Sasha Grey’s not your typical porn star. Your typical porn stars don’t get serious profiles in Rolling Stone; they tend not to evince a love for Jean-Luc Godard; they don’t fly to New York to shoot experimental indie features with Steven Soderbergh. Grey has turned her extraordinary cross-over success into the beginnings of a multimedia brand, thrilling cineastes and perverts alike. (She's also behind a company, Grey Art, that will release her directorial porn debut: The F*ck Junkie.) In Soderbergh’s upcoming The Girlfriend Experience, she plays Chelsea, a high-class escort who offers her clients the appearance of an emotional connection. We spoke with her about porn-as-empowerment, and pondered the day when Soderbergh might direct an adult film.
What’s been the major difference between promoting this film as opposed to promoting adult films? What do you see as the major difference between the traditional film world and the adult film community?
In the sense of promotion, we tend to promote adult films for a much longer period of time. You might go to store signings, like adult video stories in the middle of nowhere—you’ll hit the west coast , you’ll hit the east coast, and the Midwest as well. Some promotions can go on as long as a year, depending on the size of the film. But as far as the difference between the adult film community and the non-adult film community, I’d have to say there are very few differences. Both have their critics, both have their fans, both have their quote unquote ‘stars.’
Every article about you is going to mention the fact that you’re an adult film star moving into this traditional film career. Have you felt at all like you’ve been treated like a novelty or an oddity?
I have a great team of people around me. That along with the fact that I don’t sit here and every other word out of my mouth is a sexual euphemism—I think the fact that I can speak for myself without making myself sound like an idiot helps a lot. I’m not the cliché, I’m not the stereotype. At the end of the day if that were true it would have all gone downhill from here.
Do you think a lot of people in the industry do fit that cliché?
I think there are those people, and that’s why the stereotypes exist. I do think there’s a large percent of women in this business who can speak out intelligently, and not sound like a bumbling idiot.
I had interviewed Steven two weeks ago he was saying that what came up over and over was this issue of control for high-end escorts. They called the shots, they made the rules—that it was maybe empowering, for that reason. Do you think that’s the case, and does that apply in the adult film industry? That what you do is empowering?
In the case of these other women [escorts], I think probably for some of them it is. Unfortunately you have other women that, they’re not the GFEs, they have quote unquote pimps telling them what to do and when to do it. But I think for the women in that world who do treat it like a business, I do think its empowering for them. And for myself in the adult industry, I definitely feel what I do is empowering. Any woman who is in control of her business, when it’s a very competitive business, I think that’s empowering—whether you’re dealing with sex or not. Because women are still a minority in this world.
And in the adult industry as well, I’m assuming…
There’s probably more women than men, but as far as creative control, definitely more men own companies than women.
In the film you play an escort who’s highly successful, running her own business, a one-woman business. In the adult film industry you’re highly successful, very visible. Do you think you would still be in the industry if you hadn’t achieved that same level of success?
I didn’t expect to be where I am now, so yes, I do think I would still be here. I thought for me it would be more of an inner industry [success], where I was a successful performer, I would direct some movies, I would have a medium-sized impact on the adult industry. So yeah, I do think I would still be in this business. But three years is ancient in the porn world.
You’ve said many times that you know you can’t be in adult films forever. Have you set a list of goals and when you want to achieve those?
It’s a really hard thing to just set a time line of ‘this is when I’m going to quit.’ You don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, the next year, two years. For me, continuing to brand myself and keep a solidified brand is the most important part. When I do choose to quit performing, I’ll still have my own company.
There are so many parallels between your character in the film and yourself. I’m not sure if you’re still in a relationship, but I know at one point you were. Is it difficult with your profession to maintain that, and how did that affect how you presented the relationship in the film?
The conflict is very dissimilar because Chelsea’s dealing with a relationship where she has to go and pretend she has feelings for other people. In my case I don’t have to go to set and pretend like I care for the people I’m having sex with. It’s guilt-free sex. I’m not there to pretend to be somebody’s girlfriend, I don’t have to go out to dinner with them at the end of the night. I think the conflicts are very much different. In Chelsea’s case, she’s very vulnerable to developing emotions for some of her clients, whereas I go to a set and there’s no bones about anything—we all know why we’re there. In my case, it [balancing porn and a relationship] was something that only took a few months to get used to. It really came down to communicating to each other—‘listen, this isn’t a 9 to 5 job, that’s not the way this world works.' In Chelsea’s case, with her boyfriend, it’s an ongoing learning curve—you never know what’s around that next corner. She can’t stop herself from falling in love with somebody, as you see in the film.
For an escort, if you were to be this high end GFE who does have to get emotionally involved with the client, versus someone who says ‘this is just sex, we don’t kiss, we barely talk…’ Is that easier?
Like a GFE versus a call girl?
Well if you had to break it down clinically I would say that the job or career of a call girl is probably a bit easier, but it’s physically more demanding. Whereas the job or career of a GFE is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding.
Because it’s a theater almost, a pretending—
Like Steven says, it’s more than just the sex.
I know Steven’s an out and out fan of pornography. He’s never hid that. Did you guys have any conversations about the industry or porn in general and how it’s interpreted by the culture?
I do remember having a few candid conversations, but exactly what I don’t remember. [laughs]
I could see him directing an adult film someday—
That’d be awesome.
He’s such a nice oddball in that you never know what’s coming next. What would you say was the most challenging thing about how he works?
I’d say the most challenging part was the unknown. I really wanted to prepare and know as much as I could, but yet he wanted this really natural, uninhibited quality for all the characters. Trying to prepare and figure out who this character was became quite difficult at times.
For the future, working into another non-adult role—a role where the character has no parallels with your own life—is that something you’re interested in?
Definitely. I have a few films coming up in the summer. All three are definitely against type. I can’t really talk about them. One is locked, it is confirmed. The other two I just got the scripts for, and I really enjoyed those, and hopefully they’ll go into pre-production in the next year.
I’d imagine you’d be getting a lot of offers to be play, in a mainstream move, someone who is an adult film star…
I’ve gotten the stripper, I’ve gotten things like that. Unless it’s going to be a huge film, I’m not really interested in that.
I was curious what a typical day is like for you.
There is no typical day!
A good day. The most rewarding day, professionally.
The most rewarding day is when I wake up early, like today, at 6 am, and don’t go to bed ‘til 9 am, and accomplish a ton of things. It’s endless. Long days are the most fulfilling.
To me if there’s one message, one underlying theme of The Girlfriend Experience it's that in a relationship, professionally, where money is changing hands—we’re all whoring ourselves out to some degree. Do you think that’s the case?
Definitely. And I don’t think it’s just monetary either. I sat on this panel with Steven a couple weeks ago and he put it perfectly: in life, everything’s a transaction.
Let's say in case A you’ve got Chelsea and her client going on dates—she’s being paid for her it, that’s her job. In another situation you have a very wealthy man, and a woman that’s dating him—
Are you trying to quote Tom Leykis here? [lauging]
He’s a radio personality out here in LA. His whole message to guys is ‘don’t pay more than 40 dollars for a date, because you’re just paying for the sex anyway.’
Now I feel like a pig.
No, no, no. It’s kind of like a love/hate thing, it’s really entertaining, but I don’t necessarily agree with it all. But yeah, there’s girls like that too—gold diggers, right?
In a way I would feel like the first type of relationship—[the escort]—is somehow more honest.
It kind of is, yeah.
Now I sound like a total pig.
No, it’s okay. I think it’s a case by case basis, but I’ve met girls like that. They’ll use richer guys, be in a relationship even though they don’t care about the person—they want to be taken care of. [They] might not be doing it with multiple people, but they're doing it with the same person.
In the film, Chelsea’s a lone wolf—all the other escorts are her competition. If she has any contact with them it’s antagonistic. Do you as an adult film performer hang out within that community, or do you try and separate work from personal life?
There’s a few people I hang out with, but it’s not because they’re people in the adult industry. I don’t hang out with that many people in general. I’m more focused on my life and my career right now, rather than having a lot of fun. But whether I look at them as competition? No. In the adult industry it’s all about your personality and who are you are as an individual, so I don’t necessarily see any competition in anybody else but myself.
Are there any other films that have come out recently that you’ve particularly admired?
Star Trek! I haven’t been able to go see any new films recently aside from GFE or Star Trek.
If you had been cast on Star Trek, who would you have played?
Oh god, I don’t know, it’s tough. Well, I have to wrap it up. …
The Girlfriend Experience is out in limited release on May 22nd. Go see it, and read our previous interview with director Steven Soderbergh. Then tell us who Sasha Grey should play in JJ Abrams’ inevitable, NSFW rendition of Star Trek.