Plenty of adult film stars have gone mainstream, from the late Marilyn Chambers (“Rabid”) to Ginger Lynn Allen (“The Devil’s Rejects”), and even Traci Lords (whose long-time public resentment over being labeled an ex-porn star probably isn’t helped by her supporting bit in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”). However, sleepy-eyed sex starlet Sasha Grey — already one of the hottest properties in her biz today — may have trumped her predecessors with the central role in a penetrating, thrilling Steven Soderbergh drama that played Sundance. Shot cheaply and quickly last October with no other professional actors and a largely improvised script, “The Girlfriend Experience” follows Manhattan escort Christine, a.k.a. “Chelsea” (Grey) as she tries to juggle her job and a relationship with physical trainer Chris (Chris Santos). By phone, Grey thankfully didn’t charge me by the minute as we talked about her “Girlfriend” experience, how she first became a cinephile, the dangers of social networking, and a professional rumor that’s not quite true. Don’t worry, this one’s safe for work.
Could you give a quick-and-dirty walkthrough of your “Girlfriend Experience” experience, along with any expectations you might’ve had?
Going into the film, I didn’t really know what to expect because the shooting style was so experimental. I wrote a character backstory — I condensed that – and would ask Steven: “Is it okay to use this, and adapt these personality traits into the person?” The casting director Carmen [Cuba] actually sent us links to blogs, all written anonymously by these escorts. I read those, and Steven and I met up with two escorts. We interviewed both of them, and a lot of the idiosyncratic behavior of Christine or Chelsea was taken from these two women. [As for] actually shooting with [Soderbergh], he’s so quiet and intimate, yet methodical at the same time. You can see and feel the wheels turning inside his head. He says so little, yet everything he says has a lot of impact on each scene.
I was told that you were the only person who was allowed to see Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s script, since so much of the film relies on improvisation.
I’m not sure. [laughs] I didn’t get an outline until the evening before we started shooting because they wanted some of the situations and reactions to be natural and not forced. Sometimes we’d get on set and we had an outline. We knew what the scene would be, but what was said and happened was constantly evolving every day and in every scene.
Overall, was there a noticeable change in the process by the end of production?
The most noticeable thing for me was that I was relaxing. [laughs] Sometimes you get in front of a camera and you premeditate all these things you want to say within a scene, but you kind of freeze up. It’s a hard feeling to articulate to somebody. I mean, naturally, yes, I’m comfortable in front of a camera — but I [had to become] comfortable performing, I guess you could say, as an actor, not as me having sex on camera. Obviously, that’s a big difference.
In the film, you play an escort with a boyfriend, and in real life, you’re engaged. Is that a tricky dynamic to be in a long-term relationship when you’re having sex with other people for money?
I’d say the first three months were the hardest because, and you can ask my fiancée this as well, it was less about having sex with other people and more about spending time with multiple people, if that makes any sense. It’s like, I’m not going to get home at five o’clock, we’re not going to eat dinner at six o’clock, because it’s entertainment, so things can run over, or you get home early. So it was getting used to a very different way of living for both of us. Now it’s very natural, and because we’re both very liberal people, the sex part comes easily and is not so difficult to deal with. In Chelsea, or Christine, and Chris’ case, she’s constantly coming face-to-face with emotional circumstances with her clients, whereas I go to an adult set, and I’m not there to pretend to be somebody’s girlfriend. We all know why we’re there, and it’s very upfront and honest.
Porn stars don’t typically have career longevity. Do you have something like a five-year or ten-year plan that involves a different professional path?
Yes, I just started my own production company called Grey Art, and I’ll be shooting my directorial debut in the next two weeks. It’ll come out in June, actually. It’s called “The F&%k Junkie.” I’m working on my web site, sashagrey.com — I’ll be performing and directing on there as well. I’ve been working towards directing in the adult industry for quite some time, and I’ve finally found the right way to do it. I’m also working on music, a sex philosophy book, a graphic novel, and I have an adult toy novelty line. I’ve never really limited myself to just one thing.