Will 18-year-old Sasha Grey become the adult film industry’s next Jenna Jameson?
By Dave Gardetta
Los Angeles magazine, November 2006
On Sasha Grey’s first X-rated film shoot, while having sex with an Italian porn star named Rocco Siffredi, Sasha angled her head toward Siffredi's face and said, "Punch me in the stomach." It was May 1 and Sasha—small boned, pale skinned, and brunette—had just turned 18. The movie, which has the ungainly title Fashionistas Safado: The Challenge, was directed by a man named John Stagliano and has been the most anticipated adult film of 2006. In the San Fernando Valley—which produces more pornography in a week than ancient Greece did in 1,000 years—Stagliano has enjoyed a career arc not unlike that of Steven Soderbergh. In 1989, in a movie called The Adventures of Buttman, Stagliano ditched the decades-old scenarios and stock characters of X-rated films—the pizza men and nurses and detectives and stranded motorists—and instead filmed just sex. As in Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape, released the same year, Stagliano's actors talked to the video camera about sex—and then had it. The new genre, with a nod to Colorado's most infamous writer, was named gonzo.
Today more than 13,000 new X-rated DVD titles are released each year. The majority are gonzo. But Stagliano has since returned to making bigger-budget, story-driven films. His Fashionistas, shot partly in Las Vegas, is the adult film industry's equivalent of an Ocean's Eleven. It features some of the world's best-known performers, including Siffredi, and so it was something of a fluke that Sasha ended up on the set that afternoon as his partner. She had grown up a working-class kid in Sacramento, bused tables at a steak house for a year following high school, then moved alone in April to L.A. with plans of becoming an adult film star as soon as she turned 18. She found an agent through the Internet named Mark Spiegler, who carries a client list of about 25 women. After another Fashionistas actress came down with hives, Spiegler—on a hunch—suggested his unknown, untested 18-year-old to Stagliano. In Sacramento Sasha had dated a cook at the steak house where she worked. During sex, he had introduced her to slapping, hair pulling, and other kinds of consensual degradation, and it was no surprise to Sasha that she should ask Siffredi that afternoon to punch her. It was, however, a shock to others on the set—as was the unscripted 12-person orgy Sasha joined.
As many as a thousand women arrive annually in the San Fernando Valley to perform in the industry's 13,000 movies. In that digital glut, each actress must fight for notice. Like Sasha, every one of them knows the Valley's gilded promise: the story of Jenna Jameson, an ex-stripper who made her first adult film in 1995, then built a career so successful that Playboy Enterprises recently bought Jameson's media company, Club Jenna, for $17.6 million. Most new actresses disappear before attracting attention. But on that day in May, on the set of her first film, Sasha made her name in the Valley. Word of her performance leaked off the set, and by midsummer she was booked—in as many as four movies a week—all the way through Thanksgiving weekend. For an ex-busgirl from the sticks, it was an auspicious start.
Six weeks after the Fashionistas shoot wrapped, Sasha stood momentarily alone in the vast glass atrium of the L.A. Convention Center, waiting as Spiegler secured passes for the opening day of the adult film industry's "Erotica L.A." convention. All around her milled women in microminis and four-inch stilettos and fishnet stockings, actresses who, in attempting to cloak themselves in cartoon mystery, had taken on the fantasy names of the Valley kingdom: Alektra, Cumisha, Phyllisha, Phaedra, Naughtia, Letizia, Uschi, Cynara, and Ms. Panther. Sasha had wanted to call herself Anna Karina, after the former muse and ex-wife of French director Jean-Luc Godard. For an 18-year-old porn star with a spotty high school education, she has tastes that would make Cumisha or Ms. Panther go blank. Besides Godard, she likes the directors Michelangelo Antonioni, Werner Herzog, and Lars von Trier and reads William S. Burroughs, Anais Nin, and—who else? —Hunter S. Thompson.
"Okay," said Spiegler, appearing with the event passes and six other actresses in tow. "Let's go." In part because he was once on the money-lending side of the business and because he enjoys Shakespeare's plays, Spiegler's business card reads MARK "SHYLOCK" SPIEGLER, "PATRON OF THE TARTS." His company is named Spiegler Girls, the condo warren he keeps for clients who lack their own home is called the Spiegler Dorm, and any woman in his agency identifies herself publicly as a "Spiegler girl." "There's that new Spiegler girl," you could hear other actresses saying, surreptitiously pointing out Sasha to friends. With the agent that day were his clients Georgia Peach, whose dominant feature had landed her in Army of Ass 10 and Big White Wet Butts 3; an actress named Bamboo, who has shown up in both Asian Take Out and Bento Box; and Tia Tanaka, whose MySpace profile reads, "I don't really exist because I'm only a figment of your imagination. Other than that I'm a quiet and shy person."