It is exceedingly rare to see a sitcom actress turn her back on Hollywood and, in her forties, enter the world of porn—only to become one of the top stars in the adult industry. But that is exactly what Maitland Ward has done.
In just a few years, the woman formerly known as Rachel, the fun redhead on the seminal ABC sitcom Boy Meets World, has transformed into an award-winning porn star whose mission is to shatter the divide between mainstream and adult films. She chronicles her journey from soap opera actress and sitcom star to cosplayer and sex worker in her page-turner of a memoir, Rated X: How Porn Liberated Me from Hollywood, out now courtesy of Simon & Schuster. And Ward, a sometime Daily Beast columnist, proves a thrilling guide, infusing her tale with plenty of wit and perceptiveness.
Ward visited The Daily Beast office in New York City to discuss her new book, saying she hopes to sell the film rights to it and, should it be turned into a biopic, that “maybe Sadie Sink could play younger me in the Boy Meets World days.”
One anecdote she tells me, that was cut from her memoir, concerns her mother—a fan of old movies and a bit of a wild child who once dated the son of Ricardo Montalbán.
“When she was pregnant with me, she was a big fan of Katherine Hepburn’s and wrote her a little note, because she was doing a play in Los Angeles,” Ward says. “And Katherine Hepburn wrote her back and said, ‘Come backstage and say hi.’ So, Katherine Hepburn actually touched her belly when I was in there. My mom would always say, ‘Katherine Hepburn gave you her blessing.’”
During our wide-ranging chat, Ward opened up about her complicated experience on Boy Meets World (“I was both the Madonna and the whore at once”) and her path to porn superstardom.
There’s a very powerful moment in your book where you have this meeting with your mother, and you’re surprised to learn that she’s accepting of your porn path. It really flies in the face of a lot of the tired clichés we hear about those in the adult industry.
It was powerful. And I don’t think it was all their fault too. I had built it up in my mind that I had to be a good girl, and I was imagining how all these people would hate me if I showed myself. I had so much anxiety about that. I thought people would reject me, and then it was, hey, it wasn’t so bad!
A big chunk of the book tackles your time on Boy Meets World. And I didn’t know that you took what you call your first “OnlyFans-style selfie” for your co-star Ben Savage as a prank of sorts.
A Polaroid! Yes, I put it up outside his dressing room. He had one right across the hall from me, and he had a Vanilla Ice poster on his door, and I did it several times. I would tease him with it, because he was always so interested in my sexuality and always so, “Wow, what are you doing?” He thought, “What does she do out there in the world?” I came in as this tall girl with red hair, and I was only a couple of years older than him, but they had all grown up with each other on the show and I was this new, exotic thing—this unicorn in the wild that he was trying to discover.
Does he still ask you personal questions about your sex life? Because there are a lot more questions he could ask now.
I have not talked to him at all for a long time—since I visited the Girl Meets World set. He was perfectly sweet to me, but he hasn’t approached me about the porn thing. It’s funny, because he would be the No. 1 person who would want to know everything.
Although I guess he’s running for West Hollywood City Council now?
I know! I saw it the other day. I was like, “What’s going on with the Boy Meets World cast?” You know what? He did major in political science, I believe, and was always interested in politics, so it doesn’t totally surprise me. I didn’t know he was so involved in West Hollywood politics. I always knew him as this kid from the Valley.
This part of your book really stuck with me about your time on Boy Meets World. You wrote, “What bothered me was that I could never get past the feeling that the writers were having fun at my expense and devaluing me in some way—like I was a punch line to a joke I would never be privy to. Wearing no clothes on your own terms is a lot different from being naked for someone else.” You paint a picture of a strange dynamic on that set where the writers are sexualizing you, yet you have no agency, and it’s a kids’ show, so it’s all implied.
They were wanting me to be this sexual butt of the joke on the show, but at the same time they were saying, “Oh, we’re not doing that—and you shouldn’t be doing that outside of work.” Looking back, I didn’t even conceptualize how much Rachel was used as a sexual prop on the show—like me choking on a hot dog and Matt Lawrence coming up behind me and giving me the Heimlich but thrusting me over the counter.
And because it’s a kids’ show, and most kids probably aren’t registering the sexual nature of these scenes, it seemed like they were mostly for the writers’ benefit.
Yeah, they wouldn’t get it. It was for them [the writers]. It felt like teenage boys going up to me and going, “Let’s see her panties!” “Let’s see her do this this week!” It was all their fantasies. And nobody came up and sexually assaulted me or anything, but it was always, “Let’s look at her.” I think that they fantasized about it in the writers’ room, and every week they would put me in a different predicament that had a sexual undertone.
As you wrote in the book, the writers would write in these scenarios on the show where you’d be in revealing outfits and then the one day you showed up to set in a crop top they freaked out and were like, “Cover up!”
Yeah. Like, “What are you doing?!” “You need to be an actress.” I didn’t realize how much of a mindfuck it was until later on, because it was so conflicting. I always thought, “Am I good enough? Do I need to hide everything in my own life?” I always punished myself for being different or stepping outside the lines. This happened in my childhood, and on the soap opera, and on Boy Meets World—I don’t know why people want me to be this “good girl” but also “sexy-sexy.” It’s really bizarre. And on Boy Meets World, it was amplified all the time, and it got me really confused. When I had to dance around in lingerie and be half-naked and the butt of the jokes, that was one thing, but then, yeah, you immediately step off the soundstage and it’s like, “You don’t shame yourself.”
The book also explores your experience on White Chicks, and how you now have complicated feelings toward Terry Crews, because he was quite protective of the women on that set—but then has since come out as a rabid anti-porn crusader.
Once I got into anything “adult” he immediately unfollowed me on Twitter and had to push me away like that. It’s not like we were close, but it was a nice friendship. I’d see him at events and stuff. But he came out so hard against porn, sex work, and sex industries, because he has a problem with sex addiction—which is his deal. People have their own problems, but that doesn’t mean you get to make the decisions for everyone.
That would be like if I had a chocolate addiction and then came out and said, “Chocolate should be banned. None of you may enjoy chocolate for it is far too enticing for me.”
[Laughs] Right. That was really complicated, and just the fact that he comes out and tries to destroy all porn careers, and all their livelihoods, and encourages his followers to do so—and it’s not that he even comes out against it, but he’s this vigilante against it. It’s funny that we were both in that movie!
That is wild. So, a very seminal moment for you seemed to be finding this erotic bookstore in New York City, because it opened this door for you that had been closed.
When I discovered that so many people were like me—sexually free, and writing intelligent things about it—I thought, “Wow, I can do this.” And writing it all out helped me discover so much about me and my sexuality. I discovered that writing was a power of mine, because at the time I was too nervous to say my truth out loud, but the MacBook page accepted what I was saying. It helped me discover a lot about my sexuality, and helped me along in my journey.
It also struck me as an early example of erotic performance, because you paint these scenes in the book of you in a public park writing these erotic stories and turning yourself on.
That’s exactly what it was. I was performing. I was writing the scenarios on the page, and nobody had to know about them yet because I was still in this secretive phase. But I was no longer denying these things to myself. I was finally being honest in some place and showing these sexual performances. I thought it was so fun that I could be dressed prim in a park, writing such filth, and nobody knew.
Where do you think your erotic imagination—and appetite—comes from?
I don’t know! It’s just part of my talent that I’ve always liked that. The first time I had an orgasm was because a boy was reading me Penthouse letters. Words have always stimulated me. And I thought, wow, it just spontaneously happened, and I didn’t have to do much to have it happen. Interestingly, one of my biggest requests on OnlyFans is me talking dirty to people. And people were so excited about my audiobook. I had so many sales on that.
To go back to Boy Meets World for a second—your relationship with its creator, Michael Jacobs, is very complex. It seems like he was very overprotective of the young women on that show, for example, you write about how he got very upset too with Danielle [Fishel] for posing in Maxim. It seemed like there was this uncomfortable level of control attached to it. It sounded suffocating.
Yes, it was. He was very much the father of all of us on the show. He loved the family nature of it and wanted to keep us all on the show, and when I started to step outside of that box—and especially the way that I did—he did not take that well. He’s never confronted me about it; he’s just iced me out completely. I wasn’t even doing porn yet, but I don’t think he liked that I was getting attention for sexy images on red carpets at the same time as Girl Meets World was getting attention. He may have felt it was ruining his concept of the show. He did take me under his wing and saw something in me that no other producer did. He taught me, guided me through the audition process, and he really did believe in me. But it had to be on his terms. And I don’t hate him. It’s a father-daughter relationship that’s complicated in the same way a lot of father-daughter relationships are complicated.
You also wrote critically in the book about the way they treated the interracial relationship on Girl Meets World between Shawn (Rider Strong) and Angela (Trina McGee), where they basically discarded her and had Shawn end up with a blonde woman.
I know Trina’s talked about this too—how Shawn and Angela were groundbreaking at the time as far as being an interracial couple on TV, and to have her discarded in that way, and to have him marry a blonde girl? I thought they should’ve given more weight to that story. They just treated it like, oh, that was something wild I did in my youth and now I have to be this married man. I think they didn’t handle a lot of issues well on that show, and a lot of people have had these complaints. It wasn’t as good of a show as Boy Meets World by any means.
In the adult world, you and director Kayden Kross have been changing the game as far as the scope of porn films and what they can be. Since you probably make far more money on OnlyFans than porn productions, it seems like you’re mainly doing it for artistic purposes.
It gives me a chance to be able to play out such wonderfully scripted pieces, and have a high budget for big films. We’re doing this five-part film series now, Drift, and it’s sort of a metaphor to my story—a much darker, devious metaphor. I play this Hollywood sitcom star and then off-stage I go into the night, engage in all these sexual escapades, and really discover myself. It’s like Natural Born Killers meets WandaVision. Think about that!
With you and Kayden, it’s a rare thing to have one of the top directors and top stars in the adult industry be women who are comparatively older than all the young twenty-somethings. You’re forging this new path.
We’ve always wanted to incorporate good filmmaking with hot sex. That was my dream in the beginning, and I was really fortunate to meet Kayden and for us to collaborate. We really want to bridge mainstream and porn completely, and show the public at large that there can be good filmmaking and hot sex all at once. The films we make really have good directing and acting, and that’s something new for a lot of people. The reaction I get from people is, “This is like nothing I’ve seen… this is like a mainstream film.” I hope that we’ll eventually get to do a mainstream production with sex in it—and some of these streaming shows are getting pretty close. I think the public is ready for that.
And you’re still shooting Big Time, a sitcom with sex in it that seems to be a bridge of sorts between adult and mainstream.
It was such a trip to be in a sitcom about porn. It’s like, I’m back in it again. And the younger actors were so positive about what I do. They watched Deeper and were like, wow, this is so different. This doesn’t just feel like junk food. It’s really cool. I had this woman come up to me on the street and go, “Maitland Ward?” And I thought she was a fan of Boy Meets World, but she went, “I love what you and Kayden do. I’m such a fan.” It was a woman who was married, and her husband was like, “Yup, she watches your stuff all the time.”
You have a very loving and supportive husband, and I’m curious how porn stars compartmentalize things, and how you separate the act of sex and forming emotional connections.
I think whenever I do porn scenes, it’s a safe environment for me to get out all my sexual wants and fantasies. But at the end of the day, we go home. It’s not an emotional connection—it’s about enjoying the sex and getting to perform, which I love. As I say in the book, I did have some emotional connections with women, but not to the degree that I would have ever left him behind. And they were very complicated. With porn scenes, you’re more likely to form an emotional connection if you’re alone in a hotel room talking with somebody, or actually having an affair with somebody, than me doing a gangbang and worrying about all the dicks.