Twenty years ago Steven Soderbergh started his career and
rebooted Independent Cinema with a film about a lonely guy who got his jollies
by watching videos of women talking about their sex lives. This depiction of
sex at three degrees of separation, of media engendered narcissism, voyeurism
and onanism, was called "sex, lives and videotape."
Today, the practices it depicts are no
longer very shocking and have been superseded by the internet, where they are called "blogging."
As for straight porn itself, the VHR cassettes of the old days
have also become pretty quaint. Instead, much harder stuff is available in an online industry whose profits
dwarf those of Hollywood.
One of the hot young talents in that industry is Sasha Grey, who was about one
year old when "Sex" came out. She has the wholesome good looks of a Catholic
high school girl but has made about 160 films since the age of 18 with titles
like "Anal Cavity Search VI" and "We Suck!
POV Tag-Team Suck-off."
It was inevitable, perhaps,
that their paths should cross and they would collaborate on a film. It's called
"The Girlfriend Experience," and in it Grey plays a $10,000 a night call girl
whose specialty is making small talk with rich guys -- who have a lot on their
minds because the film takes place last October when the economy was in
free-fall and Obama and McCain were in the final stretch of their presidential
As I discover, talk is something Grey has a talent for in real
life, as well.
PK:You started out in the adult entertainment business when you
were in college, right?
SG: Uh, well, I started planning for it, yes.
PK: Did you work this out with, like, a guidance counselor or
SG: No, far from it, far from it. I was actually 17 at the time,
going to college and working full time. I wanted to get in the business,
because I saw an opportunity for myself to change the business because, you
know, there's not a lot of people in adult entertainment who actually make
interesting, creative films. And although I enjoyed them, I thought, "I can be
one of those people to change that and, you know, push some boundaries, whether
they be sexual or creative."
PK: Have you done that, do you think?
SG: Definitely, and, you know, as a performer, personally, I
believe you're limited in the change that you want to make unless you start
creating your own movies. Which, at the end of May, I'll be doing, starting my
own production company and directing my own films. So that's the obvious next
evolutionary step for me, I guess you could say.
PK: Becoming capital instead of labor.
PK: What advice would you give to a 17-year-old with an interest
in this business?
SG: I would say, don't just do it for the money. It has to be
something you actually want to do for yourself. And, you know, I think, for a
good reason, not just for fun, because the novelty of it will soon fade away.
Because a lot of people, I think, get in the business thinking it's just fun
and forget it is business. You know what I mean? You're not just there for
yourself, you're there for an audience and a consumer that, you know, they're
either going to buy your product or they're not. You know, "Why should we buy
Girl A's movie when we could get Girl B's movie for free on the Internet? They
look exactly the same and they sound exactly the same."
PK: That sort of competitive thing's going on in the movie also,
that you're trying to get a leg up on some of the other call girls.
SG: Yeah, but, I mean, in the adult business I come from a
different perspective. I don't go into it thinking, "Oh, you know, this girl
looks this certain way, acts this certain way and has this going on for her."
For me it's the business aspect. You know, there's so many of the same exact
movies out there, and because of the advent of gonzo adult films there's no
storylines. It's not a feature movie: it's just sex. It was great when it first
started I enjoyed it when I first started in the business because it was
something fresh and unique to me. But once you do that enough times, what
separates that from just filming your neighbors having sex?
PK: I've tried that. You get arrested.
SG: For lack of a better way to describe it, it's like, I don't
want to see ugly sex. You know, if I'm paying for something and I'm paying to
see two people have sex, I want it to look nice, I want it to be titillating,
and I want it to be able to be something that I can watch over and over. I
think a lot of people have lost sight of that because they get comfortable and
you know, something works for them for you know, fifteen, twenty years, and
they're fine doing that.
PK: Is it important for an audience to feel for the characters,
rather than just as sexual objects?
SG: In adult films?
PK::Yeah. Is that the direction you'd like to go with adult
SG: I don't necessarily think in the context - you're just
watching the film, should you care about the person that's in it? No, because I
think that's just, like, glorifying celebrities. You know, we're not demigods;
whether we're in adult films or not, or whether you're a mainstream actress, or
you're in a rock band, I think society treats you know, celebrities like that.
And I think, I guess it's ok and that's part of the job, it is a business. I
think if you want to get to know the people there are ways, like social
networking, to do that. You know, a large part of my fan base comes from the
fact that when I was brand new to the industry I used these social networking
mediums to get out there to my fans and to pretty much self promote, all by
myself, without a publicist, without a manager so-
PK: You don't have a manager?
SG: I do now, yeah. But I think, do you necessarily care when you
see, you know, when you go watch "Changeling" and you see Angelina Jolie's son is
missing? You might care for that moment. But you're not going to go home and
think about it and worry about it at the end of the day. I think that way of
thinking almost continues to vilify the adult industry, like, "Oh, we should
care for them because they're having sex on camera for other people," because
you don't understand it. And I don't mean you, I'm just saying society doesn't
understand it, and you need to feel sorry for somebody because you don't necessarily
know how they feel about what they're doing or why they're doing it.
PK: What are some of your favorite movies....not necessarily adult movies.
SG: Um..."Fat Girl" is a really good film.
PK: By Breillat?
SG: I really enjoyed that.
PK: It's a little grim.
SG: Yeah, it is. Um, let's see, there's a few that are skipping
my mind at the moment. Let's go back to that.
PK: I heard that Steven Soderbergh first got in touch with you
kind of like a fan...contacting you on MySpace, or something?
SG: One of his writers, Brian Koppelman, who wrote "The
Girlfriend Experience" actually wrote me through MySpace, of all places.
Because, like I said, I didn't have a manager, I didn't have an agent, so that
was the only place you could really contact me at the time. He and Steven had
read an article about me in "Los Angeles Magazine" that
kind of profiled me for the first three months of being in the business, and
they were interested. It was a really unorthodox way of casting, but I met up
with Steven after that, maybe for about 45 minutes, and that was it. And he
went off to film "Che" and "The Informant," and now here we are with "The
PK: You were familiar with his work before that?
SG: Oh yeah definitely, I was a huge fan, so it was, like, the
geek-out moment for me when Brian wrote me that. It's like, "Yeah, right" and
he's like, "OK, I'll have Steven leave you a voicemail," and he did, so...
PK: "sex, lies and videotape" seems so quaint these days.
SG: Doesn't it? It's so normal.
PK: So what was the process like? How different was this from
your usual films, in terms of challenge and anxiety?
SG: I would say this was a lot more intimidating, just because
it's not something I do every day. I do have acting experience, but I was
trained in theater and, you know, I never, aside from one film called "Smash Cut" that I did in May right before this, you
know, I didn't have a whole lot of [conventional] film experience. So going
into this was a lot different, and you're working with someone you really
respect and you really admire, so you always want to do good in those situations.
I'd go back to my hotel at the end of the night and think about a scene we did
and think, "Oh, I wish I'd done this differently or, you know, maybe I
shouldn't have done that." But the preparation, I mean, the whole nature of
this film was to bring part of my personality into this character, while at the
same time building a character. That I found to be really challenging, because
Steven really wanted to create this experimental environment where we don't
need to worry about running into a light or making our mark and it was really
liberating as an actor because you can concentrate on the scene and that's all
you need to worry about. But at the same time, it gives you enough rope to hang
yourself. So, um, it was an interesting way of creating a character, but at the
same time bringing that experimental nature and quality to the film so that it
remained as natural as one could be in front of a camera.
PK: And what was the ratio between improvised dialogue and what
SG: I'd say probably 80-20 because there was an outline he did
have, he knew how the story would begin, what the middle was, and what the end
was. But we would get to set every day and sometimes we would pick up the daily
newspaper because you know, it was either the day before or the day after we
started shooting the economy crashed So, you know, that naturally fell into
this film because you're dealing with a film where the characters make a lot of
money and spend a lot of money, so that was something that was always on
everybody's minds during the process.
PK: Are there many similarities between your character's
profession and your own?
SG: Uh....not so much. I mean, I think because we don't have the
emotional or fake emotional quality that Chelsea
has to bring and give in exchange with her clients. In adult films, everybody
knows why they're there. You know, yes, you are getting paid to have sex on
camera but the situations and the way they work are quite different in that
aspect. You don't have to get on set and pretend like you're somebody's
girlfriend and care about them and love them and call them when you're done and
ask to go on another date.
PK: So you wouldn't be interested in any of that kind of work
PK: What other differences are there between yourself and the
character you play in the movie?
SG: There are plenty of differences, I mean, she believes in
these little personology books ...did
you see the film?
PK: I did, yeah.
SG: Ok. She uses these...It's a study on 20,000 people and you
know, it's based on birthdates.
PK: So it's an actual thing.
SG: Yeah. And your birth date...you can open this book look up your
birth date and it's supposed to, you know, give you a four-page description of
your personality and your characteristics and you know, what your destiny is in
life, what other birthdates sync with yours and those people would make good
matches with you. For me, you know, if that's your thing that's fine, that's
what makes you happy, that's fine, but to me that's like religion. It's just a
way of not dealing with life and not dealing with everyday problems that
everybody has to incur and I'm...most importantly I don't use those types of
things as scapegoats to you know, avoid dealing with everyday life.
PK: Does it work at all?
SG: I don't think it works. I think you can open one of those
type of books whether it be personology, astrology, numerology, you can look at
one of those books close your eyes and point to a page and you can find
something that sounds like you even if its not your birth date or your sign.
PK: You describe yourself as an existentialist?
SG: And that's why I say I don't believe in these things!
PK: You don't believe in any sort of overreaching religion or
PK: What is existentialism? It's a term that everybody uses and nobody
knows what it is. I don't know what it is.
SG: I don't think it's something that we could sit here and talk
about for ten minutes. There's... for me, it's why I don't believe in personology.
It's about control and destiny of your own life and making your own decisions
and to put it simply in a nutshell, which you can't really do because I think
that's disrespectful to all the people that spend their lifetime dedicated to
that philosophy, you know what I mean? That's for any philosophy, whether it's
existentialism or not but you know, in short as you can get without
disrespecting it that's you know, what I see as the big difference of myself
and this character.
PK: Yet the people who are attracted to you are trying to find
this hidden essence that's below the surface, like the journalist that's
interviewing you - in the film. Do you think that's an illusion, that there is
no real inner self?
SG: In the case of Chelsea,
there's obviously a lot going on there that you don't see. But again, you're
also dealing with a five day period, so you're only seeing a small window into
her life and my choices as an actor going into that were to the women [in that
trade?] whom I met who seemed very guarded and when we would try to ask them
questions, it'd be like, "Everything's fine, and it's all positive and you
know, life is just great," and you could just see this veil of "you're not
telling me something and I want to know what it is." But personally you know,
outside of dealing with the film and this character, me, myself, I try to be as
introspective and as reflective as I can. Because I don't think a lot of people
in this day and age are. You know, I don't think we, even just dealing with
everyday life whether you forget that I do adult films and you know, just going
to the grocery store, interacting with people, I think we as human beings in
society today we're afraid to reflect and we're afraid to look at the big
picture that is life. You know, it goes back to the personology books or, if
you're religious - and I don't condemn people for their beliefs because that
would be hypocritical of me, but if that makes you happy that's fine but I do think society today is incredibly
afraid to reflect on who they are as individuals and as human beings and how
they affect society. That's why I think, you know, we have poverty, we have
people that just they decide to become complacent: they might have had hopes
and aspirations, but they accidentally get somebody pregnant and then they, you
know, drop out of college or they don't do what their intentional goals were as
an early 20-something or a teenager.
Next: We leave Existentialism behind and move on to the politics
of porn and the porn of politics.