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Sasha Grey Talks Instant Gratification, Porn, & The Girlfriend Experience

Hipster porn star Sasha Grey was barely a year old when director Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape came out; now she’s the unlikely star of his latest film, a low-budget digital project called The Girlfriend Experience. The fragmented story follows Chelsea (Grey), a high-priced call girl who provides companionship and conversation to Manhattan bigwigs in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election. Surrounded by various businessmen and clients concerned with the collapse of U.S. economy, Chelsea keeps her sanity by making $2,000 an hour and living with an understanding boyfriend. Of note: This film doesn’t include a single sex scene.

We met with Grey at a press junket during the Tribeca Film Festival to discuss challenging porn stereotypes, her plans for the future, and what it’s like to get an unexpected call from Soderbergh. The highlights from what went down below.

Did you feel like you needed to do more prep for this film as opposed to everything else you’ve done to this point? Anything different?

Sasha Grey: Well, it’s definitely different, but no matter what I do I always prepare. I’m kind of anal about that, no pun intended. That’s just who I am. I go into everything with a very serious approach, whether that be adult films, music, what have you. So doing this film I asked Steven [Soderbergh] a lot of questions. He wanted me to keep my personality and my confidence and bring that into the film, but at the same time I’m not playing myself. I’m playing a character. So it was kind of finding a way to fuse those two things together. I met him maybe a year before we started shooting, or a year and a half before we started the film. I went home that day and was like, “Escorts. Escorting. Google.” It’s actually really hard to find information on the individual women in that world. I thought about maybe trying to hire one to interview, but I felt weird about it and so I never did. Then about two weeks before we started shooting the film, the casting director forwarded Steven and I all these different links to stuff written by escorts. That kind of helped me a lot, getting into their daily lives and how they feel about what they do because they’re doing it anonymously. They really write how they truly feel.

What’s it like when Steven Soderbergh calls you and says he wants to put you in his movie?

SG: I flipped out. I’m a fan, and so it was like a geek out moment for me. I’m like, “Yeah, right. I’m never throwing this phone away.” It was actually on my house phone. So that was hilarious. I met him a few days later at Warner Brothers and that was pretty much it. It was like a forty five minute meeting and he said, “Okay. I’m going to film ‘Che’ now.”

Are you looking to get out of the adult film industry?

SG: Not at the moment, no. I enjoy the challenge of trying to do both at the same time. I think the climate is right.

How is your own filmmaking going? Steven talked about being interested in seeing that.

SG: I’ve been directing stuff for my website for the past few years which isn’t up yet, but in these past three weeks I’ve actually approached it in a more serious fashion. It’s less about doing it when I get a free moment. Now it’s really been about creating more of a standard and professional environment — like I’m used to getting paid to do. I’m creating this for myself and other people. I have four movies in the can and when I get home this weekend or next week I’ll be shooting my directorial debut.

Do you see yourself incorporating your writing, your music, and directing all as one?

SG: Definitely. I don’t really set a boundary between anything that I do. I don’t look at music or adult films or non-adult films or writing as separate things or as just a career. That is my life and I pride myself on that personally, whether people agree with me or not. It’s something that I’m passionate about. If I didn’t have passion I wouldn’t want to live.

In the film you get used by this guy, thinking you’re going off to this cushy gig that never materializes. Have you run into any guys like that in your own life?

SG: Not so much. Professionally and in the adult industry I’m a no bullshit person. I think only once in my career have I had someone say, “Oh, yeah, I hired you to do this.” I said, “No you didn’t. I’m calling my agent because that was not discussed.” That’s only happened once. Generally, I think that women, and not just in adult films and not just in this business, but women are afraid to stand up for themselves. I had a great grandfather who always said, “Don’t let anyone push you around or tell you no just because you’re a girl.” So I’ve lived by that, whether it be professionally speaking or personally. But as far as outside of shooting adult films, just in everyday life, if it’s a fan or something like that — I have a really cool fanbase. My fans respect me. I have fans that don’t even watch porn. So I think I’ve been able to kind of humanize myself. It was almost a happy accident in the way that I did that just because of technology and social networking and being able to communicate with the fans on a more personal level that wasn’t available to adult stars ten years ago.

Steven called you a different breed of cat, in terms of your goals and ambitions. Do you feel you’re distinct from the community?

SG: Sometimes, yeah. I wouldn’t classify that as just the adult film business. I would classify it as my generation because we want instant gratification. We don’t want to work hard and we want to give up too soon. I wouldn’t want to place that solely on the adult film business because it’d be wrong to say that that stereotype only caters to us. You look around and you see people succeed and you see people fail and I’m just a hard worker. I want to be able to have that beach house in Hawaii and travel the world, the cliché of living in Europe and dining in France. I want to be able to do those things.

When did the light bulb go on that you were going to be in this business, the adult business and then traditional acting?

SG: I was 17 and had already graduated high school. I was going to college. I was working and going to school seven days a week. I was watching a lot of adult films, and to put it simply, I saw a blank canvas that needed to be painted. I saw an industry that needed change and I was aware that I wanted to continue exploring my sexuality in a safe environment. And I didn’t have any false pretenses or hopes because I went into it and I said, “I’m ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone’s fantasies.” I meant that. Now, three years later I’m turning that into benefiting me solely because no matter what business you’re in, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up and pay your dues — unless you know somebody or you’re born into money. So, for me it’s always been about challenging the stereotypes that exist out there and exploring my sexuality and encouraging men and women to be unabashed about theirs.

Do you have people from the adult community who you want to work with on your own films? You’ve done things with Hilary Scott. Would she be one?

SG: Maybe in a sexual context. She’s pretty hardcore. I don’t know if she’d be on the same plane with me on the creative side of things. I could be wrong. I don’t know. I don’t sit and talk to her on the phone, but as far as everyone else, I think the people that I would like to work with are exclusive, that being directors mainly. I’m really into the idea of collaborating in the true sense; co-directing something with someone else where you feel like you share the same ideals when it comes to adult films.

Do you have the right of refusal to work with certain actors, maybe someone that’s a jerk that you just don’t want to work with?

SG: Yeah, definitely, whether it’s just because you don’t like them or they have bad hygiene or they can’t perform. Unfortunately it’s a really small business, too. It’s a small talent pool. If you don’t have the biggest name in the industry or one of the biggest names in the industry, it’s kind of harder to say, “No, no, no.” You won’t get much work and that’s what most people are concerned about. Like, if I say that I won’t work with twenty guys then I’m not going to work as much because those guys are used a lot. Fortunately being one of the most recognizable adult stars in the industry, that is one of the perks — being able to say, “Not going to happen.” Usually you’re saying, “This is who I want to work with,” and you go down a list of names.

Do you have a theory of why you moved so far so fast in the industry, and here you are in a mainstream movie and so even more people know who you are? A lot of people toil anonymously in this.

SG: I’ve been a pretty open book. I make no bones about it. I think it’s just really hard to understand that an 18-year-old woman wants to do porn — and for all the reasons that I wanted to do it really. I think that people were just so shocked. Then you have the media wanting to twist it into their own story. I had a lot of that weird manipulation from, the media for the first three months that I was in the business. I was also at the same time an 18-year-old girl who ain’t bad looking and does all this crazy stuff. That’s pretty rare. I think it was all those things coupled together that made a big impact.

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