The movie world was abuzz when Variety reported in the spring of 2008 that Steven Soderbergh was possibly looking to cast an “adult film actress” in the lead of his low-budget indie, “The Girlfriend Experience.” Those in the know laid their odds on Sasha Grey, an award-winning porn star who’s known for her love of art house movies and noise music as much as her somewhat extreme on-screen performances. And soon enough, the rumors proved right. The title of the movie refers to the type of service Grey’s character offers, a class of high-end prostitution that offers more than just a quickie but instead a true “girlfriend experience,” which can include movie dates, dinner, vacations, and the like. Of course, this comes with a large price tag and blurred lines between what’s real and what’s not so real, something both one of her clients and Sasha’s character experience in the movie. Another interesting twist in “The GfE” is that Grey’s character Chelsea has a live-in boyfriend, Chris, a personal trainer who is also wrestling with self-promotion and success.
I got a chance to chat with Sasha over the phone, and here’s what she had to say about all things Grey.
So how did your involvement in “The Girlfriend Experience” come about?
SASHA GREY: It was about over a year and a half ago, right before he went to go film “Che,” actually, one of his writers contacted me — Brian Koppelman — and it was actually though MySpace. And he said, “We read an article on you and Steven [Soderbergh] would love to meet you to discuss a project. And obviously, it’s MySpace so I didn’t believe it, and I said, “Well, how am I supposed to know this is really you and that you’re really affiliated with him? I know your name is on the credits on a few of his films, but nevertheless, it is MySpace.” He said, “I’ll have him leave you a voicemail.” And he did so I met with up with him at the Warner offices, and he discussed the project and what would be expected of me and that was pretty much that. It was really simple, a really simple meeting, and a year and a half later we shot the film.
Do you think it’s easier to improvise or be directed?
GREY: That’s something I would have to judge on a case-by-case basis, because it really depends on who you’re working with. Some people are very dictatorial and it’s not a good feeling, and it kind of inhibits you, because you feel like you have more to offer than what they’re trying to squeeze you into, some kind of box or something like that, but with Steven, it was a very collaborative effort, which was really nice. And I felt like we could bounce ideas back and forth very naturally…
What’s so interesting about the girlfriend experience, I mean the actual service, is it seems to be an actual nurturing kind of relationship. Deep down at the heart of it, do you think that your character did feel nurturing towards her clients, in some ways?
GREY: The GFE’s I spoke with made it seem as if the nurturing, affection, etc is what you are being paid for… to have an actual “caring” relationship with the clients… even thought they truly don’t. This is why Chelsea says to the journalist, “at the end of the day they don’t want you to be yourself.” Although they did say they had, in the past, developed feelings for a client, which was portrayed in the film.
In the subplot where your character is being interviewed by Mark Jacobson, who writes for New York Magazine, he’s trying to break down your character’s boundaries and she’s quite firm in keeping the professional and personal separate. I was never sure if her relationships with her clients were similar — if she actually cared about them or not. I wanted to believe she did.
GREY: The beauty of this film, in the way it was filmed, is that it allows the viewer to read into things. Coming from a person who acted in the film and was onset every day, I think to me that’s one of the je ne sais quoi‘s about the film. But I think she likes to separate the personal and professional, and she would rather not talk about the professional… and if she has to or wants to for exposure or get more clients… she was very selective about the professional. She obviously wanted to do it for her own gain but she was still very selective about what she wanted to talk about.
Do you feel the same pressures when you’re interviewed, especially since what you do is so personal — do you feel a greater pressure to separate your personal life and your work?
GREY: The difference between me and that character is that I don’t really see a difference between my personal and quote unquote professional [lives]. A lot of people have said, “My life is my art,” and that’s the way I look at it. I don’t go home at the end of the day and kick off my heels and turn off the lights and go into another headspace. For me, it’s all-inclusive, and I don’t look at it as just a career. I look at it as my life… That’s what I’ve been about since the beginning, is being very open with my fans and the media.
Is that exhausting? You give so much back to your fans.
GREY: Honestly, yes, because I was interviewing an artist about a week ago for my website, and before interviewing him — I wanted it to be a very casual thing, it was on video, more of a conversation than a traditional interview — but before I did so, I did a little research on him. We had worked together before, but I wanted to see what information was out there, and there wasn’t a lot about his personal life. It was just all about his art. And I asked him [about] that, and he said, “Yeah, that’s a very conscious decision.” Which I find very interesting, but we also… we have a lot of similar interests when it comes to art and life, but at the end of the day I’m much more outspoken than he is. So that was an interesting dichotomy.
Would you say for you that the personal is political?
GREY: In what sense?…
Standing up for sexuality, standing up for women.
That’s something that you’re very emphatic about.
GREY: Like I said, that’s all-inclusive, and I don’t just look at that as, that’s my career and that’s what I have to do. That is a very personal thing, and that’s why I said I don’t, there is no division of Sasha Grey in the daytime out on set, doing interviews, and Sasha Grey at night kicking her shoes off. It’s what I’m about, and I’m very passionate about who I am and what my ideals are.
I didn’t catch the Tyra Banks show when you were on it, but I watched on YouTube your video response to how you were portrayed and you said you were still glad you did it. Why?
GREY: It’s free publicity. You can’t buy that kind of exposure. [laughs] After that, I was asked to do, like, “The Maury Show.” That’s a little too low brow. But the audience that Tyra caters to [is made up of] people that would be interested in me, and I actually did gain a lot of fans from that, men and women. So although they criticized me and used the power of editing to their advantage and dressed me differently, at the end of the day, if people are on the fence [about something], you might be able to change their mind and that’s great. And the people that don’t like it aren’t going to change their minds, so it’s a win-win for me, really.
I was going to ask you if you were at all cynical or apprehensive about the mainstream media and how “The Girlfriend Experience” will be covered, but it doesn’t seem like you would be.
GREY: I can be at times, just because with pieces like “The Los Angeles Magazine” [article], I was severely misquoted and there was just facts that weren’t even true. And I did a 20 minute fact-check on the phone with the guy, so yes, I do have somewhat of a bad taste in my mouth but I’m not gonna sit here and worry about that every time I do an interview any more, because for me, it really goes back to the fact that, you know, if people are interested in me, then they’ll come check me out, and they’ll check my website out, and they’ll really see what I’m about. So it’s really for me, it’s just about getting my brand out there.
Everyone who’s seen it is really hung up on the fact that you’re an adult actress and also that there’s really no sex in the movie. You’re nude in maybe one scene. Have you read anything about what people have written, or do you give a sh*t or …?
GREY: I don’t read reviews. A good friend of mine who is in the business told me about, I wanna say the first six months I was in the business, don’t read reviews because you’ll just drive yourself crazy. So I really stopped reading them. I do read interviews I do, though, because I like to see what comes out of that, but as far as reviews go, mainstream or adult, I do not touch them whatsoever. [laughs]
Do you think the relationship between your character and Chris’s character is feasible?
GREY: Well, I think in their case, in particular, no, because they were both looking for a bigger mirror… They’re both incredibly vain people, and there’s just no way that that relationship would have worked out, in my mind. In a real-life situation, if a woman is an escort, can she have a relationship? I think, you know, I don’t want to judge other people’s lives or what they do, but one of the women I met [while researching] was married and she was obviously in a happy marriage and she had a kid.
And her husband knows?
GREY: Yes, he knows. He supports her in everything that she does.
You’ve spoken a lot about your love for art films and noise music, and I want to hear more about what you have going on and upcoming projects. Are you interested in doing more stuff like “The Girlfriend Experience” as well as porn?
GREY: Right now I’m working on launching my own [adult movie] company, Grey Art, and I think we should have our first movie out in May. And my new website… really is a multimedia platform for all things Sasha Grey. It’s not just going to be sex content, but it will be, I don’t want to bore you, but it will be in a way, like a broadcasting station, where you have five different sections and one of those five is sex content, and the other four are just things that showcase my personality. As far as other projects, I actually may be working with Lee Demarbre again, who I filmed “Smash Cut” with in Canada. We might be shooting another film at the end of the summer.
Would it be horror too?
GREY: I would prefer not to say yet. [laughs]
GREY: Because we’re not greenlit yet… I have my toy line coming out in July with Doc Johnson, and I’m working on a few other things right now, actually, right before you called, that I can’t really speak about, but all very good, new, refreshing projects. Also, [I’m in] a documentary called “9 to 5: Days in Porn.” It’s a beautiful, unbiased film. It’s actually touring the festival circuits right now. So I recommend everybody go see that. It’s wonderful. Like I said, it’s unbiased, it’s shot beautifully, and I think the filmmaker, Jens Hoffmann, was really able to capture something that always seems to [be lacking] in documentaries about the adult business. It’s non-stop right now, which I’m very happy about.
What other directors would you like to work with in the future?
Anyone who will give me the opportunity to play a non-eponymous character. Maybe David Lynch, or Lars Von Trier.