From Porn Star to Soderbergh Muse, Sasha Grey Means Business

In these tumultuous days of economic collapse and publishing meltdowns, there's nothing like a porn star to increase eyeballs—and Sasha Grey is in especially high demand. The adult-film star has already done four back-to-back interviews before ours; after a brief lunch break, it's off to the adult-film convention Exxxotica Miami Beach, to show off her wares and promote her new video company, Grey Art, and her first non-XXX role in Steven Soderbergh's latest, opening Friday, The Girlfriend Experience, in which she stars as a high-class Manhattan call girl.

Marketing herself to the mainstream as an intellectual feminist with a thing for Godard, Burroughs, and rough sex—"I have a high threshold for pain," she says in the November 2006 Los Angeles magazine profile that first grabbed Soderbergh's attention—Grey isn't just a savvy self-promoter, but a perfect fit for Soderbergh's look into the lives of the rich, ambitious, and needy during these recessionary times. If the film posits its prostitute-protagonist as an emblem of go-go capitalism, Grey's work in the porn industry could serve as a model for any CEO. As even the porn biz itself braces for hard times ahead—with piracy, free online smut, and over-supply cutting into profit margins—we talked to the actress about business strategy and brand identity.

How has the recession affected you?

Ninety percent of Sasha Grey
Newscom
Ninety percent of Sasha Grey

I've been fine, but that's because I've really tried to plan my career in adult films as much as one can. For the past year, a lot of smaller companies in the adult business are going under, which, at the end of the day, will be better for the adult industry because you're weeding out the smaller companies that don't have anything creative or original to offer.

What have you done to keep yourself thriving?

Saving money. [Laughs.] I also launched my own company this month, Grey Art. I want to make sure there's still demand for my adult films, but now they'll be released by me, so I'm benefiting monetarily more than ever. Most important for me is my directorial debut. The first few movies will be features or vignettes, and I'm really trying to pull from non-adult films. Titillation is something that's lacking in adult films. Usually, you just jump right into it.

In previous interviews, you've acknowledged your love for art-cinema, citing people like Werner Herzog and Catherine Breillat. Do you mean you'll throw in references to Godard?

I wouldn't say Godard, but if you look at the way a Catherine Breillat film is shot, or just a huge blockbuster film with a sex scene in it—even though I'm in adult films, I still get turned on when there's a sex scene in a non-adult film, because you're slowing things down and taking your time to explore that.

Both the character in the film and your own work in the porn industry are similar in that you, physically, become the commodity. How do you deal with that?

When I got into this business, I knew that was the case. I wasn't some naive girl who thought I wasn't going to be "exploited" by other people. I was ready to be a commodity that fulfills everyone's fantasies, so I was conscious and aware of that fact. When you're in a competitive business, you market yourself to the best of your abilities. The commodity is part of the art. Some people say, "I'm just an artist; I don't care about the money," but that's an f-ing lie. At the end of the day, most people want to make money, and I incorporate that into my life and into my art. I don't see that as a negative, but try to use it to my advantage.

How do you distinguish the commodity from the "real you," to borrow a phrase from the film? 

I think there is only about 10 percent of me that's reserved for me. And that's for my personal safety. I pride myself on being as open as one can, but we live in an age where it feels like we have to be robots, because every word you say is analyzed and ripped apart and contorted. One of the upsides of being an adult-film star is that you can be yourself. You are the personality. In the art I create, my strength is who I am—my brand is who I am.

For someone so conscious of their brand, I was surprised to find that you don't have a website.

I have one, sashagrey.com, but I'm still working on it. I guess you could say my Achilles' heel is that I want everything to be perfect.

Read J. Hoberman's review of The Girlfriend Experience at villagevoice.com/movies

 
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