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?
In the film, your character is an escort who juggles her profession with the complications of a relationship. Do the issues your character faces with her boyfriend compare to your real-life relationship with your fiancé?
In 2006, Steven Soderbergh told The Believer magazine that he thinks a person’s views on porn are a better indicator of their mindset, than saying they’re Republican or Democrat. Would you agree?
You’re known for doing extreme stuff in your movies. What’s something you haven’t done that you really want to?
Can you name one of those things?
We hear you’re a fan of the late Hunter S. Thompson. What do you think he would make of the term gonzo being applied to porn?
Why is that so funny?
As for gonzo porn, I have very mixed feelings. It was a great thing and some of the pioneers of gonzo really did some amazing work, but it also allowed an influx of people who aren’t that great. There’s no plot in gonzo, and so people without creativity just call it gonzo and they end up just ripping off what everyone else is doing.
There’s a great deal of media buzz about you, right now. A lot of the headlines are titillation: porn star acts, reads Sartre! Do you worry fans will focus more on you, than on the movie?
Who is the character?
Has being "the smart porn star" become your shtick? Is that a fair way to characterize your persona?
I think that’s the first time you said either cock or pussy in this interview.
Do you have a lot of female fans? What do they like about your films?
What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen happen on a porn set?
What did the guy in the scene do?
What’s next for you?
Would you ever want to direct? What story would you want to tell?
How did the sex scenes in The Girlfriend Experience compare to your prior work in porn?