Tribeca Interview: Girlfriend Experience Star Sasha Grey
I'm sure you're all disappointed that I didn't manage to get a video interview with the one honest-to-God porn star at the Tribeca Film Festival. But I'm actually kind of glad you'll get to read what she said at yesterday's Girlfriend Experience press day, rather than hear her words in tandem with her youthful and, well, porn star looks.
But Sasha Grey is much smarter than most people are probably willing to give her credit for, having broken into the porn industry just a few years ago and already making her mark as an award-winning porn star-- and now the star of a movie by Oscar-winner Steven Soderbergh. In The Girlfriend Experience Grey plays a high-paid Manhattan call girl, and while she gets naked and talks about intimate moments with her clients, she's not having sex. Instead she's telling the very jumbled story of this one call girl and her boyfriend, and the challenges of living in New York CIty at a very specific time-- October 2008, as the economy collapsed all around them.
Check out our interview with Grey below, in which she talks about her mom buying the issue of Penthouse that featured her daughter, admiring David Bowie, and thinking it was a joke when Steven Soderbergh contacted her on MySpace.
How did Steven approach you for this role?
One of his writers actually contacted me through MySpace, and I thought it was a joke, because it was MySpace. They had both read an article about me in Los Angeles magazine, so they were very interested.
Was making this transition into the mainstream always a goal for you?
No, it wasn't. I had acting experience from the age of 12 to 18, but I did get into the adult industry to be in the adult industry. Not to be negative or anything, but I would strongly discourage any women to get into adult thinking it will help them get into the mainstream world. Don't get into something you're not passionate about.
How emotionally involved were you with your character?
When I spoke to Steven about who Chelsea, or Christina was, I did a lot of writing, figured out who this person was, where she came from. Yet at the same time, he wanted me to bring my confidence and my laid-back personality into the character. It was finding a way to fuse this character with my personality.
There wasn't any sex in the film. Were you expecting there to be some?
When I had the initial meeting with him, I didn't even ask. Had it not been him, and had it been a really small independent film, I probably wouldn't have done it. But I know [Soderbergh's] work and I was comfortable with that. Even in the outline it said "sex scene with..." with a few different characters, but it never happened, and I think very early on--I don't want to speak for him, but I'm pretty sure he made up his mind even before we started shooting.
There's a lot of talk in the movie about the walls the character puts up to protect herself. Did you find that in the escorts you met to research the film, and also in your own career?
With the escorts we met, definitely. It felt like a 50s housewife in a way, like everything's perfect, it's always OK. When we would try to get analytical about things or break things down, it seemed almost too positive at points. You felt like they were hiding certain things, or certain information. In the adult industry, I've prided myself on being pretty open. I think that's why I have the fanbase that I do. I do try to be open about who I am, my interests, what I like and what I dislike.
What about the relationship with the boyfriend? Both in your personal life, and in the film.
I'm lucky enough to be in a relationship with someone who understands that my career isn't just a career it's my life. A lot of people don't understand that ideology. I think in Christine's case, her and her boyfriend were always looking for a bigger mirrors. Ultimately in the end, they really didn't care about each other.
Do you ever have moments of doubt about your career?
No, never. It's obviously hard, and i face challenges every day. I've faced a lot of ageism, and I'm a woman, so I have those two things battling against me. From the very first day I walked on an adult set, I felt completely in my own, and I knew I made the right decision.
Have you gotten any negative feedback from women about the film?
I don't read reviews. I think that's one thing Steven and I definitely agree on, we're not really too much into critics. Personally speaking, outside of the context of the film, I think every woman is a feminist. Whether you're pro-porn or anti-porn, every woman is a feminist in her own right. When I got into the business, I wrote out this little mission statement that said I'm ready to be a commodity, to fulfill everyone's fantasies. I wasn't lying. Now three years later, I'm ready to make that commodity benefit me solely. I was aware of that, and I took that into consideration. I didn't accidentally fall into it.
Whose careers do you admire?
Ooh. David Bowie. And Godard, definitely. They're two people that were always reinventing themselves.
I really admire Catherine Breillat, because she was a writer turned filmmaker. And speaking in an acting context, Meryl Streep.
Both the adult film industry and the mainstream film industry are notorious for not treating women very well. But you're doing great thus far. So how do you avoid those pitfalls?
I thin the problem is that a lot of women, not just women but men too that are just solely performers, they don't treat it like a business. And at the end of the day it is a business. A lot of people are just there to have fun and not treat it really seriously. I think you will subscribe to one of those stereotypes if you're not aware, and if you don't make your own decisions and just let things happen to you.
Do you have an agent?
I don't. The biggest problem I've actually run into is that other clients don't want their agents representing somebody who is in adult films. I do have a manager, so we're just waiting for the film to pick up and then approach it again.
Will your family see the movie?
Yeah. My mom's all excited. She's like, "I can't wait!" I said, "Yeah, tell your friends to see it, because I get back end." She said, "What, you get back ended?" Like, see, you are a pervert!
Has your mom seen your other films?
No. She did buy my Penthouse issue, though, which is funny.
Does she approve?
She doesn't approve. I don't think most parents would. But we do have a good relationship. She's my mom, and I'm not going to say 'Oh, I'm not going to talk to you because you don't like what I do.' That would be childish and immature.
How's working with Steven compared to working with other directors?
I got a lot more feedback from him, but obviously because I put a lot more into this character than I do in adult films. I very rarely play an actual character in adult films. So bringing to the table all these ideas I had about Christine, I was able to kind of riff with him on those ideas.
How different was this set from an adult set? Or was it shockingly similar?
It's pretty similar. In the ups and the downs, it's pretty similar. There's sitting around and waiting, people are always professional. I think maybe the one difference is everybody's on time on this set. Sometimes some of the girls aren't on time.
Why did you become an adult film actress?
I was watching a lot of adult films, and to put it simply, I saw a blank canvas that needed to be painted. I really wanted to change this industry in a creative sense, and get rid of stereotypes. Also continue to explore my sexuality in a really safe environment, and to encourage men and women alike to not be ashamed of their sexuality. I did seven months of research getting into it. It's been an interesting ride. It's been a challenging one too, but it's been well worth it.
When you say you want to change the industry, what do you mean?
A, the stereotype. Aesthetically, and also in the context of people think all women in the adult industry are abused victims, or they're on drugs, or they have a pimp. Fans and consumers are sick of those stories. Creatively speaking, a lot of people I felt just show up, have sex, collect their check. There wasn't a whole lot of creativity put into the work that they're putting out in the world that's going to be seen forever. I thought maybe I could make a difference and change that. I hate to quote Jack Horner from Boogie Nights, but I want people to keep watching after they jack off.
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