Originally published at SpoutBlog:
Sasha Grey Interview
“I have to say that the adult films have been a total pleasure. They were like getting paid to live out my greatest fantasies. The rest of the stuff … sometimes got to be a real grind.”
So sayeth the late, great Marilyn Chambers. And though porn star Sasha Grey, who makes her “mainstream” debut as a high-end call girl in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience,” would most likely disagree with the latter part of that sentiment, I couldn’t help but think of Chambers’ often wasted talent as Grey and I sat down to chat. This self-proclaimed “performance artist” is every bit as intelligent and articulate as Soderbergh’s latest HD fling is tedious and condescending. Here’s hoping Grey’s next experience is worthy of her wonderful lust for life.
Lauren Wissot: So how did you hook up with Steven Soderbergh?
Sasha Grey: One of his writers contacted me through my MySpace page. They’d both read an article about me in a Los Angeles magazine, um, about three years ago now. So Brian Koppelman said Soderbergh’s casting his next film and he’d like to talk to me, and I was like, “Yeah, right, whatever. O.K., have him leave me a voicemail.” And then I get home one day and there’s a message on my voicemail and it’s Steven Soderbergh and I was, like, “Oh, wow! O.K., this is getting interesting.” (laughs) So we had a meeting about three days later. It was really an unorthodox way of casting. Literally, it was a forty-five minute meeting and that was that.
LW: So it just kind of fell into your lap? That’s interesting. As someone who’s been around the sex industry for over a dozen years, though in the S&M area, and who spent six years with a high-end male escort, one of the things –
SG: You were in a relationship with an escort?
LW: Yeah, but a guy.
LW: Oh, yeah. Anyway, I didn’t really recognize the world of “The Girlfriend Experience,” and I’m wondering, is this a fictional take? Is there something from your own life represented in there? It just seemed really foreign to me and I’m trying to figure out why that is. Did you have anything at all to do with the script?
SG: No, actually there was already an outline written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The casting director then found these two escorts. So things like Chelsea’s screening process, where she relies on personology books – that came from a real escort. Also, how Chelsea goes home after appointments and writes in detail in her diary in order to remember conversations she’d had with the clients. One of the escorts did that so it would seem like she was genuinely interested in them. She’d always look back on her notes before the next date, next meeting, what have you. Or the guy in the diaper – one of the girls had a client like that. Or the Hasidic Jew, that was another guy this girl had.
LW: So this was kind of a new thing for you. You didn’t really know about the escort industry. You had to do your own research.
SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, after Steven and I met I went home and Googled “escorting, escorting,” (laughs) trying to find information. I mean, unless you want to hire a woman to go out on a date with you it’s really difficult to find actual personal information, or how these people really feel about what they do. So the casting director gave us her research information and also all these links to escorting blogs.
LW: So did you get to speak with escorts? Did you do your own first-person research?
SG: Steven and I met with one the day before I came to NYC to shoot. And then the day before we started shooting in New York we met with one. So within a couple hours I was trying to get as much information as I could.
LW: So you didn’t actually go out and escort?
SG: No, no.
LW: Let’s talk a little bit about the production. It seemed as if Steven was trying to draw parallels between the business of moviemaking and the business of sex. What I’m more interested in is, what are the differences? What stood out for you about the differences between the porn industry and the indie filmmaking industry?
SG: Actually there are a lot of surprising similarities. You’d think there’d be more differences. I guess for me, personally, it was the preparation. I put a lot more preparation into this character than I do into my sex scenes. I’m playing myself in my sex scenes. There might be certain things I want to say or do within those scenes but I’m still myself, whereas in “The Girlfriend Experience” I’m playing somebody else. I wrote a back story – where she’s from, what her parents are like. Is she rich? Is she poor? I just took all that and presented it to Steven.
LW: So how long did you prepare for your character?
SG: A couple months. And a lot of it you’re not even going to see onscreen. It was more a matter of I had to exercise my skills as an actor.
LW: One thing I liked was your rapport with Chris Santos who plays your boyfriend. What was the rehearsal process with him like?
SG: We hung out in LA a few times before we shot the film just because Steven really wanted us to be comfortable with each other and not feel robotic and stiff. As far as rehearsing the scenes we didn’t really do that. Whatever we did we shot it.
LW: The other thing that really stood out for me about your character is Chelsea’s patience. Not only with these self-absorbed clients, but with the boyfriend, and then she’s got to deal with this journalist who’s asking her these inane questions. And she’s just sitting there nicely and patiently answering him. I mean, if it were me I would have strangled him with his statements like, “I’ve never met an escort in a committed relationship.” Which to me is quite condescending.
LW: I just thought that really rang true for the character. I mean, you do have to have the patience of a saint to be in the sex industry. Did you purposely try to convey that? Was that something you’d written in your back-story about her? That this is how she deals with people?
SG: Yeah, yeah. Well, her angle is always money. She’s always working to make more money and to save more money. So whether it be granting an article to a journalist to better her career and make the public aware of her so that she gets more clients, whether it’s placating her clients…it doesn’t matter if they’re easy to work with or tough to work with –they give her money! (laughs) So the end result for Chelsea is always the money.
LW: Which is probably different from porn, right? I mean, there’s other things involved than just going out and getting the money.
SG: Yeah, exactly. I look at what I do as performance art. There’s definitely a difference between what I do and the way Chelsea lives her life. Solely as a performer in the adult business you don’t make that much money. It’s a good income, but –
LW: Well, you do if you use it to escort.
LW: I mean, if you use porn as a promotional tool you can make a lot of money.
SG: Oh, yeah. (laughs) A lot of girls do that…but unless you’re directing or producing or have your own company in the adult business you don’t make a lot. You just have to be happy with what you do. I think that’s the most important thing.
LW: Is this something you’re gonna invite all your relatives to come see?
SG: (laughs) Yeah!
LW: Because everyone walks that tightrope differently. I know people that tell their family absolutely nothing. And then there are the people who are totally open with their families. How do you negotiate that?
SG: My family knows what I do.
LW: But obviously they don’t watch your films.
SG: Yeah, exactly. I mean, my mom keeps calling me now. “When is your movie coming out? I wanna come see it!” So she keeps bugging me. (laughs) I told her, “I’ll let you know as soon as it comes out because I want you to tell all your friends because I’m actually getting backend.” And she’s like, “What? You’re getting back-ended?” So I’m like, “Mom, you’re an undercover pervert. You just don’t want to admit it!”