The Girlfriend Experience - Sasha Grey interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
PORN star turned actress Sasha Grey talks about working with Steven Soderbergh on The Girlfriend Experience, playing an escort and why she thinks prostitution should be legalised.
She also talks about why she became attracted to the adult industry in the first place, what she hopes to bring to it and why more people should talk openly about sex…
Q. How was working with Steven Soderbergh?
Sasha Grey: It was amazing. I’m a huge fan of his, so for me there was never a moment when “no” would have been an option. I was always on for this film. On set, he’s incredibly methodical. You can see him behind the camera serving the environment that we’re in. Because we’re shooting on the red, everything is very improvised – not just the dialogue, everything… So, it was really interesting to be able to see him work and to work with him.
Q. Were you surprised when he first got into contact with you?
Sasha Grey: Definitely, yeah. I did this article and it led to some daytime television and very shortly after that his writer, Brian Koppelman, contacted me. It was like a domino effect and it all really happened at once. I did the article in LA and people all across the States picked it up, so it was really interesting.
Q. Were you nervous about meeting him at first? Did you have to audition?
Sasha Grey: No, we just set up a meeting at the Warner Bros studios and he told me about the film. This was about a year and a half before we shot. At that point we knew that here was this high price escort, she has a live-in boyfriend and we know at the end of the film she’ll leave him. That’s all I knew but he and the writers spent a lot of time interviewing women and that’s how a lot of the characters in the film came about. The women they interviewed had encountered men like this in their profession as escorts.
Q. Did you interview any escorts?
Sasha Grey: Yes, I wish we’d had more time as well. We met with one in LA the night before I flew to New York to shoot the film, and then one in New York the night before I actually started shooting. I wanted to know a lot and I felt like there was so much I still didn’t know. It was similar to the journalist you see in the film… trying to prod Christine or Chelsea and get information. They’re friendly but it just felt like they weren’t really telling me that much.
Q. Steven has also said that he thinks prostitution should be legalised. Is that something you agree with?
Sasha Grey: Yeah. I mean it’s been around since the dawn of time. It’s a touchy subject because if you open that door there will be a bunch of problems that come with it. But there’s already a bunch of problems without it being legal anyway, so what’s the better of the two? People are going to do it anyway, so it doesn’t matter. It’s not like saying “stoning is fine”. Some people say: “We don’t stone anymore but if we bring it back, it’ll be OK.” No, it’s not the same comparison.
Q. How much of yourself did you bring to Chelsea?
Sasha Grey: It would be easy to say it’s just a porn star playing a prostitute and that’s not a stretch. But she [Chelsea] is a very vein person and her commerce is solely commerce. I like to blend my commerce with my art. I think that’s a huge difference. She also uses personology as a guideline for her life and something to fall back on. It’s an excuse for her actions, whether they be good or bad. She doesn’t really want to take responsibility for life; she wants to, like religion, use it as a mask to say: “Well, this is why it’s happening. It’s written in the book that this is supposed to happen.”
Q. Were you surprised by how little nudity was required for the role?
Sasha Grey: Well, it’s Steven Soderbergh. I expected there to be some nudity and a sex scene, so I didn’t have a problem with that, but when it didn’t happen I wasn’t surprised.
Q. Steven Soderbergh wanted a leading actress who could take command of a sexual situation. Is that something that appealed to you as part of the challenge?
Sasha Grey: I think that’s second nature. It was a quality he was looking for that I didn’t have to think about or adapt into the character like I had to adapt many other things. So, I think that was a second nature of mine he was looking forward to using in the film.
Q. But you didn’t find yourself over-thinking it?
Sasha Grey: Not really. That’s more of a presence and a demeanour. But because I didn’t have to worry about that, I had more time to worry about how she uses her hands, how she talks, how she smiles… the small things that you build into a character. Those were things that I had to think about consistently throughout the shoot.
Q. Is this the first step towards doing more acting?
Sasha Grey: Yeah. With everything I do I really try not to… I don’t want to put a boundary on anything. I want to do it all. So, to answer the question, I actually did a Canadian film called Smash Cut that’s touring festivals right now and in December I’m going to France to do a film. And in March, I will be doing another film. They’re both leading roles, although the one in France is more of an ensemble piece.
Q. You’ve directed a couple of films in the adult industry…
Sasha Grey: Co-directed, although I’m actually reformulating my production house and getting some new people, swapping some people in and out, so now I’ll be directing solely.
Q. Does that confidence come from working with Steven?
Sasha Grey: Well, I’ve wanted to direct from the first few months I was in the business, so working with him re-validated a lot of feelings I had towards filmmaking and towards making movies in any visual medium. Even though this is a Steven Soderbergh film, it’s still a low budget, independent film and the way we shot, the speed we shot, we still got so much great material. I sometimes feel that less is more. You always hear people making excuses for why they can’t do something and this is living proof that you can have a little and do a lot. Even if you don’t like this film, or hate it and don’t get it, you can’t deny that visually it’s beautiful.
Q. What’s the most surprising reaction you’ve had to the film?
Sasha Grey: Oh wow, you did a good job [laughs]! Or, from my family: “That’s not you…” D’oh, it’s a film! So, that was kind of funny.
Q. How have your fans reacted?
Sasha Grey: Well, I’ve gained fans as well. But I have a very eclectic group of fans. I have fans that love me for me and who have never even seen my adult work. They just like my music, or they just like me. And then I have your everyday fans… I think it’s great because they either love these kind of films anyways, or they may have never seen a film like this and it’s great for them to do so. It’ll hopefully open up a new door to them and inspire them to go and see more art-house films. I’ve gained fans through doing this as well.
Q. As you get older and diversify more, will you leave the adult world behind?
Sasha Grey: Well, that’s the thing. I don’t want to segregate it from art because, for me, it is art. I think a lot of people don’t look at it that way but I do. So right now I want to have my hands in everything.
Q. Does it annoy or frustrate you when people just look at it as porn and don’t see beyond that label?
Sasha Grey: Well, I can obviously understand why people want to push it off to the edge and ignore it or what not. But it is such a mainstream thing now. Everybody watches porn and people condemn it, yet it’s selling! They’re watching it! Type anything in Google search and you can find it because people want to see it. So, for me it’s about don’t deny that you watch it, or don’t deny that it’s not an integral part of our culture in 2009.
Q. I read that you saw your first porn film at 11-years-old?
Sasha Grey: Yeah but I was at my best friend’s house flipping through the cable channels and it was like: “Oh my God, there’s a titty! You know?” We just started laughing. I wasn’t sitting there masturbating to porn at 11 [laughs]!
Q. But at what point did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the adult industry… obviously not at 11?
Sasha Grey: When I was 17. So, I was in college, I was working full-time and I was watching a lot of movies and thought: “You know, I really like this…” But I also thought there was something missing and I felt I could become a performer who stood out, who challenged the way things were done and make it more creative and also encourage men and women to not be afraid of their sexuality. I know growing up I felt incredibly guilty about my fantasies and the things I wanted sexually. I was like: “Why do I feel this way? I don’t understand it, but nobody’s going to talk to me about it because we’re not allowed to talk about that…”
Q. Why do you think there is still such a taboo about talking about sex and desire openly?
Sasha Grey: Religion… if you get rid of those crazy Romans! Before Catholicism and Christianity took over most relationships were polyamorous. It’s amazing… one religion has changed the world. It’s an interesting state of affairs. That’s just one thing but it breeds ignorance and I think that’s why you have a lot of issues with teenage pregnancy and the sky-rocketing rates of STDs in young adults and teenagers because we’re not talking about it, so you learn by proxy and you make mistakes that can very easily be avoided. But we’re not talking about it… sexual education is penis, vagina, it goes in, pregnant, baby, family. That’s the extent of our education. If we talked about it more I think it wouldn’t be any less of a taboo but there may not be as many problems that come with it. The demons that come with it… the demons are that you’re not talking about it, so people make mistakes.
Q. Which are your favourite Steven Soderbergh films?
Sasha Grey: Schizopolis and The Limey.
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