LOS ANGELES—Maitland Ward wanted to experiment—but she did not expect fanfare would follow in the way it did.
No stranger to being asked to leave ComicCon for too revealing of a costume or getting kicked off Instagram and Snapchat for “little infractions like the shadow of my nipple,” Ward ventured deeper into exploring her sexuality.
“And people wanted to see and I wanted to have them see,” Ward recalls. “And then it kind of—it just evolved. It really evolved the whole way.”
Did it ever.
The seasoned mainstream actress from Long Beach, Calif., best known for her role as Rachel McGuire on the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World more than two decades ago, in less than a year went all in with porn performing, became the face of an emerging brand, co-starred in a high-stakes feature and won three AVN Awards in January at the 37th annual ceremony in Las Vegas.
Few performers in the modern era of adult have made as big an impact on the market in such a short time.
“I realized I had such a passion in me for doing sexual performance,” Ward tells AVN. “I don’t know where it came from.”
The reigning Best Supporting Actress, whose sensational performance as a shadowy mystic/Domme in Drive helped lift the movie to the 2020 Best Drama award, also took home trophies for Favorite Camming Cosplayer—a fan-voted honor—and Best Three-way Sex Scene – Girl/Girl/Boy for her liaison with six-time AVN Male Performer of the Year Manuel Ferrara and Ivy Lebelle in Drive. The title was the first feature produced by two-time Director of the Year Kayden Kross’s Deeper.com imprint, which was launched by Vixen Media Group in April 2019.
“Maitland and I connect first and foremost over a shared appreciation for writing,” Kross tells AVN. “She read the screenplay for Drive and saw it for what I intended it to be. Physically, the combination of her flaming red hair and ice-blue eyes and incredible stature are arresting and intimidating and a little mysterious, which I loved for the character.
“But it was the way she immediately just understood all of the layers that every line was supposed to speak to when her character spoke that sold it.”
Ever since Ward started a naughty Patreon page in 2018 that rocketed to No. 1 in the adult category, it’s been apparent that her foray into more explicit fare is must-see TV. She says when she first considered doing racier content she wasn’t sure “if people are going want to buy it.”
“I thought maybe they enjoyed it on Snapchat and Instagram but I wanted to do more nude stuff and Playboy-eque—and definitely sexier cosplay,” says Ward, who also is known for her first acting role as Jessica Forrester on the CBS soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful from 1994-96.
She didn’t tell anyone the night she joined Patreon—but fans found her anyway.
“Then the next morning I had like 20 or 25 people signed up and I was like, ‘I didn’t announce this. How did they they find it?’” Ward continues. “And then I announced it and by the end of the week there was like 2800 people or something signed up for my content. And I was like, ‘Oh my god.’”
Ward unleashed several risqué cosplay shoots, mixed in some dungeon-themed photosets and then progressed to girl/girl material before adding boy/girl hardcore to her repertoire. What she didn’t anticipate was how much of a blast it would be and how natural the transition would feel.
She chose British heartthrob Danny Mountain for her early boy/girl work.
“Later on I asked him, ‘What do you remember about my first? Because he was the first guy that I did on screen for my content. And he said, ‘I thought you were going to be more nervous,’” Ward says. “And I look back and I was like, ‘You’re right. I wasn’t nervous.’
“And then I worked a ton with Isiah [Maxwell] and he really helped me through a lot. So yeah I just have loved taking this whole journey with my fans.”
Many of Ward’s fans had never signed up for a porn site before she became an exclusive contract star for Deeper in November 2019 with only about a dozen studio credits on her resume; in March of 2020, she reached an agreement to extend her deal with VMG into 2022.
Kayden Kross suggests that Ward brings a combination of acting talent, screen presence and versatility that unlocks doors for their creative collaborations.
“My absolute favorite character to write is the predatory woman,” Kross says. “There are very few people who play that role well. Maitland plays it better than anyone. Her abilities as an actress allow me to try bolder characters that would otherwise fall flat if played by a less experienced actress, and she is so unique physically that there’s something that feels precious about seeing her on screen.
“After we filmed Drive, I remember seeing her promote some other project she’d done and my first thought was, ‘I don’t want everyone to have her.’”
Ward’s first outing for Vixen Media Group—with 2019 AVN Best Male Newcomer Jason Luv last August—set the tone for her future with the company.
In the scene titled “Unprofessional” she plays an aggressive real estate agent who closes the deal with her celebrity client Luv by devouring him in a spectacular condo overlooking downtown LA. If there was an award for talking dirty that day she might have gotten that one, too. Soon it became one of the most viewed scenes of the year for VMG.
“It was a crazy time,” Ward says. “People were going nuts over it.”
It was early the following week when Kross had to find someone up to the task of playing the complex supporting role of the mystic in Drive—opposite Angela White—and Ward’s name came up. In a meeting that came together in less than 24 hours, Ward sat down with Kross at a coffee shop on Ventura Blvd., along with Kross’s significant other Manuel Ferrara.
“It was very quick. She got in touch with me and said, ‘Here’s the script, can I meet you at Starbucks this afternoon?’” Ward says. “And I read the script, and I was blown away. This was the kind of stuff that I had always envisioned that I wanted to make—scripted stuff that had hot sex but also you can watch it as a movie.
“I thought in the future I would have to do it myself or come up with production and I was reading this and I’m like, ‘This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.’
“I was like, ‘She wants to cast me in this?’ And I met with her and Manuel and we talked about everything. By that night I was cast and we were talking about wardrobe. We began shooting like the next week.”
Ward possesses “a very warm, charming/disarming energy” that resonated even during their first meeting, Kross says.
“She’s magnetic,” Kross says. “We were in a crisis on the project that day—we had to either find someone for the role or scrap the project. The moment I met her that feeling of crisis evaporated completely.
“There was no doubt that she would take on the role with absolute ease and do something memorable with it. I do think a lot of that connection comes from that shared appreciation for writing that I mentioned.
“She didn’t let on that day that she also writes, but I should have guessed it. The lines in the script she drew attention to are the same lines I thought were the ones that really had some grit to them. To that end we have something in common that is fundamentally recognizable without a lot of conversation.”
Ward says despite that “I knew nobody” on the set of Drive—it just worked.
“I got on set and Angela is so wonderful and beautiful. If it had been somebody else, I don’t know. It might not have been such a great situation, but she was so welcoming and so good to me and we had great chemistry and a lot of fun making this along the way.
“… And then just the rest is history.”
White, the three-time AVN Female Performer of the Year and 2020 Best Actress from Sydney, Australia, tells AVN that due to the last-minute casting changes, “Maitland and I didn’t get a chance to prepare together before production began.”
“But from the first day on set, we had an excellent rhythm,” White says. “Maitland carried herself with absolute professionalism from day one, and we were both determined to do our best work to ensure Drive was as fantastic as possible. I think it was that shared commitment to excellence, not to mention the amazing space Kayden created for us through script and design, that allowed us to hit the ground running and work together so seamlessly.”
White continues, “The more experience you gain in any field, the more you realize how much you have to learn. Without speaking for Maitland, I feel we both came to set every day determined to learn together and from each other.
“And I believe it was this shared determination that resulted in elevated performances from both of us. Maitland is highly skilled, yet grounded and open to new ideas, and this is an all-important combination to have if one wants to excel in any field, including adult.
“The production team at Deeper from Kayden down must also be mentioned. Whether it’s delivering a line of dialogue or executing a sexual position, for those committed to their craft, you learn and improve every day on set. And that is, to a large extent, only possible as a result of the skill, generosity and patience of those around you.”
In a nostalgic post on Twitter on May 5th, Ward noted that it was 20 years ago that day that the final episode of Boy Meets World aired, thanking all of her “incredible co-stars” and her “amazing BMW fans” for all the memories and continued support.
“I remember it like it was yesterday in many ways,” says Ward, whose notoriety is evident on social media, where at press time she had amassed 413,000-plus followers on Twitter and 1.4 million on Instagram. “That was a really emotional day, especially for people who had been with it from the beginning.”
Ward says she still stays in touch with some of her cast members.
“It’s kind of like leaving high school, you still have your friends you talk to, but it’s not the same as seeing them every single day,” Ward reasons. “I had great friendships on there. I was part of something very special and I’m proud to have been a part of that and to just to be on that journey with everybody.
“It was funny—I ran into [fellow cast member] Will Friedle at ComicCon. He’s actually the voice of Batman—the cartoon series—so he was signing for that. And I was in costume doing my thing at ComicCon and I came up to him and we had the biggest hug. We hadn’t seen each other in probably over a year.”
She continues, “It was just after a lot of my news broke about Drive and everything was all over the press. And he’s like, ‘Are you happy?’ And I said, ‘I’m so happy.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s all I care about.’ It was a great moment.”
Ward admits she continues to be pleasantly surprised how she isn’t receiving backlash about her career change.
“I don’t know, I think years ago it would have been much more taboo. People are much more accepting,” she adds. “It’s been overwhelmingly supportive of this new venture and this new genre of entertainment.
“And I think that’s really a testament to the adult industry—that it’s come so far that it’s become mainstream itself. … Everybody watches porn. Generations before had to sneak and get it. Now I think it’s just part of people’s lives and I think that’s amazing.”
May 4th marked another anniversary of sorts for Ward. It was on that day in 2014 that she dressed up for the first time as Slave Leia from Return of the Jedi to celebrate “Star Wars Day” at Meltdown Comics in L.A. Ward’s version of the costume left little to the imagination.
“And it went everywhere and people really received it well,” she says. “They liked my cosplay and they liked seeing me dress up and I genuinely loved doing it. It was just this nerd in me that was like, ‘This is so fun.’ I did a lot of costumes after that.”
Once the lockdown ends and adult returns to a sense of normalcy Ward and Kross want to build on their momentum. Without revealing too many details, Ward will be starring in a major feature for Deeper as well as a cosplay-themed project.
“What [Kayden] is writing for the feature this year is going to stretch my acting and my artistic work more than ever in my life,” Ward says. “Porn has given me—and Deeper has given me—my acting chops back again. Because in the mainstream nobody would ever give me something so dark and twisted. It was always like I was more comedic because of Boy Meets World and because I can do comedy. But this part of me was inside and no mainstream person would allow this to get out.
“Being in porn and especially at Deeper it’s just like they’ve unleashed this, this piece of me that I’m so excited to share and develop more and just go to places…”
Ward adds, “Like I told Kayden, I’m like, ‘Just take me to the depths and get me into this emotional place where I’m just unhinged. And I can just claw my way back up and just get that control again.’”
No argument from Kross, who during the quarantine has given Ward some books to read. One in particular, “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow” by Yuval Noah Harari, seems eerily appropriate for the times—not to mention research for Ward’s next star vehicle.
“I mailed Maitland some books and it’s been fun comparing notes as we read the same thing, which now has taken on additional meaning with this pandemic,” Kross says. “One of the books I sent is ‘Homo Deus,’ which talks about how the majority of modern humans no longer take plagues and famines into account as credible threats in their lifetimes; and sort of what we expect in terms of comfort and pleasure and where we’re going from here in absence of a daily threat to our existence.
“To read it while being stuck inside with endless Netflix streaming and instant brownie mixes is interesting, to say the least.”
“It’s really interesting reading it through the lens of being in a quarantine pandemic because it’s all about how our past civilizations expected to be wiped out by plagues and famines,” Ward says. “At any time they expected to be killed violently by something.
“… And now we’re trying to achieve like superhuman status through medicine and science and technology. But the funny thing is reading it right now, I’m thinking we’re in the middle of a plague but we’re dealing with it so differently than another generation would.
“Now we’re looking at it as a problem to solve with medicine and science. So it’s interesting. So yeah, some deep reading. And then I have six others after that she gave me.”
Ward wants to be ready for the industry’s return, so she is not only keeping her mind sharp with her reading list, she is also practicing yoga.
A certified yoga instructor, Ward got more in touch with her body through learning the art.
“So that’s been an adjustment having to do it in front of the TV now,” she says.
Based on Deeper’s rapid success—it already is one of the most sought-after bookings in porn and won Best New Production Banner in January—Ward says she feels a “sense of responsibility” now to carry the mantle forward.
“I want this brand to really be the height of what porn and mainstream can be and have it intertwined,” Ward concludes. “I don’t believe in any of the roadblocks or labels. It doesn’t need to be mainstream or porn. It can just be entertainment and art.”
Photography by Keith Ryan