PHOTOGRAPHY FRANCESCO CARROZZINI
FASHION DEBORAH AFSHANI
TEXT JESSE ASHLOCK
"It is difficult to describe how it feels to gaze at living human beings whom you’ve seen perform in hard-core porn,” wrote the late David Foster Wallace in a 1998 essay about the Adult Video News Awards, informally known as the Oscars of porn. It’s also difficult to describe what it’s like to hear a voice on the telephone which you’ve previously heard making such statements as “I’m a dirty whore” (and worse)—and moreover, to have a pleasant, courteous conversation with that voice. The voice’s owner is Sasha Grey, 21, who has taken the adult industry by storm since her debut three years ago, last year becoming the youngest person to win an Adult Video News award for best female performer of the year. To be clear, she’s a hard-core porn star, performing not only straightforward Jenna Jameson–style scenes, but also considerably more exotic ones, often treating sex as a multiplayer sport. “For me, the more romantic-type scenes are the most challenging,” she says, “because that’s not necessarily the sex that I enjoy the most.” She doesn’t hold anything back.
Grey has also cultivated a reputation as an intellectual porn star, citing Nietzsche, Baudrillard, and Situationism as influences and speaking at colleges like Brandeis and UCLA. That reputation won’t change any with her latest project. She stars in Steven Soderbergh’s new low-budget HD film, The Girlfriend Experience, the spiritual successor to 2005’s Bubble. “I’m a huge fan of his, and I was a fan of Bubble,” she says. “I don’t know what he could have said that would have made me say no.” This isn’t Jameson popping up in Howard Stern’s Private Parts; it’s the lead part in a stylishly executed, structurally ambitious, improv-based film from an Oscar-winning director. Set against the backdrop of the economic crisis, the film follows Chelsea, a high-priced Manhattan call girl, who is pondering ways to “grow her business” while her wealthy clients discuss the economic stimulus package and how to “stimulate their packages.” Like Bubble, which explored low-income drudgery in an Ohio doll factory, The Girlfriend Experience is a cinematic ethnography exploring the ways the commodification of American life affects the people who live it.
Soderbergh has said that he cast Grey for her comfort and confidence in sexual situations, and she’s clearly in her element, although the film contains no explicit sex and almost no nudity. In fact, most of the needy men Chelsea dates seem more interested in talking than sex. “Thanks for listening,” one says. “I’ve been in so many relationships where people didn’t listen.” But while she puts on an attentive, slightly vacuous expression as her johns chatter about their families and finances, her character is more interested in the Michael Kors dresses and Kiki de Montparnasse lingerie she wears to her dates, and her next move after leaving the escort business. In these regards, Grey says she’s nothing like her character, even if she brought many of own experiences to the part (including a scene where she stonewalls a journalist). “That girl is completely vain. She’s always looking for a bigger mirror. I’m not sitting here thinking of what I’m going to do when I get old and can’t have sex on camera anymore. That’s a very bitter way of thinking, in my opinion.”
Indeed, Grey has been unwavering about her commitment to the art of having sex on camera since bursting on the scene at 18 to a wave of salacious press, which included a public scolding by Tyra Banks (“That was a calculated move—it was free publicity,” she says). Tommy Pallotta, a producer who is finishing a documentary about Grey’s life between the ages of 18 and 21, has been watching the whole way. “One of the most interesting things about her is that there hasn’t been this great character arc,” he says. “She’s done everything she said she was going to do. There hasn’t been a great epiphany.”
What she says she wants to do now is raise the bar for pornography. “I think it’s too easy to just show up and ****,” she says. “I want to see people try a little harder. For me, these past few years have been about changing things as a performer and challenging the people I’m having sex with.” She also wants to promote the idea that a female porn star can be empowered, however oxymoronic that might sound. “Some people believe in God and the devil and some people do not believe in anything,” she says. “Some people like porn and sex, and other people believe in monogamy. What one person sees as degrading and disgusting and bad for women might make some women feel empowered and beautiful and strong.” Pallotta admits to feeling “protective” of Grey, but acknowledges that she operates like a woman in control. “I started out thinking she was a naive 18-year-old and people would push her in different directions, but there’s no indication of anybody doing that,” he says. “I feel like people move in her orbit.”
Grey also wants to direct. Of course many young stars do, whether they’re in Hollywood or the Valley, but it’s hard to doubt her, considering how fiercely she has pursued her ambitions. She thinks porn should be more like Godard—yes, that’s right, the French New Wave director. “Godard always made it obvious that you’re watching a film,” she explains. “He didn’t try to trick you into thinking it was really happening. I want to see a fantasy.”
Directing would add just one more element into a rapidly growing personal brand portfolio. “Diversification is the most important thing for me right now,” she says. She sees herself not only as a porn star, but as a multiplatform artist—one who also has an industrial music project and a graphic novel and a photography book on the way. “A lot of people don’t want an intellectual porn star,” she says. “They don’t want a porn star to be a performance artist or a musician or a photographer. They just want the clichéd idea of porn star. I don’t think you should be in this business if you think that way. The adult industry is changing, and people are going to have to be progressive—and if they’re not, they’re going to fail.”
Last edited by jexxica; 14-03-2014 at 02:42 PM.