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Sydney Leathers, whom Anthony Weiner sexted, attended the New York mayoral candidate’s election party on Gina Rodriguez’s advice.

Michael Appleton • New York Times,

Gina Rodriguez handles what she calls “D-list” celebs.

Emily Berl • New York Times,

'D-list Diva' keeps scandal-prone clients in the news

  • Article by: MICHAEL MUSTO
  • New York Times
  • March 31, 2014 - 3:21 PM

“I don’t mind calling them D-listers,” said Gina Rodriguez, the former pornographic-film actress from Los Angeles, of her clients. She has carved out an unlikely second career representing tabloid fodder like Sydney Leathers, best known as the sexting gal-pal of former congressman Anthony Weiner; the parents of Lindsay Lohan; and various cast members from Bravo’s “Real Housewives” series.

To Rodriguez, what matters is that her scandal-laden clients are being talked about, period. “At least they’re on some sort of a list, and that’s what I tell them,” she said. “At least people know who you are, and that’s all we care about.”

It is not as easy as it sounds, especially when part of Rodriguez’s mission as an entertainment manager is to generate positive buzz (and money) for those who are famous for being bad.

Take the case of Nadya Suleman, a California woman who gained notoriety in 2009 for giving birth to octuplets (she already had six young children and was receiving public assistance). The tabloids, which painted Suleman as an unscrupulous mother, nicknamed her Octomom.

“Octomom was a hard client to work with because the public had already formed their opinion on her,” Rodriguez said.

So instead of trying to book her on, say, “Charlie Rose: The Week,” Rodriguez produced a solo sex tape called “Octomom Home Alone,” saying that such films are a great financial opportunity “because they own the movie forever.”

“It’s not a one-time check,” Rodriguez added. “She needed to make money to take care of the kids.”

But managing the scandal-prone has its difficulties. When Suleman lost her home to foreclosure, Rodriguez swung into action and found her a place to live, as well as a staff to take care of the children. And when Suleman “had an issue with Xanax and alcohol,” Rodriguez said, she got her into a rehab facility.

Eventually, though, Suleman became too much for even Rodriguez to handle. “I was going to have to walk away for my own sanity,” she said.

Being ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice, however, is in her job description.

One of her most contentious clients is Michael Lohan, better known as the father of the tabloid favorite Lindsay Lohan. Rodriguez reached out to Michael Lohan on Facebook in 2010, eager to help with his public relations.

“I was seeing him in the media every day, arguing with somebody or fighting for his daughter,” she said. “We set up a meeting and he was like, ‘Meet me at the courthouse.’ Lindsay was in court for something. That was total Michael Lohan style. As soon as we walked out of the courthouse, it was this huge press conference.”

Rodriguez started booking him on shows like “Entertainment Tonight” and “Inside Edition,” where he argued his side in various disputes, like swearing that his ex-wife Dina Lohan’s claims of domestic abuse were lies.

Rodriguez also represents Dina Lohan, but she tries to stay out of their family battles, except when it is for television. Last year, Rodriguez booked Michael and Dina Lohan on “The Test” a syndicated TV talk show, which billed the appearance as their first interview together.

From porn to ‘personalities’

Rodriguez, 46, never intended to be called the D-List Diva, the name of a reality show she is working on.

The 5-foot-3 self-described busty redhead, who is three-quarters Sicilian and one-quarter American Indian, was a part-time actress and day-spa owner before going into pornography in 1992 with her former (and third) husband, Randy Spears, an actor in sex films. She modeled for Playboy and appeared in roughly 60 pornographic films.

“But it was never for me,” she said, in explaining why she left the pornography business and divorced Spears in 2008. She tried to reinvent herself, this time by becoming a manager for female pornographic stars.

A turning point came when the Tiger Woods cheating scandal became public in 2009, and he was revealed to have dated women like Joslyn James, a pornographic-film actress and model.

“I knew Joslyn James and brought her to California and took her to talk to Gloria Allred, who was a friend of mine,” Rodriguez said, referring to the lawyer known for taking high-profile cases, especially those that involve women’s rights.

“After that, other girls in the Tiger scandal started coming to me,” Rodriguez said. “Then the Charlie Sheen girls. It was turning into a mistress business, which is not what I had intended to do.”

Before long, Rodriguez had developed a reputation as someone who took on less-prestigious clients and helped them capitalize on their notoriety. For example, she created a makeup line for James called Shameless, as well as similar deals for the women linked to Sheen. “Then Octomom came to me, and all these media personalities,” she said. “Word got around by itself. It’s not like we advertise.”

Excelling at exploitation

Drug rehab has featured prominently among those on her roster, and like other scandalous episodes, Rodriguez has managed to turn that to her clients’ benefit. Cash-strapped clients like Tila Tequila, Suleman, Farrah Abraham (better known as MTV’s “Teen Mom”) and Patricia Krentcil (better known as Tan Mom) have been able to check into rehab centers free, in exchange for mentioning their services in the media.

Rodriguez also represents a slew of reality TV personalities including Angelina Pivarnick from “Jersey Shore,” as well as Alex McCord, Simon van Kempen, Sheree Whitfield and Kim Zolciak Biermann, from Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise.

Among her newer clients is Leathers, the Indiana woman who was the sexting recipient of messages from Weiner, then a New York mayoral candidate. As soon as that scandal broke last year, Leathers reached out to Rodriguez through Nik Richie of the gossip blog thedirty.com.

“In the beginning, I was terrified after my identity was leaked by BuzzFeed,” Leathers said. “Gina really took charge and helped me handle the media onslaught. She’s helped me take control of my career and she’s helped build my confidence.”

And her raunchy résumé. Among other things, Rodriguez arranged for Leathers to star in Vivid Entertainment’s X-rated film “Weiner and Me,” which featured an actor playing the former mayoral contender. To keep her in the tabloids, Rodriguez also orchestrated Leathers’ Election Day visit to Weiner’s campaign headquarters and concession party.

Rodriguez, whose company, GR Media, is based in Los Angeles, is hoping to open a New York office because many of her clients are on the East Coast. Hers is a small operation: Her daughter, Brandilyn Snail, works as her assistant there part time, and Snail’s fiancé, Colton Dworniczak, is the talent coordinator.

Together, they aim to turn 15-minute fame into an hour, while tapping their clients’ extreme lack of shyness.

“One reason I’m helping these people is they don’t have a lot,” Rodriguez said. “I’m not exploiting them. They come to me. Prior to coming to me, they’ve already exploited themselves.”

© 2014 Star Tribune