Escort mission

Adult film star Sasha Grey on pushing the envelope in porn, her evolving creativity and working with Steven Soderbergh for his new film The Girlfriend Experience
by MARK SLUTSKY

At the tender age of 21, Sasha Grey has already made quite a name for herself in her chosen industry. Arriving in Hollywood after turning 18 with the goal of breaking into the world of porn, Grey soon established herself as one of its biggest and unabashedly kinkiest stars.

But she had a quality that crossed over to the world outside of XXX—outspoken, unapologetic, intelligent, artistically ambitious and far more indie-friendly in her presentation and avowed tastes (she’s famously a lover of Jean-Luc Godard and lists bands like Joy Division and Neu! on her MySpace page) than you might expect from a porn star. And perhaps in the ultimate sign of hipster outreach, she’s modelled for American Apparel and appeared in Vice.

Grey’s real mainstream crossover, though, may come in the form of her latest role, in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. Grey stars as Chelsea, a high-priced Manhattan call girl who specializes in the service of the title, a more personal experience that involves talking and intimacy.

Throughout the film, she encounters clients as disparate as a McCain-supporting Hasidic Jew, a sleazy blogger (played by film critic Glenn Kenny) who asks for a “review copy,” a neurotic businessman who just wants to talk and a screenwriter she seems to connect with on a deeper level.

The Girlfriend Experience feels very much like a Soderbergh film, with its casually abstracted timeline and gorgeous digital visuals. Full of references to the economic meltdown occurring as the film was being shot, it manages to be curiously timely as well. Grey’s character is somewhat of a blank, but a strangely compelling one: she’s deadpan but effective.

A friendly and talkative Grey spoke to the Mirror about both her careers.

Mirror: How did you prepare for this role? Was it a challenge? It must have been different than getting ready for your porn work.

Sasha Grey: In adult films, I only start the night before, usually. I kind of have a routine, because in the entertainment world, you never have a routine (laughs), so when I get to the set, I just have a small list of things that I stick to no matter what type of scene it is.

For this film, the day I met Steven I went home and tried Googling “escorting” to do some research on it, but obviously, unless you’re trying to hire a woman, it’s quite difficult to find any real information. So when we went into pre-production, I started keeping a detailed diary and I kind of wrote a character back story, condensed that and sent that over to Steven. Because the way that he shot the film was quite experimental, we didn’t have a lot of information, so I said, “Hey, does this fit into the mould of where you want to take this character in the film?” and he said yes, so I used that.

He asked me to watch Godard’s Vivre sa vie and Pierrot le fou, which is nice for me because I’m a fan of both of those films. The casting director also sent us anonymously written escorting blogs so I just kind of read as many of those as I could before we went into production. Steven and I also interviewed two escorts as well so a lot of little things went into it.

GOAL-ORIENTED
M: Did you ever get a sense of why Soderbergh thought of you for the role?

SG: Well, I was on a panel with him so now I can answer that (laughs)! I actually know why. I didn’t ask, I was happy enough to get the role, so don’t question a good opportunity! He read this article about me in 2006, and he said, when we were doing this panel, that I was the only adult film star he’d read about that actually had long-term goals. And the other part of that is also that I obviously have a built-in fanbase. So that only helps to get the film out there and get people talking about it.

M: What are those goals?

SG: Oh jeez, well… I’m actually at the beginning stages of one of them, which was to be a director in adult films and I kind of took it a step further and I launched my own company called Grey Art.

M: It seems like you have a pretty thought-out vision of what you want to do, creatively.

SG: I think it’s constantly evolving. Three years for some people might not seem like a long time to become a director, but in the adult film world, for me, that felt like a lifetime, getting to this point. But I think the decision I made was the best decision I could have made.

Right now, my main goal is visually making things different. I don’t really want to get into the specifics because I don’t really want to ruin the idea I have for an upcoming feature, but I think visuals are heavily lacking and I think working with Steven really validated a lot of things for me when it comes to filmmaking, whether it be adult films or non-adult films, because you can do so much with so little if you just put some effort into it.

POWER AND PERFORMANCE
M: Is there a big difference between sex work, like in the movie, and work in the adult film industry? Where’s the line?

SG: I think there’s a lot of small differences. If you have very conservative moral views, they’re the exact same thing because you’re both selling sex for money. But as this film kind of shows, everything in life is a transaction—whether you’re flipping burgers at McDonalds or a secretary, we’re all selling ourselves for money. But I think the obvious main difference between doing adult films and doing something in the line of what Chelsea does is that adult films are obviously legal, they’re for an audience—there’s a laundry list of clinical differences. I think, for me, a big one is that while I have a creative vision and standpoint on what I do, somebody in Chelsea’s situation wouldn’t.

M: Seems like “the girlfriend experience” is somewhat of a performance itself—that Chelsea has to do as much as a film performer.

SG: Yes and no. There’s so many little things that separate it. I actually said that to one of the women that Steven and I interviewed, you’re kind of performing in a way, you’re kind of hanging up your personality and letting go of who you really are. I think, in adult films, it’s more based on who you are as a personality. We don’t show up to set and have to pretend to be somebody’s girlfriend (laughs). We all know why we’re there.

M: You’ve called what you do in adult films performance art. Can you expand on that?

SG: I think that, as a performer, you give so much of yourself and your physical body is part of that performance. Each and every scene I do, I try and make it distinct from the last, to the best of my ability. Because obviously, you get to set and no, it’s not the terrible tale of “you have to do this sex act!” and you don’t want to do it but there’s either a creative decision or a lack of creativity (laughs) that you don’t really have a say in because you are an independent contractor. So I try and take the power back into my hands and envelope that to the best of my ability. Because there’s only so much you can change as a performer.

M: Do you feel a pressure, externally or internally, to keep pushing the envelope?

SG: I feel it internally, because that’s what I’m passionate about and I really don’t feel comfortable repeating myself. It’s always finding a different way to express myself, whether it be the sex act that I’m doing or whether it be the thing that I’m saying to the person in the scene. Or how I convey what I’m feeling to the audience.

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE OPENS
THIS FRIDAY, JUNE 26.
SASHA GREY WILL APPEAR AT
FANTASIA NEXT MONTH FOR THE
WORLD PREMIERE OF LEE
DEMARBRE’S SMASH CUT.

Original at Montreal Mirror

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