While Garrett Clayton is perhaps best known for playing clean-cut hunk types in projects like the “Teen Beach” Disney Channel movie and “The Fosters” TV series, the Michigan native has consciously set out to showcase a very different side of his acting talent in the very R-rated film “King Cobra.” Inspired by a true story of a murderous plot in the world of gay porn, Clayton recently phoned to chat about the film — which is set to close Reeling 2016, the 34th annual Chicago LGBTQ Film Festival. The festival, which began on Thursday, runs through Sept. 29. The closing night screening of “King Cobra,” with Clayton scheduled to attend, will take place at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

“King Cobra” is inspired by the life of Sean Paul Lockhart, who became the porn film star known as Brent Corrigan. The crime thriller is based on the book “Cobra Killer” by Andrew E. Stoner and Peter A. Conway — about the 2007 murder of small-time gay porn producer Bryan Kocis (renamed Stephen in the film and portrayed by Christian Slater) who discovered Lockhart. Two competing producers (played by James Franco and Keegan Allen) killed Kocis when he wouldn’t relinquish rights to the “Brent Corrigan” name (which Kocis had trademarked) — and allow them to make films with Lockhart/Corrigan on their debt-riddled King Cobra label.

In a recent call from his Los Angeles home, Clayton said that he did a great deal of research online — along with reading “Cobra Killer” — to prepare for the role. He stressed that his approach — and that of director Justin Kelly — was to attempt to capture the essence of “what happened in Lockhart/Corrigan’s life, and not necessarily what just happened with him [on film sets].”

Christian Slater plays Stephen, a small-time gay porn producer in "King Cobra." | JESSE KORMAN

Christian Slater plays Stephen, a small-time gay porn producer in “King Cobra.” | JESSE KORMAN

“There’s really a lot of things out there — on YouTube and places like that — so I was able to really get a good sense of what he was all about,” said Clayton. “Of course, the big controversy was due to Lockhart being being underage when he got started.” In the film, Slater’s character lures Lockhart into the world of gay sex films (unaware the young man’s driver’s license is a fake ID) and launching the then-17-year-old teen’s career.

Clayton said that initially he wanted to meet Lockhart because, “I wanted to hear his stories and observe his mannerisms and listen to his way of speaking, and things like that.” However, the actor soon agreed with writer-director Justin Kelly that it was probably a good idea “for us to make it more of a fable — to keep my character separate from the [real-life] guy. … After all, it is such a touchy subject. It’s not just a movie about porn. Somebody real was actually murdered. That effected real people’s lives — siblings and other family members were all effected. So disconnecting somewhat from the real guy was a good idea,” said Clayton.

Clayton’s performance in “King Cobra” will undoubtedly surprise — perhaps even shock — some of his fan base. The actor agreed, but said, “after finishing working with Disney, I was really looking forward to finding something to sink my teeth into. I was grateful and happy to find such a difficult part to play. I wanted to move on from my Disney image. Any actor known for a TV show or a certain movie needs to do that. You don’t want audiences to think that was the one note that you have to play. You want them to realize that, while that was one side of me, now I’m going to show you all the other sides of me — if you give me the chance.”

Most of Clayton’s scenes in the film are with Slater, and the young actor said it was “such a great experience,” noting that the veteran actor exhibited no big star attitude. “[Christian] was always so open to [rehearsing] scenes with me. … This project was certainly challenging and a little scary for both of us. It was very reassuring to have him there every day. When you do something like this, you want to be working in a very comfortable zone. Not only was that thanks to Christian, but obviously due to Justin. We all felt very safe and protected making this movie.”

Clayton’s next project is portraying Link Larkin in “Hairspray Live!,” airing Dec. 7 on NBC. “I am over the top about this. This has been one of my dream roles for a very long time,” said the actor, who got his college degree in musical theater at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. “There were summers when I was doing three musicals all at the same time! I’m really excited to be doing this with this incredible cast,” which includes Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson, Harvey Fierstein, Derek Hough, Martin Short, Rosie O’Donnell, Sean Hayes and Andrea Martin.

* Reeling 2016, Sept. 22-29: Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark, Chicago Filmmakers, 5243 N. Clark. For complete schedule, tickets and screening locations, visit www.reelingfilmfestival.org.