Sasha Grey: Out of the blue and into bed with Hollywood

Crossing over from adult films to the mainstream isn't easy – but then Sasha Grey isn't your average ex-porn star, says Luke Blackall
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The Independent Culture

It is disappointing to discover that when picking the name Sasha Grey, Marina Hantzis didn't use the porn-star name-game – you know the one – combining the name of her first pet and her mother's maiden name.

Instead, she went with a combination of German industrial musician Sascha Konietzko and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a hint of "shades of grey" from Alfred Kinsey's scale of sexual orientation. It was a choice, however, which reflected her uniqueness in her field.

And unlike peers such as Jewel De'Nyle or Tyra Banxxx, it is also a name that works in Hollywood, which is useful as she is one of the first to navigate the tricky crossover from the adult film world. With a part in HBO's Entourage, a lead in a Steven Soderbergh film and a prominent role in the forthcoming I Melt with You, Grey has begun to establish herself as a name to be taken seriously.

Grey, 23, has come a long way in five years, from leaving her hometown, near Sacramento in California, and heading to LA to begin her career in the world of adult films. Her ambition, she says, "was to change the stereotype and to prove that women can be independent, smart and sexual."

She quickly found success, winning several industry awards and gaining a reputation for, in her own words, "pushing things to the extreme."

Her growing popularity led to a call from Oscar-winning director Soderbergh, who cast her as a high-class escort in The Girlfriend Experience.

She continued to work in adult films, making such eyebrow-raising videos as Seinfeld: A XXX Parody and Butt Sex Bonanza. But her work on The Girlfriend Experience had caught the attention of Doug Ellin, creator of hit series Entourage, who approached her about a role in his hit TV show.

In the seventh series she played Sasha Grey, the girlfriend of the central character, film star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), an opportunity about which she says, "you can't get any better."

"Even if you are not in that industry," she says, "it is the type of show that everyone can in some way relate to." Her role in Entourage was the beginning of the end of her career in porn; earlier this year, the actress announced her retirement from the adult film world, a decision she seems ambivalent about.

"I didn't feel there was anywhere else for me to go," she says. "I was at the top of my game. I outdid my goals as a performer in that industry." To mark the end of one part of her career, she has released Neü Sex, a book of photographs of her, documenting her time in the adult film world, which she says is an exploration of "who I am".

The book veers from the sexy poses of the provocative professional to seedy shots on a grubby roadside mattress. She also seems keen to both shock and titillate. Interspersed with the photo shoots are several mini essays, which explore her views on sex and the adult industry, referencing thinkers such as Sartre and Nietzsche (a nod to her teenage nihilism), with nods to Freudian superegos and Jungian modalities, and veer from the philosophical to what seems to be sexual self-help.

Discussing Sartre's philosophy of the gaze, Grey writes: "As individuals we are what others perceive us to be. They objectify us, and in turn we objectify ourselves. What's important is how we redefine ourselves, allowing us to be free. Whether it is the cameraman, my partner, or the consumer 'gazing at me', I don't allow preconceived notions, stereotypes, judgments, or disagreements to define who I am."

While she says she has "a more optimistic outlook" now, Grey remains outside the mainstream. She is still not represented by one of the major agencies and her views have been attacked by both feminists and the right – but Grey continues to feel positive.

"American cinemas have taken an interesting turn and audiences are ready for more challenging films," she says. "There are a lot more opportunities now than a year and a half ago."

'Neü Sex' (Vice Publishing) is out now