they notice he never seems to struggle to learn his lines.
Dylan loved the camaraderie of the main cast. The very first day he showed up on set, the first thing they shot was the love scene between him and Peter Stickles. They shook hands in the makeup room and were each given a sock to wear and nothing else. They didn’t know each other but were both laughing about it. They became good friends after that.
Dylan also loved that Fred wrote all the characters so that anyone, male, female, old, young, could play them. It didn’t necessarily have to be a bunch of gay guys. He wrote it to be neutral. The way they went about it was fun because it wasn’t a stereotypical gay show. It didn’t have anything to do with political correctness, coming out or AIDS. Watching the show, you know the characters are gay, but it’s not in your face. The focus is on the characters and the storylines. Dylan would like to see more LGBT productions that aren’t the typical tragic gay characters.
Since The Lair, Dylan has still been acing with an impressive list of credits such as: Pornography: A Thriller, Homewrecker, Shut Up and Kiss Me, Titanic II, Virus X, Vampire Boys, Aliens vs. Avatars, Longhorns, Super Shark, Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood, Jersey Shore Shark Attack, Sleeping Beauty, Hercules Reborn, Dead 7, Confessions and the SyFy TV show Z Nation among many others. His most recent film is Troy the Odyssey due out late 2017. He also learned to be a Line Producer working on Fred Olen Ray productions after The Lair. Dylan has now started his own production company, ToolVox Productions, LLC and is currently working on a film with Eileen Davidson. He just finished an animated film called CarGo with Haley Joel Osment, Melissa Joan Hart and Ed Asner among other. He just finished a musical play with Sally Struthers and Leslie Jordan which Leslie wrote. He’ll also be producing a new web series that will start filming later this year.
Dylan is not a “no person”. He believes in this business when someone offers you a job, you just have to do it. It’s not always about the money, it’s more about saying “this is what I do as a living” and he’s done well saying yes a lot. He’s also a diverse actor and doesn’t limit himself.
Dylan has worked several years with Step Up on Second in Santa Monica, California which is like a mission for the homeless where they raise money, focus on mental health, they give out blankets on Christmas, aim to give the people a purpose and just built a new housing facility.
Actor: Colton Ford (Sheriff Trout)
Colton Ford grew up in Mission Viejo, California. All throughout school he was always performing in the choir, musicals and plays. He was also a diver and a gymnast. After high school, he got a gig in a dinner theater performing show tunes and contemporary music. After a while he started doing commercial jingles. Colton moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and started his career in full force at that point. In the late ‘80s Colton was signed to Jon St. James who also Produced Stacy Q and Bardeux. In 1992, he was paired up with Frankie Knuckles, the Godfather of House Music. He was with Virgin Records in 1992 and 1996. He did porn for 10 months from 2001 – 2002.
Colton had done a documentary called Naked Fame in 2004 which Regent Entertainment Media Inc./Here Media Inc. acquired and released right around the time he was transitioning out of porn and back into music and started releasing singles like “Sign, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “Pepper Mashay”. Colton was approached by Here TV regarding The Lair and it was a cool opportunity for Colton to expand his entertainment endeavors. Originally, he was considered for the role of Damian but the producers felt he was too rugged and bulky but he was perfect for the role of Sheriff Trout. The producers wanted someone more mature for the Sheriff – yet they had Colton dye his hair brown. His hair was a little salt & peppery so in season one he had to dye it a couple of times because it grew too quick. In seasons two and three the makeup artist used mascara to cover the gray. Colton thought it was funny – if they wanted him to be more mature they should have let him have a little salt & pepper.
One of the things that really worked to Colton’s benefit was in seasons one and two he never had his clothes off. He wanted it that way because he didn’t want people to think he got the role because he was comfortable being naked; he wanted them to know he could act and make the character believable. It wasn’t until season three when he did a nude scene.
During the second season Colton was going through some personal changes and moved to New York. He was subletting an apartment in Woodside Queens with a 40-minute train ride into the city each day. He’s also a personal trainer so it was a lot. Peter Stickles was moving to Los Angeles so he offered to sublet his apartment in the city to Colton and it worked out perfectly.
Colton really enjoyed the fast-paced shooting schedule and likes being challenged. It was like a soap opera where you would learn your lines the day before or sometimes the day of the shoot. It kept everybody on their toes. It wasn’t Shakespeare, there was a lot of camp to it and it was fun making the campy lines real and believable. Everybody, especially Fred and Kim Ray were great to work with which made it easier. He had a great time working on the show and is grateful for the experience.
Colton has released four albums, numerous singles, he toured with Cyndi Lauper on her True Colors tour and he’s done a lot of work on Logo. He did a TV show called Threesome and an off- Broadway musical called Little House on the Ferry about a group of guys on Fire Island. Colton has since moved back to Los Angeles and did an original play called And All the Dead, Lie Down (which Peter Stickles and Brian Nolan went to see). His most recent album is titled Glenn Soukesian released on his own terms on his own label. He’s getting ready to release a new single, songwriting for other artists, he just became licensed as a Loan Originator and he’s still training. Colton is satisfied creatively and intellectually with a nice balance doing the things he wants to do at the pace he wants to do it.
Colton is a supporter of causes for the gay community and animal rights such as AIDS Project L.A., Project Angel Food, It Gets Better and the Humane Society as well as causes for children’s rights and human rights.
Actor: Frankie Valenti (Tim)
Frankie grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and got his start in acting when he was 24 by way of adult films mostly directed by Chi Chi LaRue under the name Johnny Hazzard.
Frankie heard they were casting for season two of The Lair and were doing the Dante’s Cove thing where they were looking for actors who would be comfortable doing semi-nude shoots and who better to do that than porn stars. He auditioned, Fred Olen Ray mentioned Frankie was great at his lines, and got the part of Tim, the human who interacts mostly with the sub-plot characters like Ian the werewolf, Jake the mad scientist with the killer flower and the Gorgon. Frankie was a little bummed he didn’t get to be a vampire or a werewolf but was still glad it was a great part. Fred initially thought the Tim character would be finished at the end of season two when the mad scientist died, but Here TV wanted to keep Frankie so season three was written that Tim inherited the house and would rent the room to the Gorgon.
What Frankie loved most about being on The Lair was that it was something different, it was something mainstream, it was something that people could look at and say “wow he really stepped it up”. It was a way for Frankie to step out of that box and do something that was really good and noticeable.
To this day Frankie still uses the work ethic he acquired from The Lair, what’s required to be successful at what you do and do your job so that everyone else can do their jobs and collectively the entire job gets done.
Since The Lair Frankie did his first mainstream feature in the award winning 2014 film Tiger Orange. He did a recurring role on seasons two and three of the popular web series Child of the ‘70s as Vittorio, the ex-boyfriend of Joe (Leo Forte) determined to destroy Joe’s marriage to Carlo (Michael Vaccaro). Frankie is currently working on a film he co-wrote, produced and starred in called Run with Marlee Matlin and Alan Cumming about a deaf guy who is coming out of the closet. To prepare for his role, Frankie was living in Ohio taking sign language classes. The film should be finished by the end of the summer and will be submitted to the Toronto Film Festival.
The Lair was gaining momentum and viewers but Here TV ran out of money and just like that the show was over. The show was never really cancelled, they just weren’t called to work anymore. Fred Olen Ray had intended to do a lot more with Sybil Danning’s character and had planned a Frankenstein type character as well but it never came to be. At least the show ended on a high note and that’s something to be very proud of.
To this day, Fred and all the cast are still asked from time to time by devoted fans when there’s going to be a season four. I brought it up to each of the guys in this article that occasionally we hear rumors that Here TV will be doing a reboot of Dante’s Cove. I don’t know if that’s true or not – those rumors circulate every couple of years. I asked if Here TV were to ever do a reboot of The Lair, would they want to be a part of it? Most of the guys said yes in some capacity or another whether it’s a movie, picking up the series where it left off or guest appearances with a new cast. None of the guys have aged since then so sliding back into the roles wouldn’t be difficult. One said probably not, but never say never. One suggested The Lair vampires could battle the Dante’s Cove witches in a crossover – there’s many possible scenarios if anyone from Here TV is reading this.
If you follow the careers of The Lair cast, you’ll notice that most of them have worked together on several different film projects over the years. Peter and Dylan would joke that they were like the two Corey’s because they’d done so many projects together. Whether it’s Fred directing, Brian or Dylan producing or any combination of acting in films like: Stage Fright, Christmas in Vermont, Abner the Invisible Dog, Brides of Sodom, Spidora, Hatfields and McCoys: Bad Blood, Confessions, George’s Intervention, Summoned, Lizard Man, I Want to Get Married, Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven, The Last Straight Man, Holiday Road Trip, The Trouble With Barry, A Christmas Wedding Date… the list goes on.
I also asked everybody what they took away from the series and every single one answered, “lasting friendships”. Priceless.
Whether The Lair is ever produced again or not, we have three great seasons out there online and on DVDs picking up new fans every day and still being loved by longtime devoted fans. The show was groundbreaking and very special. To everyone involved with The Lair, on behalf of fans everywhere, I say THANK YOU as I wish you all the happiest 10th anniversary!!