A cooler blend of culture

Grey’s anatomy

Interview by Josie Gagliano with photography by Ward Robinson

How to prepare when you’re about to interview a porn star-cum-arthouse actor you’ve never heard of? View a bit of her back catalogue, of course. After seeing just how good Sasha Grey is at sex, I opt to speak with her over the phone rather than face-to-face. In person, it just would have been too much. I couldn’t imagine not thinking about how fabulous she is at fellatio, or how she’s not a fan of the full wax, when asking about the intricacies of her role in the new Steven Soderbergh flick ‘The Girlfriend Experience’.
The film is set in the weeks leading up to the 2008 presidential election, and documents five days in the life of Chelsea (Grey), a high-end Manhattan call girl who offers more than head and sex to her clients. For a fee, she’ll give them companionship and conversation – “the full girlfriend experience”. Or what she seems to have with her particular clients: trite conversations about the economic downturn, their dwindling portfolios, neuroses and neediness in love.
The film is Soderbergh through and through; featuring frames broken several times in much the same way they were in ‘Sex, Lies & Videotape’. Sometimes the narrative is borderline-boring. Or is that just how it appears when Soderbergh expertly exposes the banalities of everyday life and his realistic characters?
Once you get over the enormity of Grey’s darkened, caterpillar-esque eyebrows, which somehow frame her gorgeous face perfectly and make her look Megan Fox-ish, pre-pluck, you ponder whether her acting quite cuts it. Then you realise she’s taken well to Soderbergh’s direction. Her stoic, stoney-faced expressions manifest as a result of being an escort who gives, but withholds. When a pivotal scene unfolds, so too does her emotional range.
“When I have to do emotional scenes – because believe it or not, I’ve had to do one for an adult film,” she stresses, “I don’t necessarily try to think of an experience I’ve had that is similar to what the character is experiencing. I just try and think about something else that can get me to that headspace; it’s about communicating a feeling, and it doesn’t necessarily matter what that feeling is.”
The porn star – born Marina Ann Hantzis – is a surprise package. The French New Wave film aficionado’s bio also lists ‘transgressive artist’ and ‘experimental musician’ as vocations. Her stage name Sasha Grey is derived from Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture Of Dorian Grey’ and the Kinsey scale of sexuality, where ‘grey’ falls between homosexual and heterosexual.

And the 21-year-old is darn proud of her pornographic career – 80 skin flicks and counting, the latest coming from her very own production company, Grey Art. She’s just as serious about her porn work as she is when preparing for a Hollywood film.

“Everyone thinks having sex on camera is so easy,” sighs Grey. “On the surface it might look like it, but that’s the magic of editing. You know, things don’t just go into holes that easily! For one scene, there is a multitude of things I do. I always have affirmations, and psyche myself up before a scene. I have a two-day testing policy, so my partner has to have been tested two days before a sex scene. Also, sometimes I have to – and this is getting really clinical and boring – masturbate before a scene, because you don’t always have time to get into a scene and get turned on; it’s not real-life. I want to be able to enjoy what I’m doing, all the time so [the masturbating] actually helps me. Because you know, girls don’t have fluffers,” she laughs, referring to “women on set who were paid to give oral sex to male performers – before Viagra.”
Sasha is quick to defend her career when it is suggested that some of it involves “laying on your back”.
“You know, we work really hard in this business and it’s not a big happy family where you just show up, fuck, have fun and leave. It’s not quick, down and dirty, no pun intended. For me, it’s also about self awareness, being cognitive about what you’re doing, reflecting and being introspective. That way, three years down the line you’re not, like, ‘Oh, I hated everything I did’. If you don’t take an intellectual standpoint to it, you could end up regretting it, because at the end of the day it is a big business.”
As is the business of show, and audiences will decide if Sasha should have shown more, or indeed less, in her Hollywood debut.

‘The Girlfriend Experience’ is out now on DVD.

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