Entertainment

03.12.14

Sasha Grey on Her Secret ‘True Detective’ Cameo, ‘Open Windows,’ and the Duke Porn Star Backlash

The boundary-pushing porn star-turned-Hollywood actress discusses her special appearance, her new film, society’s issues with porn, and much more at SXSW.

For fans of the HBO potboiler True Detective, the opening montage is all-too-familiar. Morose guitar strumming gives way to an echoing baritone, crooning, “She twines her spines up slowly towards the boiling sun, / And when I touched her skin, my fingers ran with blood.” A series of images flash onto the screen, superimposed over a bleak landscape. There are the titular detectives, Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. There is a bespectacled born-again waving his hands in the air. And then there's a brief flash of a sultry brunette, topless, alongside a fluorescent crucifix.

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HBO

The shot of this mystery woman who pops up during True Detective’s opening credits has confounded Redditors. But the image, the most striking and seductive of the panoply, looks an awful lot like ex-porn star Sasha Grey.

I'm seated outside with Grey having lunch in Austin, Texas, where her latest film, Open Windows, is premiering as part of SXSW. She hasn’t seen the aforementioned TV show, so I whip out my iPhone and show her the image of “Woman and Crucifix.”

“What the fuck?!” she exclaims. She’s in shock. “That’s my nose! That’s me! One hundred percent … I’m in True Detective!” she shrieks in jest. “That’s the opening credits? Yeah, I need to find out about this. That’s so weird.”

The icy-faced starlet, a veteran of some 276 porn films who’s known for pushing the kink envelope, is coming off a whirlwind 10-month world tour in support of her debut novel, The Juliette Society—about a sexually adventurous young woman who uncovers a sex-fueled sect. And Open Windows, directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is a thriller that follows Jill (Grey), a vainglorious actress who spurns her biggest fan, Nick (Elijah Wood), who’d won a contest to take her out on a date. A mystery man, Chord, steps in and offers Nick the chance to witness her every move from the safety of his computer. He accepts, but soon learns that Chord has more nefarious plans in store for Jill.

How were you cast in Open Windows?

I watched Time Crimes and I’m a fan of Nacho’s. I heard he was making a new film so I asked my former manager—who knew Nacho’s manager—if he could get me a script, and he was coming to L.A. from Spain, so I got to meet him. We had some good talks and meetings, and he cast me. There’s a sense of irony and reflection in my character in this film that’s a nod to my past in adult films. I’m not the kind of person who ever wants to hide or forget my past, so I enjoyed that element of it.

Why did you feel the character had similar ties to your past in adult film?

There are elements of Jill that are true to her character—she’s a diva, has had problems with drugs, isn’t a faithful or loyal person—and that’s what a lot of people project onto me. And she’s an actress that everyone loves to hate, and I deal with that too. People love to hate me.

I was watching Chelsea Handler on Piers Morgan the other night and they were discussing the Duke porn star, Belle Knox, and the subsequent backlash. And she said something to the effect of, “The reason why people have a problem admitting that they watch porn, even though everyone obviously does, is it’s a tacit admission that you’re not having sex.”

I do think that. And not just that, people don’t want to get shit from their friends, or—in most cases—girlfriends. A lot of people that are anti-pornography feel it destroys relationships, but people are going to jerk off no matter what. Even if people aren’t watching porn, they’re going to jerk off. So people live with this odd fear that they don’t want to admit it.

It reminds me of the Victorian Era, in a way—the idea of keeping up appearances. Everyone back then was so obsessed with creating this veneer of civility, yet behind closed doors, they were all frequenting brothels, etc.

The other strange thing is this constant judgment of porn performers and the porn industry, even if everyone watches it. And we expect that kind of behavior from rock stars and from rich and famous actors who travel the world and can get any woman they want, and we somehow justify that behavior because their careers are “legitimate.”

The backlash to the Duke porn star strikes me as more than a little absurd. One of the worst op-eds I’ve read on the subject was in Time, and the writer criticized her claims of “empowerment,” writing, “In most adult films, women are depicted as objects who are there to please the man in whatever way he might choose.”

It’s ridiculous. I didn’t read her whole essay—just blips online—but I read a quote where she said, “I wanted to prove how ridiculous this could be,” which is interesting, and I’m fascinated by that. But do I think that this discredits her? Absolutely not. People said the same thing to me. They said, “If you’re so smart, why did you do porn? You’re not a feminist.” I never declared myself a feminist. I believe in the empowerment of women and men everywhere. But to say that porn only depicts what men want? One of the reasons I did porn was because I had things I wanted to experience and try and do, but I was so ashamed of them, and in doing porn I realized, “There are women like me, and why should women be portrayed as a victim? Why can’t we take control?” And if you’re putting yourself in that position, that’s your choice.

Right. The counterargument proposed by that misguided Time author is that, even though women wield more power in porn and are paid more, and are the ones who achieve “star” status over men, porn tastes—and the content—is governed by the taste of men.

But you can say that about anything! The male gaze. You can say that about romantic comedies. You can say, “Women are naïve to think that it’s a man’s role to give the woman a perfect house and two kids.” That offends me as a woman. I think romantic comedies are anti-feminist. That kind of shit offends me. I was raised to believe in myself, take care of myself, and not let other people take care of me. Traditional marriages are fine, but there are a lot of other people out there who feel differently. So, to say that porn only satisfies male tastes is ridiculous. I went to Russia and Siberia and other fucked up places and I’ve met tons of women who have told me, “You’ve changed my life.” Not all women are alike.

Why do you think you have such a big following in Russia? You do look a bit Russian.

They can physically relate, but more importantly, I think I represent a new kind of freedom and ideology among a lot of young Russians that they don’t have right now. I think that, in the next 10 or 20 years, Russia’s going to change. The youth numbers are so huge, so I think there will be a cultural revolution sooner than we think.

"I don’t believe these people want to have sex with me, but it’s the idea that people observing may think that’s happening."

Back to Open Windows, it seems to combine the voyeuristic Rear Window conceit with the whole “cam girl” phenomenon, which has really transformed into a huge sub-industry in the porn world.

I think Blow Out was more of an inspiration. But with the cam girl thing, it’s interesting because there were a few girls who did this in the ‘90s when no one was doing it, made millions, and retired. But now, with the advent of Internet porn, people can see professional-quality material online, and now we’re regressing and going back to not caring about the quality. But the fascination goes back to having a connection with the person you’re watching and having this “intimate” experience. It’s a need to satisfy the soul. The Internet has brought us together globally, but also separated us. And people now don’t have that intimacy in their real lives, so they go online.

The film deals with a superfan who’s obsessed with your actress character. Have you ever dealt with an awful stalker?

Yeah. I’ve dealt with strange things. There’s a sense of entitlement that people have because of the Internet, and because we’re part of the public eye. You’re walking down the street with your phone and people grab you and say, “Hey, can I have a picture?” You deal with that. But the scarier part is the people that don’t give up, hide behind the anonymity of the Internet, and feel like they have a right to insert themselves into your life. Actually, during the making of the film, I dealt with a stalker and a cyberstalker. Right when I left to shoot in Spain, two people were harassing me, and I knew one personally, and the other I knew whom it was but had never met them. I’d rather not say what they did, but it goes beyond invasion of privacy to full-on harassment.

Are we going to see you in the Entourage movie?

I don’t think so. I follow Doug Ellin on Instagram, and I don’t think so.

When I read The Juliette Society to prep for our last interview, it read as very cinematic to me. Are you planning on adapting it into a film?

It’s on the side. I have friends who are producers and filmmakers who are telling me to make the movie, and it’s great that all of these people believe in it, but I don’t want to rush into it just to do it. I’d rather focus on other scripts and trying to get other films made. I’m working on a few scripts and started coming up with ideas for the sequel to The Juliette Society. It will be set three or four years after the disappearance of Ana, and it deals with the next chapter and evolution of her sexuality.

Have you dealt with any creepy producers in Hollywood? There are plenty.

I think I have a face that kind of intimidates people. It can often be translated into being “a bitch,” but I’m fine with it. I’ve dealt with people who try and befriend me and it’s a really false sense of friendship, because they just want to use me as arm-candy. I don’t believe these people want to have sex with me, but it’s the idea that people observing may think that’s happening. It’s more about the illusion of what could happen and outward appearances. It makes it difficult to know who to trust.

How have you found your adventures navigating Hollywood?

I told my mentor this the other day: “I would rather never act again if I always have to play certain types.” I’d rather just go make art films on my own. That dream has never died, but now, I’m a part of this system that I never dreamed I’d be a part of, so it’s strange trying to juggle both and figure out where the passion is, and where the work is. After I did The Girlfriend Experience, I can’t tell you how many people asked me, “How’s your boyfriend, Chris?” What? It’s so strange. With me, because I do have a preexisting fan base that continues to support me, I think people hear my name and picture this buxom woman with big tits and a flashy smile, and that’s just not who I am. So I get offers to play “a sex worker”—a porn star, stripper, myself—and I’ve done that the two best ways you can, in a Soderbergh film and on Entourage, so there’s no need to do that again.