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How does a porn star become an indie-film darling? Sasha Grey, with diminutive features and a melancholy expression, never looked like a typical porn star, but watching her 2006 debut film, Fashionistas Safado: The Challenge, you'd be hard-pressed to pick her out as a future mainstream star. (Her co-stars might've noticed something different; the eighteen-year-old Grey reportedly shocked porn veteran Rocco Siffredi by asking him to punch her in the stomach during fellatio.) But Grey's persona grew as the mainstream press noticed her penchant for discussing Godard instead of blowjobs in interviews. She was a deliberately highbrow anomaly in a genre not noted for elevated brows; she had even debated between Anna Karina and Sasha Grey when selecting her nom de porn, the former a reference to director Jean-Luc Godard's ex-wife, the latter to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. Her mainstreaming continued with an American Apparel modeling stint and an appearance on The Tyra Banks Show.
Now she's starring in Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, an exploration of five days in the life of an expensive Manhattan call girl. Grey's character offers her clients not only sex, but an entire relationship — the titular experience. Grey delivers a candid portrait of a prostitute wrestling with the ambiguities of her profession, with economic and emotional collapses hovering on the horizon. Nerve spoke with Grey about working with the Academy Award-winning Soderbergh, what her female fans make of her extreme depictions of sex, and what she plans to do next. — Michael Estrin
How did Steven Soderbergh approach you?
What was it like to work with Soderbergh? How did he compare to other directors you've worked with in the past?
Steven was amazing because he was so focused. He knows what he wants. That kind of made me feel lazy in a way. His process is so intense. You watch him do what he does and prepare, and you don't feel like you work hard enough. Sometimes we did four locations in a single day. We had a very small crew. But with a small crew and a camera, Steven can do anything.
What did you think about the night before filming started?
What was it like for you to do so much improv work?