NEW VALUES Sasha Grey

The Oscar nominations
were just announced this week. Here’s one they missed. Is there a category for “Best
Porn Actress In A Straight Role”?

 

BY ERIC GLADSTONE

 

Everyone loves a “Horatio Alger” story, and it’s hard to
find one more tasty than Sasha Grey’s (not her real name, incidentally; her Wikipedia page indicates she was born Marina Ann Hantzis). Sasha’s official story
says that at 17, the underprivileged Sacramento
girl decided she was going to make her way in adult film, “researched” the
industry for seven months, at 18 got an agent, moved to LA and within two weeks
was appearing in a John Stagliano orgy scene. She was also media-savvy from
jump street, getting herself an excellent Dave Gardetta-penned Los Angeles magazine
profile and a Tyra Banks talk show segment before long.

 

Her work ethic (ahem) has been as pronounced as her
marketing ethic, which along with her uncommonly
horny-girl-next-door-you-might-actually-nail looks have set her apart in that
world. But of course what’s really set her apart is being the first adult
actress (unless you count Joan Crawford) to star in a film by an Academy
Award-winning director (Steven Soderbergh’s The
Girlfriend Experience
), which is at least one reason why you’re reading
this.

 

Why I’m writing it is another story: I first met Sasha at
her Vegas nightclub-hosted 21st birthday party, crashing in order to
reacquaint myself with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (that’s another story),
who has become one of Grey’s BFFs of late. But I was also familiar with Sasha
through her MySpace page (where Corgan and Soderbergh also contacted her),
which brimmed with so many unpredictable music and movie favorites that I found
myself in disbelief I could have so much in common with a barely legal porn
star. Faust, Eno, Bloc Party, “Old Elton John,” Dj Quik, Mingus, Arab Strap,
Durutti Column, Shostakovich/wp-content/photos Godard, Lars Von Trier, Breillat, Monte
Hellman, Bertolluci, Varga…Louis Malle/wp-content/photos Literary references you expect from a
grad student? Grey got no farther than some junior college-one would expect
Salinger to be as deep as she dug.

 

Serendipity truly reared its head for the Blurt photo shoot [see the original Blurt magazine layout here, where Grey’s
screen-icon-themed photos originally appeared] as well: our photographer talked
her friend Devendra Banhart into loaning his Silver Lake
bungalow for the day. Few might have expected Devendra – who was working on his
ink art all afternoon – and Sasha to hit it off, but of course they turned out
to be kindred spirits.

 

Some might not realize the significance of that, though.
During the shoot, Carson Daly has also been scheduled to interview Grey for his
TV show, and he breezes into the house somewhat obliviously, before revealing,
during their camera chat, quite an intimate knowledge of Sasha’s oeuvre.
Thankfully that allows me to avoid all the obvious questions, though I am happy
to report from my eavesdropping, a list of what the seemingly no-holds-barred
girl will say no to on camera (fingers or ejaculation inside, slapping her
breasts, scatology-now you know).

 

We all may be giving Sasha Grey too much credit-she may well
be nothing more than the novelty of the moment for the media to seize upon. After
all, her performance in TGE is
credible, but she isn’t showing the sort of dramatic instincts that Kirsten
Dunst, Scarlett Johansson or even Heather Graham (yes, even Heather Graham)
displayed at her age. Then again, none of them showed the depth or ambition
that Grey has. Not to mention, with most porn stars you’d be hard pressed to
have a discussion with about anything beyond tanning salons and Blackberrys.

 

 

***

 

 

BLURT: You’re doing
an awful lot of press these days. What’s too personal for you to talk about?

 

GREY: You know, I’m a pretty open and honest person. I just
find it difficult to talk about things without people trying to twist my words,
and I have to censor myself sometimes. Aside from that, I would say, my family.
Just because I don’t want my mom to get fired from her job, I’ve had issues
with people stalking, I don’t want that to happen to my sister or brother. My
sister and my brother fully support what I do, but I’m not going to say ‘these
are their names.’ There’s no reason you should want to know their names.

 

 In TGE, one of the central themes is your
character’s relationship and the difficulty in her having a relationship while
being an escort. As an adult performer, have you experienced that? Is it a fait
acompli when you have a job that requires you being intimate with others?

 

 Luckily I’ve been
able to find somebody that does support me in what I do. Christine/Chelsea
didn’t have that. Her boyfriend pretends to support her, but he just wants her
to quit. I think the notion of ownership in relationships is a joke. But as far
as, outside of the context of personal relationships, do I find my life to
sometimes be difficult because of what I do? Yeah, of course. Because people
come with a pre-conceived notion of who you are and what you are. Say I was a
regular actress who’d never been in porn talking about sex, people would say
‘Oh, that’s really interesting and cool because now we can talk about that,’ or
it would be the same old thing of ‘That’s bad, you can’t talk about that.’
People aren’t used to a young woman being so confident and sure of herself,
without thinking they’ve come from abuse or they’re being abused, being forced
into doing what they’re doing.

 

 You’ve been very vocal about the adult world
being unified, and yet you seem to not really be very active in the adult
community overall.

 

 Yeah, that’s fair to
say. If I had millions of dollars, I would try and unify the business right
now. I think it does come down to money and it comes down to politics. You’re
not going to change these people who are set in their ways and comfortable in
making a few million dollars a year, it’s an old boys’ network. I might have
the name recognition, but I don’t have that type of money to go in and change
things all on my own. I was just talking to a girlfriend of mine in the
business, she was working during the HIV outbreak in 2004. And when the
industry got temporarily shut down, people were saying ‘We’re going to unionize
and this and that,’ and she showed up to the meeting and there were two people
there. People treat it as a lifestyle instead of a career. And consumers play a
large part, because consumers always want to see new girls. So it’s hard to
form an industry when people just come and go. I think there is a way to do it,
but I think it would be a timeline – if you’re a performer, you have to be in
the industry for a minimum of two or three years, because it shows your
dedication, you’re not just trying to make a quick buck and pay the bills for a
few months.

 

 You talk about finding artistic merit back in
adult films – that must be a real challenge in today’s market, compared to 30
years ago.

 

 I really don’t give a
shit. Honestly. It’s what I want to do, and if people like it, great. Those are
my fans that support me, and I love my fans to death, I have an awesome, unique
fan base. And those that don’t like it, there’s a million other choices. When I
do face challenges, they’re good challenges.

 

 What would define artistic merit in an adult
film for you?

 

 I think it’s
personal. For me, because I haven’t directed or produced my own films yet, it’s
always been part of my performance. That’s always how I put my two cents in,
especially showing up to a set where everyone, sometimes even directors, just
want to get in and get done. And now that I’m shooting stuff for my website,
which will hopefully be on DVD soon, I’m directing it, so it’s all
encompassing.

 

 Are you looking to having more creative
stories, or storylines involved?

 

 I’m definitely more
on the vignette side of things, maybe a few features. But I’m definitely not
interested in producing ‘gonzo,’ because I’ve done that, and I don’t want to
repeat myself. Creatively I’ve done what I can do as a performer in that sense
of things.

 

 I’m no expert, but it seems like Pirates II showed that there’s a value in
higher production…

 

 There definitely is.
I think it’s taking it back to the ‘70s, where you would actually go to a
theatre and see an adult film, and you’d want to watch the whole film because
it interested you. With the vignettes I do, it’s more about the visuals, and
maybe there’s a loose concept.

 

 I would imagine it must get boring just to do
an ‘act.’

 

 Well, you asked about
challenges-that is a challenge, finding new ways. I try and put a lot of
psychological play into my scenes when I’m working with other people, to get a
real honest reaction.

 

 When you have enough sex partners, you realize
different people have different ways of expressing their sexuality. Do you put
yourself into a character, the way you might in a traditional dramatic role? Do
you say ‘I’m going to be this type of person’?

 

 I definitely prepare
the same way every day, I have a set list of things I do before I get into a
scene. But it’s hyper-me; it’s not somebody else, if that’s what you’re asking.

 

 I’m told you have some dramatic training, and
dance lessons?

 

 I took a dance class
in college…  I took acting class from the
time I was 12 to the time I was 18.

 

 So you were always interested in performing?

 

 Definitely, I was
always very outgoing. I’ve always had a big personality [laughs] As far as acting goes, it came from a natural place as a
child. You know what I mean, I’m going to mess with you and pretend I’m crying,
silly things that kids do. Everyone in my family picked up on that and my mom
suggested when I was nine, ‘Why don’t you take an acting class?’ That’s gay,
mom! So I didn’t do it, and when I was 12, I moved to a new neighborhood, and
the junior high I went to offered a class. My uncle was the one who convinced
me. So I started at school first, and I actually really enjoyed myself. I was a
tomboy, but I wasn’t into sports as I got to be a teenager, so that was my
extracurricular activity. After that, I started taking city classes.

 

 And when did you get into music-you mentioned
you play a few instruments. More specifically, how did you get into all the
obscure music that you’re into?

 

 I’ve always loved
music. More commercial bands like Nine Inch Nails and Skinny Puppy…I become a
fan of somebody and then I read about their influences and I want to check them
out. But at the end of the day, for me, it comes down to Brainwashed.com.
That’s mainly where I picked up different bands and different people.

 

 Tell me more about your group Atelecine.

 

 Atelecine really just
started as a selfish project on my off time, because I never have any time off
[laughs]. I recorded some stuff in Sacramento in 2005, just
for fun really. Even though I try in the adult world to be as creative as
possible, it always feels like there is a box. You are always confined. With my
music, I don’t feel confined to anything. It’s not a product for me. In adult,
I know I’m selling a product. And I know, at the end of the day I’m not just
there for myself. Because if I am, I should go home, and have sex at home, and
not have a camera on. So the music for me is definitely a cathartic thing. All
rules, all judgments can go out the window on that. But I didn’t pick it up
again until late 2006, and I just started deciding maybe I can put this album
out. It took a year [laughs] to put
out the first EP. But I’m glad I took my time, because I wouldn’t have it any
other way.

 

Is Atelecine
something you’d like to pursue to the point of performing or scoring films or
something like that?

 

 We might tour at the
end of this year. Small, small. Not all across America. Maybe a few shows in New York, a few shows in
LA.

 

 Do you feel like it’s always going to be a
side thing?

 

 I don’t feel it’s on
the side. I feel it’s just as important as everything else in my life. It might
not be something that I make a large part of my income from, but I find it just
as important as the things I do to make the majority of my income.

 

 

 Are you looking to pursue a way in which adult
film and mainstream film can merge?

 

 I think there
definitely is a market for an Andrew Blake-ish filmmaker who kind of fuses his
style with maybe a Catherine Breillat, where it is a film, but there is sex
depicted. I mean, John Waters said it, penetration is the last thing to happen
in mainstream films. I definitely think there is a market for it. In America,
maybe it’s a very small market, but I think it is an Andrew Blake idea, where
you can share that with your girlfriend, or you can market it to somebody who
maybe doesn’t watch porn that much. But wants to get off. But also wants to see
something visually stimulating. So I think there is a market for that, but will
it ever be a phenomenon like gonzo porn was? No, I don’t think so. Unless it
monetizes in such a fashion that everybody wants to catch on.

 

 But that brings up what must be a central
issue for you, which is doing something artistically interesting vs. doing
something that makes money.

 

 I think there is a
way to do both, and that’s what I’m reaching for. I think there are very few
true artists left these days who will do that anyway.

 

 You also have a real abiding interest in
historic radical filmmakers. Who are your favorites?

 

 Definitely people
like John Cassavetes. Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of Godard. Cassavetes hits
home because I’m Greek and there’s a little bit of pride going on there, but
I’ve heard stories of people who worked with him, and he was an artist in a
true sense. It’s amazing that somebody could be that passionate about what they
do. Same with Godard: shooting in Paris,
without a permit, using ‘real people’ as extras, not giving a shit if the cops
are going to come. I think it’s interesting, that feeling that Steven’s going
for in these smaller films, having this natural quality to them, like I was
saying about my music, where you’re not in a box, not having to conform to the
modern idea of filmmaking. I just feel like we don’t have many filmmakers left
like that these days. And if we do, they’re not seen.

 

You asked about trying to be an artist but trying to make
money-Richard Linklater’s an awesome example of that. He’s made awesome indie
films, but then he goes and makes a bigger film-Spy Kids or School of Rock-to
make the films he really wants to make. And I don’t see anything wrong with
that, because there’s always going to be somebody who, School of Rock is their favorite movie. Or someone like Crispin
Glover, he’s in Charlie’s Angels so
he can go and make What Is It? Which
is an amazing, amazing film.

 

 You’ve mentioned making some independent films
before porn?

 

 I did two
experimental films in Sacramento.
One was called Unknown Pleasures, and
I co-produced that. It’s such a simple, quiet film. My theatre teacher, Anthony
Dewan was my co-star. He’s in the middle of a divorce and I’m a 17 -year-old
runaway, based on somebody the director actually knew. And the other one, Love Thieves, is more experimental, no
sound, handheld camera. Pieces of it were shot over ten years, a bunch of
different characters’ lives.

 

 People might laugh at this notion, but you’re
starting to direct your adult films-are you inspired at all by independent
filmmakers like that? There are filmmakers who have explored eroticism in that
artistic sense. Vadim, Antonioni…

 

 In adult, it’s much
smaller, as far as time and the length of a film. I don’t think consumers are
really ready for that. Although I explore myself in that world, I always feel
like there is a box. Because if I were to make a film like that, I don’t think
I would use adult actors. It wouldn’t be just a porn film.

 

 I haven’t by any means seen the majority of
your films-actually just excerpts to be totally honest (irony alert: I’m not
that into porn). But every time I see you, I wonder if you choose your
collaborators.

 

 For the first two
years I didn’t because of my agent. And that’s primarily the reason I left my
agent. Because there’s some people who just check in and check out, and I
always want to be happy and excited about what I’m doing and there’s some
people who just aren’t. I tried to explain that to my agent, don’t book me with
these people. ‘Uh, you can’t just say who you want to work for and who you
don’t.’ Uh, yeah, I can. ‘Cause I’m the one fucking. So that’s primarily the
reason I started representing myself. I don’t work with people I don’t know or
haven’t heard of, obviously.

 

Back to your other question about making more erotic style
film, I think if I were to do that, I wouldn’t market that just to porn
audiences, it would be something that would have a huge premiere in Europe and
maybe a small DVD run in America. But that I would approach as completely
artistic, not trying to make a living off of it. Whereas in adult there is that
fine line of having to do both.

 

Would you describe
yourself as a nihilist?

 

 Sometimes, yeah [laughs]. I used to be much more than I
am now. I think I’m more optimistic now than when I was younger.

 

 Does having money or success, or the industry
accolades that you’ve gotten have anything to do with that?

 

 I think so, because
that’s part of human emotion, we like our egos stroked no matter how down to
earth you are. Not only that, I approach life in a different way than maybe I
did when I was a kid. It’s up to me to control my destiny to the best that I
can.

 

 Do you ever internalize any criticism that you
get? Do you even internalize-no pun intended-the work you do in adult?

 

 I did the first few
months, but a dear friend of mine who you know [Corgan], told me not to read
reviews. Just don’t. So I did that, and you know, it makes life a lot easier.
Because everybody views something differently, it’s like chocolate or vanilla,
you’re going to love it or hate it. You can’t control the way people feel or
think, and if you try to do it you’re going to drive yourself insane.

 

 Tell me about how you got to know Billy, and
how you guys built what seems like a very strong friendship

 

 It’s so
weird-myspace. A lot of people I’ve met have been through MySpace. He, like
Soderbergh and his writer, had read the same article about me in Los Angeles Magazine, and wrote me and
said, ‘Hey, I’m working on my new album, we’re recording in Studio City, and
the article said you live there, if you want to come listen to what we’re doing
or just hang out…’ I’m thinking, he just wants to fuck, duh. Rock star. But I
was like, okay, I’ll just bring a guy with me and see if he still wants to be
friends! And lo and behold, when you get to know him, he is a very down to
earth person. I’m sure those thoughts were there at some point, but I think we
saw a lot of similarities in each other and he saw a lot in me that he
experienced when he was new to the music industry.

 

 You’re atypical as an adult performer in so
many ways it’s hard to list them-some on purpose, some not.

 

 I think there’s a few
of us, I don’t think I’m the only one.

 

 Do you feel part of the AltPorn world?

 

 Some people group me
in there, whatever. I think the initial intentions were good, but now it’s just
become the exact opposite of blond-big-fake-tits. It’s an aesthetic, not an
ideology. It has nothing to do with d-i-y or that punk ideology that people
identify that look with. If you’re talking about specific people like Kimberly
Kane, I wouldn’t say her stuff’s Alt. I would just say, she has a very artistic
vision and she brings that to her movies. Or an Eon McKai, I think Girls Lie was great, it was dirty and
gritty, not in a big-tit-yellow-couch way, but in a real way. The cliché porn
yellow couch.

 

 The reason I mention that is because it struck
me, at your birthday party at TAO Las
Vegas, you were probably the most modestly dressed
girl in the entire club. Most porn stars seem rather more exhibitionist.

 

 [laughs] I’m naked for a living! I don’t feel that need to display
my entire body for people to look at when I’m not on camera having sex. You
know, I dress nice, and that’s all that matters. You don’t have to show your
ass and tits to look good.

 

 

 

 

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