Sasha Grey doesn’t need a lot of introduction. The former porn star who started out in the adult film industry at 18 years old has since crossed over into the mainstream, no doubt spurred on by the sensationalized media coverage she received from L.A. Times magazine, The Insider and Rolling Stone. Grey also scored the lead role in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, which opened doors to her other acting gigs including a supporting role on HBO’s Entourage. Now 23, the cult icon continues to think laterally about her brand, embracing pluralism as her inner sanctum to further test the elastic boundaries of her ever-expanding empire.
True to form, Grey just unveiled a photography book featuring an irreverent and unmistakably raunchy collection of nude self-portraits. Neü Sex, as the book is called—part visual diary, part repository for her philosophies on sexuality, identity and personal liberty—grants readers unprecedented access into her private world.
Neü Sex is published by VICE Books and distributed by powerHouse Books.
What does “Neü Sex” mean?
Oh god. I was like, “What the hell am I going to call this book?” because it’s not just about one thing, you know? It literally started out as “New Sex.” I don’t want to say that it represents my generation, but the book is about my opinions and my philosophies on sexuality. I’m not your stereotypical-looking porn star and it’s not who I am or who I want to be. I wanted to offer a different perspective because it’s easy for people to be admired for their work as a porn star on-camera, but it’s not often that you’re given the chance to share your philosophies. I’m very lucky to have the opportunities to do that. Also, I used to post photos for my fans on MySpace with song titles or names of bands that I liked as captions. There’s a krautrock band called Neü, so I was like, “I’ll just spell it like them.” That explanation was probably a little more involved than what you wanted. [Laughs]
What made you put together a photography book of all things?
I started taking photographs in 2006 when I was on sets working in the adult industry. For me, they’re all about self-examination. I never intended to publish these photographs, but my literary agent saw them and was like, “These are great. Why don’t you publish them?” Once he inspired me to do that, it made me really think about going further and branching out into doing self-portraiture. My partner Ian [Cinnamon] and I collaborated on a lot of the photos in the book. The first time that we worked together was when I had an idea for something that I couldn’t physically capture myself and he was able to realize my vision for me. It’s 100% collaboration in that sense.
Are these photographs heavily thought out beforehand or do you prefer candid portraits that are sort of done on the fly?
I would say it’s about 50/50, but it did start out as being one thing and then progressed from there. There were a lot of photos that needed a kind of immediacy to them and others that, aesthetically, look immediate like a snapshot, but were in fact very planned out. There are some more obvious ones that, you know, we took some time with. It’s kind of cool to have a combination of all of it.
You also wrote a number of passages to accompany all of these photographs. Could you elaborate on what you meant by, “Documenting myself has almost become a necessity”?
There are so many different reasons why I feel that way. A huge one is that when I approach my adult films, I see it as performance art, but not everyone is going to say that. Ultimately, I don’t have control over how people dress me or put make-up on me. I don’t really care how I look in porn because I wasn’t trying to fulfill this idea of being a bombshell sex symbol—that had nothing to do with my work—but the photographs are a way for me to share my reflections on a day-to-day basis like, “This looks ridiculous” or capturing an image of a moment that was really beautiful as seen through my own eyes. It’s about being able to say, “This is how I remember it.” The adult industry has it’s own built-in system of looking at things a certain way and this is a way for me to reflect on my feelings on a given day or just capture those moments in the way that I saw and felt them.
When we were shopping this book around, I realized that I’d never really been able to express my philosophies 100% or opinions on where I’ve been; not just in the adult industry, but also in my worldly travels. I’d never been able to say that without having to promote some kind of project or without someone else taking the creative liberty when they’re writing a story about me where all you see is what they choose to leave in. I think the book will answer a lot of questions about me.
How did you end up partnering with VICE to put this book out there?
I worked with them on a VBS episode and Richard [Kern] had photographed me before. It was a couple of times for VICE, actually. So, we already had a rapport. When it came to publish the book, they were our first option and it just seemed obvious. It worked out well.
What’s happening with Grey Art these days?
Grey Art is no longer in business.
Moving on… How did you get to where you are now? Did you always see yourself becoming a brand?
It’s been a hell of a ride! [Laughs] I never imagined that I’d ever be where I am today. I moved to L.A. to get into the adult industry—that was my goal, my focus—and I was self-branded in that industry. I didn’t have a publicist or a manager for a very, very long time. I kind of did all of that hard work on my own and I’m very proud of that. Along the way, other opportunities presented itself. From there, I just decided to continue pursue acting. It’s been a very crazy turn of events.
What initially drew you do the adult industry? What was the allure there?
There are a lot of components to it. I was, for a long time, in conflict with my sexuality when I was a teenager and I felt ashamed. I had no confidence whatsoever when it came to my sexuality. I thought there was something wrong with me! [Laughs] I lost my virginity after all of my friends in my senior year and it was like, “What was I so afraid about? Why did I feel so ashamed about my fantasies and my desires?” Fast-forwarding a year to college, I was watching a lot of porn when I was hanging out with friends. It’s obviously easy to just get off on it, but I felt like that was a component that I was missing. I wanted to get into the industry and continue to explore my newfound sexuality, safely, and fill this creative void that I saw. I wanted to challenge the stereotypes that are thrown onto that industry and encourage men and women to not be ashamed. And that’s not to say that getting into porn will rid you of your shame, but, for me, it’s like, “We don’t all look alike. It’s okay to have your own personality and be an individual.” I’m very proud that I’ve been able to do that. I’ve had these great opportunities and wonderful fans that I’ve been able to inspire, and hopefully, continue to inspire—especially with this book.
You’ve accomplished so much already. I just saw this clip of you from The Tyra Banks Show when you first started out.
How do you feel looking back on that interview? I appreciated your honesty and you spoke with a lot of conviction, but Tyra definitely threw you under the bus.
That was an interesting time. That interview didn’t air until 2007 even though we shot it in November 2006. During that time, I was featured in L.A. Times magazine, The Insider and all of these afternoon TV shows. Some of these sensationalized shows and magazines—not all of them, not all journalists—tend to do stuff like that. You’re always going to meet people that will either see through that veneer of sensationalism and other people who won’t see past it, which is okay because that’s just part of the experience. For me, I got a lot out of it because I got the exposure to continue building my brand. Obviously, I was very frustrated at the time. [Laughs] I’m a human being and I get pissed off. I knew 100% it was going to be ridiculous. Ultimately, I was satisfied since I got something out of it. And, like you said, the conviction was there. You can’t deny that.
What was it about you specifically that these shows and magazines latched onto? There are a lot of people in the adult industry.
Well, I was 18 and a girl. Had I been an 18-year-old man, I wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of exposure. Also, I was very vocal and proud of what I was doing. I wasn’t ashamed of it and didn’t hide it from my family or friends. I think that’s what people latched onto. I wasn’t this idealized version of what porn stars are supposed to be. I’m kind of like the other white meat. [Laughs] It was pretty cool to come from being so conflicted with my sexuality as a teenager and finally take control.
You have your hands in so many different pots now. You produced a movie called Modus Operandi not long ago. How did that come about?
It’s something that I plan to do more of in the future. That literally came out of my relationship with Frankie Latina, an up-and-coming director. We’re actually going to be shooting a film together. When he first approached me, though, I was like, “Well, what else have you made? It doesn’t have to be this blockbuster, but it needs to be of quality. I just want to see what you can do as a filmmaker.” He sent me the [Modus Operandi] DVD and I was like, “This is great.” It’s just layered and layered with so many film references that, as a film nerd, I thought it was so cool.” [Laughs] I asked him how I could help further push the film out there and that’s when I came onboard as a producer, after the film had already been made. It’s still turning its wheels and doing its thing at festivals, which is cool. Hopefully it’ll become a little cult film in 10 years.
What other ambitions do you have that is yet to be explored?
I definitely want to contribute my time to charitable organizations, especially ones dealing with kids in low-income neighborhoods, and try to develop programs and educational institutions that the government won’t provide them.
Who would you want to have play Sasha Grey in a biopic?
That’s hard to answer because I’m way too young. It would probably have to be someone who’s not even born yet…