Demi Moore was only a teenager when people began noticing her very distinctive voice.
“One of my first jobs as a young girl was that I worked for a collection agency,” Moore says on the Variety and iHeart podcast The Big Ticket. “I had to make calls to people whose bills were past due — that’s when I was like 14, 15. People had already been commenting way back.”
She didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “I knew that my voice was maybe a little lower,” Moore recalls. “I, of course, didn’t think of it as sexy or have any context for that. I thought [it was] because I had been a cheerleader for a short while, from screaming out cheers. I think it is somewhat hereditary. And probably those Marlboro Reds that I was smoking as a teenager.”
Inspired by Feste’s own marriage, break up and reconciliation about a decade ago with her husband (film producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones), “Dirty Diana” stars Moore as a corporate executive navigating her sexless relationship and her secret life as the host of a website that features recordings of real women describing their sexual fantasies.
New episodes of “Dirty Diana,” produced with media and podcast company startup QCode, are released every Monday through Aug. 17 and available on Apple Podcasts and most major podcast platforms.
Variety recently caught up with Moore and Feste from a recording studio in Los Angeles.
Shana, did you sit down with your husband and tell him you want to do this or do you write the script first?
Shana Feste: Look, he has the curse of being married to a writer. I feel like it’s like being married to Taylor Swift. Eventually, it’s all just going to come out. But it was an incredibly emotional, profound time in our life. We almost lost each other. There was a time, it was 10 years ago, where we were strangers and we stopped having sex all together. I think both of us thought in our heads, there is no way we will possibly find our way back. I had a boyfriend. He had a girlfriend. We were living with other people. But we would meet because we still shared animals together, and every time we would cry. We would just cry.
Then, it was through a year of therapy and talking about things that I never was raised to talk about. I was not raised to talk about sex openly. I had so much shame about my own sexuality that I was fighting through. And of course, that’s going to come through in your marriage. It has to. When I told him that I was going to do this, it has too much of a happy ending. We have three kids. We’re happily married. I wanted to show a marriage coming back together. I wanted to show how you could start at that place and find your way back to each other.
Was there a point where Brian was like, “Don’t you dare put that in there. No, that is off limits.”
Feste: I’m pretty open in the podcast. I am a writer. I am not Diana. We had fun, we took liberties. But there are definitely times in the episode where Brian was like, “Is that what I was really like? Did I sound like that? That feels so familiar.”
Demi Moore: Didn’t you say he came by a few times and was like, “Ooh, wow. I had forgotten about that.”
Feste: He said, “Do I sound that pathetic?” I was like, “No.” There’s some hyperbole here. But we were in a really bad time, and I wanted to write about that as honestly as I could.
There is that scene in the first episode when Diana is with her girlfriends and she is talking about how her husband starting begging her for sex because they hadn’t had it in so long.
Feste: It’s cringy, right?
Moore: Just hearing you say it back, makes me feel even worse.
Diana says some really awful things.
Moore: I know.
Feste: You were worried about it, too.
Moore: I was worried.
Moore: I think it’s just the part that is very different than me and how I respond to things. I tend to be overly careful, overly analytical, thinking through, trying to be sensitive. Sometimes you just need to be able to say it. It took on a harsher feeling or tone for me.
Demi, what did you learn about yourself?
Moore: Well it’s still in motion, but I think one of the great opportunities doing what we do is being able to use things to help push you beyond where you are resting. In this case, I realize there’s a part for me that my sexuality has felt like it’s a dangerous, and that I should just keep it under wraps. That I should keep it shut down, and it’s better to just not negotiate or take it off the table. This has been an incredible opportunity of opening into areas that I’m not comfortable with. And that unto itself is already a gift.
Why a podcast? Why not a limited series on Hulu or something?
Feste: I hope it a limited series on Hulu one day. But I think a podcast gives you permission. I always say it’s the “Rosemary’s Baby” rule. The baby in your head is so much scarier than the little red-eyed baby at the end of the movie that they so wisely did not shoot. The fantasy and the sex in your head allows you to use your imagination. And imagination is a powerful thing.
Moore: The great thing is right now also the demand for podcasts is so great. We’re delivering something in a space that’s really hungry for it. But it also gave us a place to explore at a lower risk, to kind of explore where we want to go and what to do with it. And in all honesty, to get feedback. So if it were to go to Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, HBO, any of those, we’ll already be a step ahead in terms of what we might want to do with it.
Just hearing the first episode, I’m like, “Oh, it has to be Demi playing Diana.” Whose other voice could it be?
Feste: She has the most iconic voice in the business. When you do a podcast, you realize how special it is to have a recognizable voice because there are some actors that you know and you love their work, but when they’re in a podcast space people are like, “Oh, who’s that?” What a gift to have an iconic voice where everyone the minute they hear her is like, “Oh, Demi Moore is in this? Okay, great.”
Moore: Except that it’s like nails on a chalkboard to hear your voice. When I’m hearing it, I’m like, “Oh, God. Do I sound the most boring? Am I the most uninteresting?” It’s definitely painful.
Tell me about the first time you start recording — it was done remotely because of quarantine. Are you acting out orgasms together on Zoom or was it recorded separately?
Feste: I told all the actors, “If you want to record all of that and just send us the noises later, you can totally do that. You can just record them on your own time.” Every actor was like, “No, I want to do it in the scene.” Andrea Riseborough said, “It’s the reason I signed up to have an orgasm with Demi Moore. That’s why I’m here.” What I learned is: don’t direct an orgasm. Because what women have been trained to hear from pornography is one way to have an orgasm, right? And that is the first thing you hear in these movies that all orgasms sound exactly the same.
As a teenage girl you hear that and you think, “Okay well, that’s what I have to sound like.” And so, when I’m having sex with my first boyfriend and I’m going to fake my first orgasm — which everyone does — I’m going to sound exactly like that. You just do that imitation. Then somehow, that becomes the patented orgasm sound. It’s ridiculous. What I love about the opportunity to work in this space is we can debunk that myth and show that there’s a lot of different sounds that people make. And they’re real sounds when they’re having an orgasm.
What’s the difference between pornography and erotica?
Feste: Just in the way that I’ve been thinking about it in my head is that pornography for me feels more like a male gaze.
Moore: And manufactured. It feels very manufactured where erotica feels more authentic. Porn seems like it’s like an external perspective, and erotica feels like it’s an internal then is expressed outwardly.
Demi, you said that this is out of your comfort zone when it comes to sexuality, but so many of your roles have been about sexuality and relationships. How do you get past being uncomfortable?
Moore: That is the interesting thing in stepping in to tell stories and play characters that are opening you up to try on different things. Sometimes, you have to push yourself. I think it’s interesting that I’ve pulled those types of projects towards myself, and I think that it’s not by accident. I think even unconsciously, there’s an effort to be more accepting of myself and get to know myself better. It’s like a safe way of exploring. And in this, I also know that what I’m experiencing in my own discomfort or fear is something that I want to change because it’s there out of a conditioning. The conditioning can’t change until we change the narrative. It’s something that we really need to do. If we as women want to change the experience of being objectified, then we need to bring in another perspective.
You’ve also been open about your sobriety. Diana is a woman who likes her pills. Was any of that uncomfortable to do?
Moore: I think any time you touch into a place that you know, it brings forward things that are very vulnerable. But let’s remove the stigma around things. I understand this woman. I understand her need to self-medicate. I understand her sense of isolation, her desire to disconnect from that which she’s come from to create something that she feels is better and safer. I know that I’m not alone in that. So whatever discomfort, vulnerability I might experience, I know that it’s worth it.
It was such a moment when you did “Striptease” in 1996. You were a huge movie star doing a movie like that. If a guy did it, would it have been as such a moment?
Moore: There are so many layers to that, of the judgment placed on that kind of woman, which overshadowed why I found the story interesting in the first place. It was just about a mother trying to survive and not lose her daughter. But it came with a lot of judgment. I faced a lot of judgment.
And then you shaved your head for “G.I. Jane” in 1997, and that also came with so much judgement.
Moore: “Striptease” seemed to represent a betrayal to women and “G.I. Jane” was a betrayal to men. With “Striptease,” I stepped into a role that was women’s fear, and “G.I. Jane” was as if it was a challenge to men. They let me know it, too. In particular, my salary for “Striptease” became something that I got punished for as opposed to celebrated. [Editors note: At the time, Moore’s $12.5 million salary made her the highest paid actress of all time.] But everything is serving the whole, and it comes back around to be able to be seen now for what that is. Because of that, we have an opportunity to redirect and change that. It’s taken a bit, but that’s OK.
What do you want women to learn from “Dirty Diana?”
Feste: If I could have anything, it’s for women to have conversations, to be able to see sex as a very normal, healthy part of their life — and one that can be really embraced. The shame that I felt, it was almost like I didn’t even want to ask any questions about it. I had my first orgasm way too late in life. My mother never had that conversation with me. And I think so much is focused on the male orgasm.
Moore: If we don’t encourage getting to know your body and how it works, and equally how both sides work, then there’s automatically going to be a disconnect. There’s that whole group of people that want to encourage abstinence, as if that is the answer and as opposed to education. Education doesn’t mean you’re encouraging reckless, indiscriminate behavior.
What do you want men to get from “Dirty Diana?”
Moore: For them to feel more comfortable by having more awareness of what pleases a woman, what they’re interested in. Because it’s equally difficult for men to know how to engage if they’re in the dark. I’ve always said men figure it out for themselves, and they know how they work, but what helps them to know how a woman works? I mean, we don’t know. We need a little help learning how to finesse that as well.
Feste: This is the show I craved in the darkest days of my marriage. Is there something that you can listen to that can help elicit a connection that can get those juices flowing, that might get you to have great sex that night? I would love it if this show was that for someone.