03.28.11

Sasha Grey Talks Porn and Charlie Sheen

In her new book, Neü Sex, ex-porn star Grey photographed her X-rated world. She talked to Marlow Stern about losing her virginity, Charlie Sheen, and sexual Puritanism.

Ex porn star Sasha Grey is finally ready for her closeup. In her new photo book, Neü Sex, Grey turns her lens on her wild XXX-rated world, documenting her rise from porn ingénue to Hollywood multi-hyphenate. The raunchiest—and most bracingly intelligent—name in porn chats with Marlow Stern about losing her virginity, Charlie Sheen, and America’s problem with sex.

Sasha Grey has long been one of the most enigmatic figures in porn. The adult-film goddess—to borrow from the Charlie Sheen lexicon—has been pushing industry boundaries ever since her debut performance mere months after turning 18, when she starred in a gangbang with the notoriously aggressive porn star Rocco Siffredi. A self-avowed feminist in an industry that’s often labeled misogynistic, she’s explored everything from bondage to water sports in an effort to gleefully subvert the male gaze, and society’s sexual hang-ups.

Gallery: Neü Sex

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Actress Sasha Grey on January 9, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Inset: the cover of her new book, "Neu Sex". (Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images), Ethan Miller

After graduating high school in 2005 at the age of 17, followed by a brief stint at junior college to study film and acting, Grey (real name: Marina Ann Hantzis) made a conscious decision to move to Los Angeles and star in porn. The name “Sasha” was taken from Sascha Konietzko of the German industrial band KMFDM, and “Grey” represents both Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as the Kinsey scale of sexuality. The 23-year-old has since starred in 224 adult films, directing two, with The New York Times describing her porn career as “distinguished both by the extremity of what she is willing to do and an unusual degree of intellectual seriousness about doing it.”

Grey gained mainstream recognition after starring as “Chelsea,” a high-class call girl in Steven Soderbergh’s experimental 2009 film, The Girlfriend Experience. She also starred as Vincent Chase’s girlfriend in a multi-episode arc of the HBO series Entourage, playing a fictionalized version of herself. She’s since abandoned her porn career to pursue more opportunities in Hollywood and the music industry.

From 2006 to 2009—or the age of 18 to 21—Grey documented her journey from no-holds-barred porn ingénue to Hollywood actress through photography, and the end result is Neü Sex, a 192-page monograph hitting shelves this week. The Daily Beast caught up with Sasha Grey to chat about her wild ride, losing her virginity, Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, and America’s problem with sex.

Was acting in porn an act of rebellion against your mother?

No, not at all. The good [my mother] did was it made me very analytical about how I wanted to lose my virginity. I didn’t agree with her, but at the same time, I knew I wasn’t going to have sex with anybody just because I didn’t agree with her. I wasn’t that kid where if you told me no I was just going to do it anyway. I was the last of my friends to lose my virginity.

How old were you?

16-and-a-half. But I was a senior in high school.

So this was almost right before you went into porn?

About a year and a half before.

I read that your first porn scene was an orgy with the infamously hung and aggressive porn star Rocco Siffredi. That’s really diving head-first into the industry. But it also makes me think that perhaps your entire porn career was, as you put it, an act of “ performance art.” 

That’s the way I approached it, whether or not people agree with that. For me, it was a way of examining myself and examining the human condition, and projecting those things to my audience using my body as the tool, as the canvas. But it’s funny you say that, because for the first year, I thought, “Wow. It’s crazy that that was my first scene.” But when I thought about it more, I realized, “You know, it’s actually easier. I was around eight professionals and the attention wasn’t just on me.” You’re being able to test the waters, while also jumping right in.

You’ve been with your fiancé, Ian Cinnamon, since June 2006—just a few months after you got into porn. Was this an insurance clause so you didn’t get too swallowed up in the industry? Was it, at least initially, to have a bridge to the “real world?”

I don’t think that would be love, so no. Only time will tell. But no, not at all. I will definitely say that, with the exception of one other person, he is my best friend, and I’ve been lucky to have him be there the entire time to support me, in and out, throughout everything, because a lot of people can’t handle it.

Then how meta was your character on Entourage? Did the storyline echo any real-life jealousy issues between you and Ian?

No. That was all written in. Parts of that were actually inspired by the Charlie Sheen-Ginger Lynn relationship back in the day. That’s where those pieces were drawn from.

You brought it up, so now I must ask: Has Charlie Sheen ever tried contacting you?

No. And I’m surprised, you’re only the third person that’s ever asked me that. Maybe he’s tried through other people, but I’ve never received a message from him, or anybody.

What do you think of the whole Charlie Sheen fiasco?

I am equally as fascinated as everybody else. It’s crazy because he’s been part of my consciousness since I was a young kid; I grew up watching his movies. You always knew he was a bad boy, and he’s been doing this before I was born. It’s crazy because you don’t know if he’s an evil genius, or if he’s completely fucked. I have no idea. It’s a train wreck… but it could all be a sick plan.

From my limited, male perspective, it seems like porn these days has become pretty artless and misogynistic; basically, a guy pounding on a girl for 20 minutes, with the female feigning heightened states of arousal. Is that why you retired from porn?

No. Actually, I have a lot of testosterone; so a lot of the things I’m into were a way of taking back control. I enjoy those things, and I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Just because somebody’s on top doesn’t mean they’re in control. Some people may view it as misogynistic because they’re not romantic, but everybody’s view of romance is entirely different.

What’s your view of romance?

Not chocolate and roses and a candlelit dinner. I want a sloppy, handwritten letter on newspaper where you white-out the newspaper…

…Like a ransom note?

Something with thought to it. A shiny ring isn’t romantic to me. I think thought and love into what you do for the person you’re in love with—that’s romance.

How has your transition from porn actress to film actress been? Are you being pigeonholed? And have you successfully avoided all the creepy “casting couch” producers?

I have a great manager. It’s interesting because people know who I am, so I can’t just look on the Internet casting boards, walk into an audition, and expect to be treated like an unknown. While I do go out and fight for a role I want through the traditional ways of auditioning and taking meetings, I’m also developing my own screenplays, so it’s a constant movement working from the inside to the outside.

You say in your book, “We as a society are naïve and ashamed regarding our sexuality.” To play devil’s advocate, do you think this veil of Puritanism is a way for society to function properly? Isn’t this hint of sexual repression what motivates people to get up every day, put on a shirt, and go into an office?

I think it’s a way to ignore the truth. I don’t think it helps us by any means. You wouldn’t have the highest porn-consumption rate be in a place like Utah, and one of the highest teen pregnancy rates be in Texas—some of the most conservative places. Ignorance is bliss—is it really? Not when your 13-year-old daughter is pregnant! It goes beyond publicly being comfortable with sex. It’s also about the education we pass down about sex.

But don’t you think that if we exploded the Hoover Dam when it comes to sexuality and lived in a completely hedonistic society, nothing would really get done?

No, I don’t. Look at Amsterdam. Their crime rate is low, and I think in a lot of places, when you allow something to be “safe” and “acceptable,” it’s no longer taboo, so people aren’t fighting to do it and fighting to cover it up at the same time. I actually think it’s for the better. And that’s not to say, “Let’s all take our pants off, run around naked, and have an orgy right here.”

So if you were granted all the power in porn, how would you change it?

As a performer, I do think I changed it. But, if I was actually in control as a producer or director, I think it’s about going so far left that you’re all the way back at right, and a lot of the ideas I had were not necessarily commercial, so they wouldn’t sell. My idea of a good adult film would be something more akin to a Catherine Breillat film where there is a story, and you don’t want to fast-forward it.

Is there anything in popular culture that you think is tackling sexuality in an interesting way?

I think fashion has always done that. I just saw an amazing Tom Ford ad that I really liked that’s just a butt shot of a woman. As a performer, I think Lady Gaga plays with that idea. I don’t think it necessarily translates to her audience.

So you don’t think that’s an act with Gaga?

Well, sure it is. That’s my point: I don’t think it necessarily translates to everyone that loves her music and is a huge fan of hers. I don’t think that message completely transgresses the music. Well, Enter the Void, Gaspar Noe’s recent film. I loved it. Whether it turned you on or made you feel disgusted, it’s making you react. You’re not just escaping into the film.

You said making this book really made you learn about yourself and changed your opinions about a lot of things. How did it really influence you and change your opinions?

Well, in the beginning I was very attracted to everything raw, and immediate. The more I got control, the more I wanted to change what I was doing. So, while I would never go back and change anything, I wanted to start creating different kinds of adult films. Obviously my career has taken a different path now, but like you said earlier, some people view modern porn as “misogynistic.” I don’t agree with that. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. The industry isn’t stuck in the ‘70s mob era where women were forced to do stuff they didn’t want to do. But my opinions that I’d want to create, as a director, were very different. I might put my heart and soul into my performance and personally be getting a lot out of it, but that doesn’t really translate to everybody… or the way people watch it in 30-second clips.

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Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and has a master's from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.