CNN  — 

Stormy Daniels is everywhere: Her smiling face is all over magazines and cable news. She is touring the country on a tour branded “Make America Horny Again.” She looks like she’s having fun.

But in a recent conversation, a colleague said, Daniels described her experience differently.

“A whole big f***ing nightmare,” was the term she used, according to Jack Vegas, who described himself as a close colleague and friend – words that Daniels now disputes.

With the start of her legal battle last month against President Donald Trump, Daniels, a 39-year-old adult film actress and director, became the most recognizable and talked-about porn star in the country – perhaps on the planet. Aided by her media-savvy lawyer, Michael Avenatti, Daniels has become one of Trump’s most dangerous and highest-profile antagonists. She has grown more aggressive over time, and this week even teased Trump in a tweet about their alleged affair. And Daniels’s highly anticipated interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes” is set to air on Sunday night.

But if Daniels might seem to be relishing the spotlight, her friends and colleagues say the reality is different.

In interviews with CNN, half a dozen of her associates in the adult film industry expressed varying degrees of surprise at Daniels’s new fame and sudden political prominence. They described her being furiously protective of her life outside of porn. In 2015, she told a colleague that she was considering retirement from the industry.

Even as Daniels traverses the country on her provocatively titled dance tour, her friends suggested she might be rattled by her role in the ballooning national drama. They said she was in an unlikely role as the star of a drama described on television as “the porn star versus the President.”

“She said it’s exhausting, this whole thing,” said Vegas, who has acted in Daniels’s movies and had accompanied her on cross-country tours.

Despite her racy professional life, Vegas described Daniels as a down-to-earth and largely private person, known among friends for her deep love of horses and devotion to her daughter. “Her life outside of the industry is normal,” he said. “Well, it was until this sh**show and now she can’t leave her house without the news trucks outside her house.”

Prior to the publication of this story, Avenatti did not take issue with or comment on Vegas’ description of his conversation with Daniels. Avenatti told CNN post-publication that Daniels fired Vegas in May of 2017 and that Daniels has not had “substantive” discussions with Vegas about Trump since last year.

“She has had no substantive discussions with him about Mr. Trump or her situation since May of last year. His statements are completely fabricated,” Avenatti said. “There are numerous people that have had little to no relationship with Ms. Clifford who are now coming out of the woodwork and claiming all sorts of things. Ninety percent of it is bogus.”

Repeated attempts to reach Vegas in response to Avenatti’s new statement were not successful.

Marcus London, another adult film actor who has starred alongside Daniels for years, said he saw her in January in Las Vegas for the Adult Video News Awards, an event many in the industry refer to as “the porn Oscars.” At the back of a bar at the Hard Rock Hotel, London prodded his longtime friend about the swirling Trump headlines: “What’s all this bulls**t?”

Daniels would not divulge much, London said, but he sensed unease.

“She was honestly a little bit stressed over it,” London said. “I don’t think she wanted it out there.”

London said Daniels had shown no glee about her clash with the president. “She wasn’t happy about the whole situation,” he said.

Trump and Daniels, he added, were not a natural match.

“She gravitates to more rock-star, tattooed guys in bands,” London said. “There’s a certain type and Trump doesn’t fall into that category even in the closest way. Some kind of sordid, passionate affair? Not in a f***ing million years.”

Daniels herself acknowledged as much years ago.

In the now-famous 2011 interview with “In Touch” magazine, she described her first encounter with Trump, in the summer of 2006, as a “business move.” According to the lengthy transcript of Daniels’ interview, she called Trump “interesting” and “fascinating,” but ducked the question of whether she’d been attracted to him. “Would you be?” she replied.

“The sex,” she said bluntly, “was nothing crazy.”

But that less-than-memorable encounter is now at the center of her legal battle with the president and his longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen. Daniels alleges in her suit that Cohen paid her $130,000 just days before the 2016 election in exchange for her staying silent about the affair. Questioning the validity of the agreement, Daniels wants to be released from the contract so she can speak freely.

For Trump, the lawsuit has developed into a perfect storm of overlapping legal, ethical and political problems. For Daniels, whatever her private reservations, it has also become a business opportunity.

“She’s just making the most of it now,” London said. “She can’t really make it go away, so she’s trying to make it beneficial for her.”

In recent weeks, she has been capitalizing on her new fame. After a performance in early March at the Solid Gold gentleman’s club in Pompano Beach, Florida, Daniels told CNN she is now in fierce demand for dance gigs.

“I usually only dance once a month, and now I’m dancing three or four times a month,” she said. “So that’s been really great.”

Asked to respond to the story including the various comments from Daniels’ friends and colleagues, Avenatti simply told CNN Thursday morning, prior to the story’s publication, that he and Daniels aren’t going anywhere.

“Anybody who has doubts as to whether my client and me are committed to the long haul and seeing this through to conclusion hasn’t been paying attention during the last two weeks,” Avenatti said.

Still, Daniels’ associates say her embrace of the moment comes as a surprise.

Porn actress AJ Applegate told CNN she was “shocked” to see Daniels at the center of international news. “Usually she doesn’t put her business out there,” Applegate said.

Not long ago, Applegate added, Daniels had sounded ready to leave the stage entirely.

It was during a film shoot in 2015 at a house in the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles that Daniels raised the idea. She and Applegate were filming “The Madam,” an adult film where Daniels plays the owner of an escort agency and Applegate, one of her girls. They were in the kitchen, taking a break from a threesome scene, when Daniels confided in her co-star.

“This is probably going to be my last scene. I might not direct after this,” she said, according to Applegate.

Applegate thought her colleague’s implication was clear. “She wanted to retire from the business,’” she said, adding: “I guess she changed her mind.”

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Avenatti’s post-publication comments.