Is American Gigolo’s Julian Kaye Based on an Actual Gigolo?

Image Credit: Warrick Page/Showtime

Showtime’s crime series ‘American Gigolo’ revolves around Julian Kaye, a male escort who gets wrongfully convicted for the murder of Janet Holmes. When a serial killer confesses to killing Janet, Julian gets released from prison to step into the world and trade of sex in modern-day Los Angeles. Julian’s decision to become a gigolo again paves the way for severe consequences, which also helps him to unravel the truth behind Janet’s murder. Since the show offers an intimate portrayal of Julian’s life as a gigolo, the viewers must be intrigued to know whether the character has a real-life counterpart. Let us share the answer!

Julian Kaye is a Fictional Character

No, Julian Kaye is not based on any particular real-life gigolo. The character is a “reimagination” of Julian Kay, the protagonist of Paul Schrader’s eponymous 1980 film, the source movie of the show. Schrader originally conceived the character on his own, while teaching screenwriting at UCLA’s film and television department. While discussing characters’ professions, he started to think about a character “making his living as a gigolo,” which became the foundation of Julian’s character. In addition, Schrader conceived Julian as a reversal of Travis Bickle, the protagonist of ‘Taxi Driver’ and a character conceived by Schrader himself.

“The character in ‘Taxi Driver’ was compulsively nonsexual. The character in ‘American Gigolo’ is compulsively sexual. He is a man who receives his identity by giving sexual pleasure but has no concept of receiving sexual pleasure,” Schrader told New York Times. Through Julian, Schrader wanted to explore how a person can remain a giver of affection but not the receiver of the same. Gigolo, as a profession, helped Schrader to explore the same through his character. Julian’s relationship with Michelle Stratton and the tensions that initially arise between the couple in the film indicates the repercussions of being a gigolo.

Still, Schrader’s version of Julian is closer to reality than the Showtime version. In the film, Schrader explores Julian’s loneliness and how he is used by his clients for affection while he receives none of the same. In the show, Julian is more of a wrongfully convicted individual seeking the truth behind the murder that paved the way for his imprisonment than a gigolo. Even his return to “work” is a way for Julian to investigate Olga and Isabelle rather than his wish to remain as a male escort.

Image Credit: Warrick Page/Showtime

Even though Julian is a fictional character, his life as a gigolo do resembles the lives of real-life gigolos who have shared their experiences over the years. Their presence in unhappy marriages, the need to comply with their client’s sexual preferences and kinks, and their position in the higher class of society do remind us of the lives of Julian Kay of the 1980 film and Julian Kaye of the Showtime show. Considering these factors, it can be concluded that Julian Kaye is a fictional character who has roots in reality, which enhances the authenticity of the character.

Despite being fictitious, the two Julian characters lead us to the unfamiliar worlds of the sex industry and escorting, which have strong connections to real-life gigolos. Even though Julian does not exist in real life, traits of the character can be observed in such real male escorts.

Read More: Is American Gigolo a True Story? Is it Based on the 1980 Movie?