At the tender age of just 18 Sasha Grey packed her bags and moved to Los Angeles, with her sights set firmly on the pornography industry. And she must be a determined one, because, within six months, she was being hailed as the new Jenna Jameson, featured on numerous magazine covers, on television shows and being photographed by the likes of Terry Richardson.
But three years later, at 21, Sasha sensationally quit the industry, claiming that she wanted to focus on more fulfilling projects, and Hollywood came calling – one of her early roles was in Oscar nominated director Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. Since then Sasha has starred in numerous films, carved out a career as both a musician and DJ and has recently released her first novel, The Juliette Society, drawing on past experience to add a real life twist on erotic fiction. Here Sasha opens up about her new novel, and tells us why female sexual liberation still has a long way to go.
YOU STARTED OFF IN PORNOGRAPHY AND THEN PROGRESSED INTO FILM AND MUSIC, AND NOW YOU’VE RELEASED YOUR FIRST NOVEL. WHY WAS THE TIME RIGHT NOW TO RELEASE A BOOK?
Why now. That’s a great question. Actually, my agent had been asking me to do an erotic novel for quite some time. I understood why, it made sense but it wasn’t really until the Fifty Shades of Grey novel blew up, and people thought I was associated with the novel because of the name, that my agent came back to me and said we really need to do something. I was like, ‘can I even do this’? I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t really confident. I just started with the proposal and then it took about a month to write and we sent that out to several different publishers and people responded and they loved it. It just kind of took off from there.
THE UPSURGE IN EROTIC FICTION HAS BEEN MASSIVELY SPURRED ON BY FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, DID YOU READ THE BOOKS FOR INSPIRATION?
Well, you always want to read what else is out there for sure, to know what to do, what not to do and make something your own. I felt like because of my past in porn I really had something different to bring, as well as my age.
TELL US ABOUT THE PREMISE OF YOUR BOOK, THE JULIETTE SOCIETY, WHAT’S THE MAIN STORYLINE?
It is about a young film student named Catherine who sees Belle de Jour in her film class for the first time and she develops this little obsession with her film teacher and she starts to question this great relationship she has, and because of this her boyfriend’s attitude starts changing toward her. From there she has a sexual awakening and starts to experience different aspects of her sexuality that are buried and hidden, that are just starting to come out and she has to navigate these fantasy’s and learn how to deal with them, as we all do at some point in our lives.
HOW MUCH OF THE BOOK WAS BASED ON REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE?
The idea of the young girl who’s a film student who’s struggling with the fantasies that she has, that was definitely very much based on me at 17, 18 years old. But from there the rest of it is much more inspired by different films and different literature and by our society. I mean, it is a satirical, erotic novel and there’s so much information out there. There’s always some sort of scandal happening so it was really obvious what I could pick and choose from that was socially relevant.
TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE RESEARCH YOU DID BEFORE WRITING, OUTSIDE OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.
Let’s see. Therese the Philosopher and The Sadeian Woman were two books that provided a lot of inspiration for this book, mainly for Catherine’s journey, how to deal with the guilt she has because of this new internal experience she’s having. In terms of different films, the list could go on and on and on but some of the most obvious ones are Belle de Jour, Cruising, Made in U.S.A and Contempt.
COULD YOU RELATE TO WHAT CATHERINE GOES THROUGH IN THE BOOK?
Definitely. I wanted a character that not only I could relate to but other people could relate to. I wanted to give her real world problems, not hyper stylised problems. I think most people, especially women, often struggle with their our sexual desire. Especially when we have fantasies that might be different or are considered dirty or wrong. And that’s a really tough thing to deal with when you don’t have anybody to talk to. When you’re just learning about your sexuality and you’re just discovering it all, it’s really hard to deal with when most of society tells us what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling is wrong and dirty, which is why I think The Sadeian Woman is such an important book for women to read. I really wanted to let Catherine experience these feelings and have these issues but at the same time not be sexually naïve. Our generation has so much access to unlimited information, so it’s not that we’re naïve about these things, it’s just that we’re still sort of repressed, and we’re not taught how to deal with these feelings. I wanted her to deal with these things and learn how to work through them in a positive way and remain in control, and obviously her relationship with her boyfriend and feeling like he isn’t giving her enough. You know, in fiction it’s usually the opposite – the man doesn’t feel like the woman is giving him enough but it’s not a one way street.
DO YOU THINK IT’S LIBERATING FOR WOMEN TO OPENLY DISCUSS THEIR SEXUAL DESIRES?
Oh definitely. The fact that we’re able to openly talk about BDSM is a big deal as is the fact that we’re not talking about it in a negative light. That’s huge. It’s not often that pop culture can discuss a subject that’s normally considered taboo in such an open way.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE MAIN REASONS WHY FEMALE SEXUALITY, AND THIS NEW MODERN FEMINISM, ARE AT THE FOREFRONT OF SOCIETY AGAIN?
It’s all about timing, what’s in the air. I don’t think I could point it to specifically one thing but I mean look at our culture, look at our society. Like I said, there’s so much instant access to information – I have MTV on mute now playing this overly sexy music video. Women are dressing a certain way, expected to present themselves a certain way but we still don’t know how to be confident sexually without feeling like we’re going to be labelled a slut or a whore. We’re given so much conflicting information – we want you to look this way and act like a slut or look like a slut but you can’t be a slut. When you look at different websites, there are these guys running these insanely salacious websites telling girls what boob size they should get – “oh yeah, you should get implants, get this size” – that’s insane. But God forbid I talk about giving a blow job. I’m gonna go get double D tits but a blowjob? No. Sex? No. I think it’s just a timing thing, what’s in the air.
DO YOU THINK THERE’S STILL A MAJOR GAP IN EQUALITY, PARTICULARLY WHEN IT COMES TO SEX?
Oh for sure. Definitely, no doubt about it.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER, IN FEMALE TERMS, TABOO IN SEX THESE DAYS?
What’s considered taboo? I think BDSM is still considered taboo. We always talk about the women who enjoy certain sexual acts that are considered taboo that fall under the lines of BDSM but we never talk about the men involved. People always want to look at things like anal sex, bondage, asphyxiation, they always want to label it abuse and they want to label the people involved in it as damaged or villains. So you’re either a villain or you’re a victim. You can’t just enjoy it. But I do think it will slowly progress and slowly change. It’s all about having conversations really. Constructive conversations, not just mindless, heated arguments. You know, real debates.
WE MENTIONED EARLIER THAT YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF STRINGS TO YOUR BOW – ACTING, MUSIC, MODELLING, WRITING – BUT IS THERE ONE CAREER THAT SATISFIES YOU THE MOST AND THAT YOU PLAN TO CONCENTRATE ON IN THE FUTURE?
Filmmaking and photography.
ANY SPECIFIC GENRE OF EITHER?
Well obviously I love acting and it’s something I want to continue. As a writer I would love to just continue – I write screenplays, creating characters that I don’t see out there for women. I always watch films and I go, God, why can’t there be ….well, for instance, Heat is a great example. I watch a film like that and think why aren’t there roles like that for women. So, the minute I think that then I try and create and develop characters for women that are like that. And not just that but also simple stories about the human condition. I think Cassavetes was a master at that and I’m really interested in the story of character and the story of a moment, and we’re so inundated with big, loud, fast films now. There’s still a few of us that like art films.
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
What am I hungry for in life? Passion. The minute passion dies out you have nothing. It’s like love, it’s air.
The Juliette Society is available nationwide from this week, Sphere, £7.99