Sasha Grey first came to the attention of Steven Soderbergh thanks to an article titled ‘The Teenager and the Porn Star' in Los Angeles Magazine in 2006. The article related the then-18-year-old Californian's infamous introduction to the porn world when the slight, pale-skinned brunette demanded her co-star Rocco Siffredi punch her in the stomach, mid-thrust perhaps. With that, a porn star was born.
Soon after the story appeared Soderbergh's co-writer Brian Koppelman contacted Grey through her MySpace page requesting a meeting at which the director explained his idea to make a low-budget film about a high-end escort who provides a girlfriend experience. A year and a half later the porn star Sasha Grey has forged a place in popular culture and become a recognised name in Hollywood's ‘other' film industry.
The Girlfriend Experience debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and enjoyed sustained buzz through to its screening at the Sydney Film Festival, which is when we met Grey in the Hilton's Zeta Bar. The diminutive actress looks every bit the girl next door as we discuss her performance as the call girl Chelsea whose real name is Christine (add the fact Sasha Grey is a stage name and you have a whole appellative headache best avoided).
"I was trained in theatre," says Grey, "so I do know some of the technical things to build a character and figure this person out, but at the same time Steven wanted a very naturalistic quality, he didn't want acting, so it was finding a way to marry the two together. There was a lot more internalisation rather than execution for the audience. As far as my own personal input into whom Chelsea or Christine was, it was quite difficult with no script or outline, so I just went for it. As for specifics, I like to leave it to the imagination because I think it becomes too clinical when you describe the entire process."
Grey goes on to discuss an escort she and Soderbergh interviewed as part of their research. The woman created a palpable barrier between herself and clients and was the source of the oft-cited criticism of The Girlfriend Experience character as cold and elusive - something Grey says she purposely avoids being in her own day job.
"I try to be as upfront as possible. In this day and age we have so many manufactured personalities it seems like people can't be diverse, whether you are a porn star, an actor or a musician. Am I gonna quit porn because I got a role in one film? No... People are shocked like, ‘oh a porn star can do more than one thing', and it's like yeah, we're human beings too, we're not robots." Scott Henderson