DLP: Tell us about your background and how you got into modeling.
Masuimi Max: I’m a half blonde half brunette hybrid. I’m half Korean half German.
I always wanted to be a model and I noticed there are three types of models; the type that get discovered and never thought about modeling before – you hear stories of how they were discovered while walking through the airport and went on to become super models – then there’s the ones who decided to be a model later because it’s cool – they go on Facebook or Model Mayhem and they try it – and then there’s the third type, the ones that always wanted to be a model. I’m third type.
My mom died when I was six years old, and I have this memory from when she was alive, so I must have been five at the time. We were in church and I had to go to the front where the preacher was and I strutted as if I was on a catwalk and flicked my hair. I still remember my dad telling my mom, “Oh my God, we need to have a talk with her!”
As I grew up I was insistent on being a model, but my parents were Pentecostal and that went completely against their religious values. I was approached by Pantene when I was sixteen because I had long, beautiful, natural hair, but my dad said, “No, that is the way of the devil!”
I was also a tomboy. Half of me wanted to be a model, the other half wanted to drive a tank and kick ass! I wanted to take martial arts but that was also forbidden. So, the day after I turned sixteen I got a job and went to the karate studio. Of course, this didn’t go over too well with my parents and they disowned me when I was seventeen.
I had to work two jobs to have my own place and support myself. I lived in a roach motel in Vegas but I did everything I had to so that I would never go back to my parents. My dad said, “You’ll be back. You’ll be crying back!” But I was determined to succeed and thought, “No I won’t. I don’t care if I sleep on the streets. Anything is better than living there.”
I worked two jobs but I couldn’t finish high school. When I turned eighteen, literally on my birthday, I started working at Club Paradise in Vegas. That same week I became a featured performer because I was the only one who volunteered to learn how to eat fire!
DLP Edu: You volunteered to eat fire your first week on the job?
Masuimi: Well, let me back track. My first night was celebrity night, and I had to wear a wig because I had a Mohawk. Tattoos weren’t allowed either, so I had to cover my tattoos with makeup. But my wig fell off when I went on stage for the first time. So, there I am in front of all these people, including Drew Barrymore, and I didn’t know what to do on stage. I was just shaking everything around, and I didn’t stop even though my wig was on the floor. The manager walked up and picked it up off the floor and I put it back on and just keep shaking. Apparently that left a really good impression on Drew Barrymore and she requested I dance for her all night while she wore my wig! The Mohawk and tattoos didn’t matter to her and I got to be myself.
The club had featured performers that did traditional showgirl stuff. They would go on at midnight and do the full Viva Las Vegas. Their choreographer liked my style and personality, and he was impressed that I didn’t run off stage in tears during my disastrous first appearance. He asked if I would like to be a featured performer. I could come and go as I pleased, and my tattoos wouldn’t have to be covered, but there was a catch… I had to learn to eat fire! As a kid I was really afraid of fire and couldn’t even light matches but I said, “OK, I’ll do it!”
During my first fire eating lesson, I’m holding a torch when the instructor accidentally sets his beard on fire. But he calmly grabbed a towel and put it out. His reaction was really what put me at ease and made me more comfortable with handling fire. I learned early on, it’s how you react to a situation that matters most.
It’s now my first show as a fire eater, and I’m wearing an oriental dress for the theme One Night in Bangkok. I get on stage and the fuel drips onto my face and catches on fire, but I guess with all the adrenaline I didn’t realize I was on fire. So, I’m on stage doing my thing but the torch won’t go out. I didn’t realize that it’s my face that keeps relighting it. I then notice in the mirrors that I’m on fire, so I just casually turn my back to the crowd and look at my stage hand. He throws me a towel and I put it out and then throw it back. I then bump into the sign “One Night in Bangkok” and it reveals “Big Cock” (hey, burlesque is a mixture of strip tease and COMEDY. A lot of girls forget the comedy part!) and the whole act looks more like a comedy scene.
I had third degree burns and needed to take a couple of months off, but I treated it with aloe vera and vitamin E. I also used Crème de la Mer, which was invented by a NASA scientist to treat his own severe burns, and that stuff really works!
DLP: Despite that you continued performing with fire?
Masuimi: Yeah, I was known for my fire eating performances and was never booked for any other types of shows. I continued performing with fire until the disaster at The Station nightclub in New York, where 100 people were killed in a fire after the band’s tour manager set off pyrotechnics on stage.
DLP: How did all of that lead to modeling?
Masuimi: My modeling career got started when I was 18. I was a feature performer for Torture Garden, and often traveling to fetish events in places like London, Germany, Ireland, and Japan. As I became a regular the designers got to know me and I was approached to model their latex outfits. Inner Sanctum was the first company to approach me. Thanks to my early start and the internet, that lead to many other jobs.
The fire eating performances were a big part of what got me started. I’ve been on the cover of Bizarre magazine seven times and the first cover said, “The world’s hottest fire eating fetish model!”
DLP: The alt modeling scene is huge now, but what was it like when you got started?
Masuimi: If there were alt magazines back then I didn’t know what they were. I started modeling in 1996 and there were probably three tattoo magazines in those days. It really wasn’t acceptable to look like me if you were a model. It was if you were modeling for a small alternative company or something like that, but you weren’t really in the public eye because there wasn’t really a scene back then.
Fortunately, a lot of people that I connected with believed in me and they helped. There was a girl named Bridget that worked at Trashy Lingerie. She loved the photos she had seen of me and tried to convince Trashy to hire me. At first they were like, “no way,” as they went for the wholesome girl next door look, but she convinced them to try one shoot. So I went in and did one shoot that turned into a hugely successful campaign. They used to do deals with their models back then where you get 10% of sales from every piece of lingerie you model. To this day I still get commission checks, even though I haven’t modeled with them recently. It’s a lifetime deal and I have 60 pages with them covering everything from black hair to blond, and even bald from when I shaved my head.
It’s kind of cool because if you go through them you can see all the weird poses I did and they really weren’t sure about it. They felt I didn’t pose like the other models and because they wanted the traditional models they nearly didn’t use my shots. But Bridget convinced them to post the pictures and see what happened. They even posted an interview where they were saying they didn’t really want to hire me because they weren’t sure, but it turned out to be huge and really helped their site. It was like that for a lot of things in my career. I had to do that first free shoot to really show what I could do. I have all those people that believed in me to thank, because if it wasn’t for them I don’t know how I would have done it. Thanks, Bridget! <3
One of the first conventions I did was the National Lingerie Show in Las Vegas. I showed up and models would either scrunch their noses and glare at me, or ask, “are you the stylist?”
There’s so much more variety and acceptance now. People don’t glare at you the way they used to. That acceptance is why so many people can be alternative and make a living.
DLP: You go way beyond alt modeling. Which genre do you enjoy most?
Masuimi: Right now it’s the femme fatale stuff, but I’m going through a change. I go through phases where my hair is white-blond one day and something else the next. But I’m back to my real hair color, which is a medium brown. When my hair is darker I tend to do more of the femme fatale and action figure type shoots, but when I’m blond I’m more pinup and glamour. So if you’d asked me that another time you’ll get a different answer.I’m like a mood ring and you can tell what’s going on by my hair color.
DLP: What about the corsets and fetish outfits?
Masuimi: Before I knew there were designers and a scene for that, Batman the movie came out, with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. I have to tell you, my parents were very religious. When I saw that movie, it was around Halloween and my Dad’s like, “okay you can dress up as anything you want this year.” So I went into my room, got some black outfits and started cutting them all up, making them skin tight, and I got make up and smeared it on my eyes. And when I came out my Dad was like, “get back into your room and change. You look like a harlot!” I think kids turn out the complete opposite of how their parents raise them, and so that image just killed it for me. Those boots… that whip. In fact I’m working on an act right now where I’m training to do flips. I’m doing a cat woman act that will blow your mind. I usually don’t say what I am working on because some asshole will do it first, but in this case I really don’t care if someone does a similar act. That’s how good it is.
DLP: And how on earth do you do anything in those fetish ballet heels?
Masuimi: My very first encounter with them was with Julie Strain, the B horror movie queen. I was at one of my first catalogue shoots for bikinis and swim wear, and this 6’6” woman wearing platforms which made her like 7 feet tall comes in, giant boobs, and says “You, need to model for me.” I’m like “okay, what does that mean?” I didn’t have a website yet, she’s like “you need a website!” I’m like what, “what is that?”
But the boots. I’d come over to her house and she’d be like, “put these on.” I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. I do a stage show where I have a prop with 6 legs that match my legs. They all have fetish ballet boots on, including the ones I’m wearing. I dance and strip out of my outfit while wearing them!
DLP: Can you explain the significance of your tattoos?
Masuimi: These say my name. There’s a lot of controversy over this because Japanese lettering represents sound, like you know how we have a, b, c, d, e, f, g? They don’t have that. In Japanese it’s “ma su mi,” so I got it exactly the way it’s pronounced. And people are like, but it’s missing the i, but if I put an i in there people will say “ma swee mi.” It’s not a literal translation. This figure represents ma, the sound. It’s not alphabetical. If they’re going to translate it literally it says masuimi in heragona and tatagana. Masuimi Max is my real legal birth name.
The funny thing about my name, ok I was born in Arkansas, but they messed up on my birth certificate and they can’t amend it because it’s already set. My name was supposed to be Masumi they added an extra i. It’s a misspelling. I didn’t find out until I was 12 because my Dad was like, “why are you spelling your name wrong!” I showed him my birth certificate and he was like, “oh… yeah.” And they messed up on my mother’s maiden name.
Anyway, a few people have ripped off my red dragons. Well let’s rephrase that. Lots of people have done my red dragons, and only a few have done me the dishonor of saying that theirs are original. Getting ripped off happens all the time, to everyone. It doesn’t hurt to give credit where credit is due. No one will think less of you if you tell the truth!
DLP: You’ve done lots of TV shows, music videos and now even movies. What got you into acting? Is it something you’d like to do more of?
Masuimi: Well with modeling, since I’ve got my shit down, the shoot can be 20 minutes. With filming it’s like, “okay, let’s do this scene again.” I just did this TV show; it was Glow Girls, relaunching Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. My character was Flying Tiger, and all my moves are flying through the air. I’m doing my own stunts, and so I’m on this 12 foot platform, it’s really narrow, it’s got wheels and I’m afraid of heights. I’m standing up there and it’s moving. The director is yelling “can someone hold the thing so it stops moving? Now go run!” I’m like, “no, I’m not ready yet. Wait. We need 4 people to hold this.” So I go, I run, into a sidekick, I land on my ass. That’s how they want it, so they can film you coming at the camera. “Let’s shoot that again.” Okay so we do it, and the camera guy says, “oh she arced too high so we missed it.” I’m like, “you mother fucker.” So we do it again and this time I squinched my face. Everything was perfect except that so they said, “can you relax your face and do it again.” “Can I do the other side?” And they were like, “no it has to be the same.” So I do it again, and again, and again. Finally my boob and butt cheek are bruised, BRUISED. It still kind of hurts.