SASHA GREY IN THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE. PHOTO COURTESY OF MAGNOLIA PICTURES.
If you take Steven Soderbergh out of the equation, what interested you in doing this movie? Well you just answered your own question. [laughs] Had somebody else, maybe an independent filmmaker who didn’t have a large resume or decent distribution, approached me and said, “This is a film about an escort,” I probably would have said no because for me playing a sex worker in a film could potentially have been way too easy. Steven could have gotten me buck-naked and every other scene could have been a sex scene. But knowing his films, I knew that would not be the case. If you know his films, it’s an opportunity you’d be stupid to miss.
Every era seems to have its own movies about prostitutes. Where do you see your character fitting into this tradition? I asked Steven that very question: “Should I watch any films that relate to this subject matter?” He said, “The only films I want you to watch are [Godard’s] Vivre sa vie and Pierrot le fou,” so I went back and rewatched those several times. Obviously there is no prostitution in Pierrot le fou, but [he wanted me to watch that film] just for the dynamic between the couple, and to try to carry that energy to the vibe between Chris and Chelsea, or maybe Chelsea and her clients.
Did you do any other kind of research for the part? Luckily I had the chance to meet two escorts two days before I shot the film.
What did you get from them? One of them was very, very paranoid — she doesn’t use her own cell phone, and she doesn’t take her ID with her when she is working. I thought that was really funny and bizarre, and Steven and I applied it to the character. So in the film you see her buying a prepaid cell phone.
Did she explain that as a business necessity or was she — No, she was just paranoid. She doesn’t want to get caught, or if she does get caught, she doesn’t want any of her information with her.
What was it like working with Soderbergh and his style of structured improvisation? We had scene outlines and we’d get on set, and Steven would say, “You might want to hit these three topics” and that’s that.The improv was really interesting because everyone in the film was a non-actor — I think I was the only person with acting experience in the film. I love improv so it was fun but it was also really challenging because I was working with people who didn’t necessarily know how to keep that momentum going during a scene. But that was also the beauty of it because there would be odd moments that people with training would have been very self-conscious about. They might have stopped themselves from saying or doing something that could have made the film.
As an adult actress your image is one of being very self-aware. The character in the movie seems much less so. How did you feel about playing a sex worker who presents herself very differently than you in real life do? I don’t know how this is going to come out, but I would have to say that a lot of antipornography people who judge me and say, “She doesn’t know what she is doing, she is going to regret everything, how can a 19, 20, 21-year-old woman be so sure and knowledgeable about her sexuality?” — I would apply that generally ignorant way of thinking to this character. She thinks she’s in complete control of her life but she is much more into her vanity than she is the real world and being a reflective, introspective person.
Where did your interest in art cinema come from? When I was about 12 I saw Fahrenheit 451, Truffaut’s only American film, and I remember being so fascinated by it, not really understanding it, but feeling a hunger and a need and a want to see more films like that. Then I was in a group theater acting class in Sacramento and my theater teacher would tell us to watch at least one film per week. He would give me a list and I would go to Tower and I’d try to find those films. Not surprisingly, it was very hard to find some of those titles. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is what you’d find in the independent film section at the Sacramento Blockbuster. Often I would drive to San Francisco to see films that would play one-off nights at a small arthouse theater. Yeah, Sacramento just sucked for arthouse films!
Was it a solitary thing or did you know people who had the same tastes? It was pretty solitary. I would try and get these films and my friends would fall asleep. [They’d say], “This is too long. We can watch two movies in the time that we could watch this one.” So it was really just me and sometimes my brother and sister. I also have to thank Criterion for feeding my beast. They definitely [assemble] a lot of information in one condensed place.
What are you watching right now? My friend just bought me a Japanese Blu-ray of Sukiyaki Western Django, so I’m pretty excited about that. I revisited THX 1138 the other night, and I think [George] Lucas went back and added digital monkeys towards the end, which kind of pissed me off because I think the simplicity of that film is what made it so beautiful.
Do you see everything you do as part of one continuum of work, or are the adult work, music and now mainstream film entirely different ambitions? I don’t see a division between anything I do. A lot of people say they have “a job,” “a career,” but for me it’s all-inclusive; there is no light switch that goes off at the end of the night. It’s more than a career for me; it’s my life. Adult films, music and mainstream — I don’t put a boundary between any of those things.
If you are looking at the world of porn with an art-cinema eye, is there anything interesting right now? That’s kind of a biased question for me to answer because, I’m going to be honest: I don’t watch a lot of porn anymore. And the stuff I do watch is [made by] the people I would go have a drink with or hang out with. Kimberly Kane, right now, that’s somebody who I see who is challenging the way things are done. Her smut is artistic and horny at the same time. Andrew Blake will never fade away. He’s obviously more soft-core, and he still shoots on film, which I love.
Porn has always been ahead of the rest of the entertainment business when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. Where do you see the business going in this time of technological change? The adult industry is going through a drastic change just like the music industry did. I think in this next year-and-a-half to two years, a lot of crappy companies that would just throw shit on the wall and think it is going to stick will go away, and that’s a good thing. Gone are the days of just getting a girl and a camera and shooting a movie and making money off of it. You’re really going to have to try and make a good quality product because people aren’t paying for a crappy product anymore. There is too much free stuff out there.
Anything else you’d like people to know about you and the movie? No. I like to leave it to people’s imagination.