Los Angeles Magazine

The teenager & the porn star: will 18-year-old Sasha Grey become the adult film industry's next Jenna Jameson?

While there are dozens of licensed and unlicensed adult film agents, four firms dominate the Valley: Spiegler Girls, Gold Star Modeling, Exotic Star Models, and the largest and most successful agency, L.A. Direct Models, which is run by an Englishman named Derek Hay. Where Spiegler works out of the car and his condo, L.A. Direct Models--the closest the Valley has to a CAA--consists of several offices in a Studio City high-rise, with three operators who monitor the phones. Adult talent agencies make money two ways, taking an average of 10 percent of their clients' earnings and charging production companies an agency fee for each shoot. They also set the talent's fees, which have been steadily rising over the last five years. When Spiegler produced films in the mid-'90s, he could pay a well-known actress $1,000 for two scenes. Today a similar actress can make $1,500 off one.

Spiegler grew up in West Hollywood in the '60s, attended Hollywood High, then ran through a series of small jobs and get-rich-slow schemes before earning a B.A. in economics at Cal State Northridge, whereupon, he says, he began successfully investing in financial markets. In 1996, when he started producing movies, only one important agent existed in the Valley, a tall, mustachioed Texan named Jim South who had been around since the early '70s and was a godfather-like figure. "Back then," says Spiegler, "you just assumed that everyone was represented by South. If you had a girl on the set--even if you didn't know whether or not he represented her--you sent a check along to South afterwards."

As in Hollywood, Valley agencies poach talent from each other. Actresses get fed up with their agent, or their work schedule, or their morning, and move from agency to agency. Last spring, when Sasha first contacted Spiegler through his Web site, he had two major stars: an Asian woman named Katsumi and a German actress named Katja Kassin. Sasha became his third important client. But by the first week of September he'd lost Kassin to L.A. Direct Models.

Agencies attract actresses with the quality and size of their client list, and any talent company would be happy with the appearance of another Jenna Jameson. Jameson first received notice in 1995, when only a couple hundred--instead of a thousand--women competed against one another in the Valley, Blond and huge breasted, she had an iconic look. The question of whether a Jameson--a Julia Roberts--like figure in the adult film business--can ever exist again floats over the Valley One theory says no. Jameson appeared just when pornography was beginning to cross over into mainstream culture--through the Playboy Channel, the Internet, Sunset Strip billboards, and the radio studios of Howard Stern. She was, according to this theory, the product of an economic moment more than anything else.

"Jameson was a phenomenon," says Spiegler. "But because that's what she was, another Jameson could come along." A new Jameson would do very well for her agent, which is why Sasha can get Spiegler thinking. By September, in addition to being booked to the horizon, Sasha had two movies on schedule that were star vehicles centered on her--something no one in the Valley could recall ever happening so soon in an actress's career.

"There may be a thousand girls in the Valley," says Spiegler. "But only ten have that 'It' factor, and she's one. She's smart, she's responsible, and she's old for her age. Where my other girls want to buy brand-new BMWs, Sasha is looking to sell her Hyundai for a cheaper car just to conserve money on her insurance." The looks of actresses and styles of pornography change and shift every few years, along with the tastes of viewers. Sasha is not blond and endowed like Jameson. But with her pale, adolescent looks and a penchant for extreme hard-core scenes, she is agirl of the moment. "I've never said this about an actress before," says Spiegler, speaking from the heart, or possibly spinning. "But with the right money behind her, Sasha could be another Jenna Jameson."

IN MID-SEPTEMBER Sasha had her mind on the upcoming AVN Awards. Organized by the magazine Adult Video News, the ceremony is held in Las Vegas every January and is the industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Since the deadline for nominations is September 30, that month in the Valley is like December for Hollywood--the month when serious contenders are released. Fashionistas Safado: The Challenge was scheduled to appear in stores on September 29. At the last AVNs a movie titled Pirates (which was filmed on the same ship Johnny Depp commandeered in Pirates of the Caribbean) took II awards. Fashionistas, according to industry consensus, would also sweep this year. Sasha was hoping to be nominated for Best New Starlet, just as Jameson had been, and then won, in 1996. "But I'd also be happy for Best Group Sex Scene in Fashionistas," she told me in her apartment one night.

Imagine the editors of Variety choosing the Academy Award nominations--then handing out Oscars to the winners--and you have a pretty good idea of how much manipulation can go on behind the scenes during the run-up to the AVNs. Coincidentally or not, companies that advertise consistently in Adult Video News often take home awards in Las Vegas. Actresses trying to secure a nomination stop in to schmooze at the magazine's Chatsworth offices. A Spiegler client once presented dolls of herself to editors and writers. Another baked cookies.

"It's great to say you won the award," says Spiegler. "And theoretically, it's important. But it also tends to be a curse--a lot of girls who win it end up in the toilet the next year." The Valley's best-known actresses also disappear by other means. Shauna Grant, Nancee Kellee, Megan Leigh, Alex Jordan, and Savannah--all "A-list" performers in their time--committed suicide. Both Jordan and Savannah won a Best New Starlet award in the early '90s. Jordan reportedly addressed her suicide note to her pet bird.

On the eve of the nominations, Sasha's life had become as busy as her agent's. In her apartment she had a difficult time recalling what she had done just three days before--either she'd picked up a new video, or had her car worked on, or filmed a scene. "I can't remember," she said--it was all mysterious. She was dressed in shorts and a white T-shirt. "The days are so long. I have so much to do to prepare, and my nights I spend on MySpace."

The community-based Web site has been a boon for porn stars. Every actress you meet in the Valley has her own MySpace profile, which she uses to build up her fan base and Internet buzz, both of which producers and directors are cognizant of. That night Sasha had 270 messages waiting from fans. She planned to answer each one. "I need to maintain a relationship with them," she said, looking exhausted. "Some of them can be very important to keep a career running."

When Sasha arrived in April, she believed her time on camera could last six or seven years. Spiegler had advised her to downsize that number to three or four. That was before Fashionistas. Now she was even talking about directing and producing and about moving into the distribution side of the business. "Every girl wants to be a director," says Spiegler. "Just like Hollywood. But the only people in the business making steady money anymore are the talent."

For a girl who had grown up watching pornography, the oddest thing of all had turned out to be watching herself onscreen. "It's surreal," Sasha said, sitting down on the living room floor of her apartment. "I don't feel like it's me. It's just a weird feeling that's hard to describe." These days she was studying herself as she had other porn actresses when she worked at the Sacramento steak house, critical of her dialogue, looking for gaffes. She had completed more than 80 movies, including I'm a Big Girl Now 6, Girl Next Door 2, and Barely Legal 62. Mostly, she was pleased with the scenes of sodomy, slapping, and rough-edged sex that appeared on her new TV. "Sometimes," Sasha said, "I actually can think, 'Damn, I'm good.' The best scenes are when the men want to slap you around a little bit, when they want to pull your hair, when they want to smack your ass. They're getting what they want, and I'm getting what I asked for. I guess I've just been blessed."

Photography by Gregg Segal

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2 COMMENTS
ON THIS ARTICLE

MacNamara, Mark November 01, 2006
0

A well written piece, in a gonzo style... And what about the last line? "I guess I've just been blessed"? And said so guilelessly from the sound of it. What would Betty Friedan say? Or Gloria Steinam? The temptation may be to sound sentimental, to say, 'how sad', 'what a shame', 'you poor woman, will become of you?' But this is somebody who not only been around but read around. She sounds trustworthy to me. Perhaps better to say, 'right on, girl.' 'Be a director, get your own company, make millions, run for the senate.' What's also interesting is how this 18-year-old porn star has found her niche in the extremties of the 'people's art form'. And so it's tempting to try to find an abstraction, to come to some conclusion about her generation. What is it about self-debasement, you think. But maybe it's much simpler, she's a true artist in her way, a William S. Burroughs of the flesh trade. Still, you wonder, in 30 years, not what will she be, but who....

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unreg (Unregistered) September 20, 2007
0

Very interesting article.Wanna bee Porn stars should read this .
Might help jump start your career ...

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