Born Marina Ann Hantzis in Sacramento, CA, Sasha Grey left porn four years ago at 21, explaining that after 271 films her “time as an adult film performer had expired.” She segued into mainstream film and TV, with top billing in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience and a recurring role in the seventh season of Entourage. Now she transitions into novelist with The Juliette Society, a titillating book about a film student, Catherine, with an apathetic boyfriend who fails to accomodate her desires; she eventually enrolls in the title’s secret club, where members explore their darkest fantasies Eyes Wide Shut style.
How long did it take you to write The Juliette Society?
I wrote my initial proposal in May 2012, and from there I continued until March of this year. In October of last year I was also shooting a film with director Nacho Vigalondo, so that was my most challenging time. The most important part of the process was figuring out who Catherine was, and developing this fantasy dream-world in which she exists.
Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?
I did, but not the trilogy. It definitely gave me the courage to say to myself that, yes, this is something I can do. For years now, I’ve had female fans ask me to tackle erotic fiction, and with the sudden boom, and uncanny use of the name “Grey,” it was time!
Catherine’s boyfriend, a staffer in a senator’s campaign office, is uninterested in sex, which is a catalyst for her sexual explorations. Did you create him as a foil?
Everyone in the book is based on types and not just one individual, but I really needed a reason for Catherine to take the risks she takes other than her own pleasure. I didn’t want her to become a vile character that readers would dislike, so their relationship became a very important way to ensure that.
You incorporate character analyses from classic films like Vertigo and Citizen Kane, and mention others like Contempt and 400 Blows. Do you think modern cinema’s in decline? Are there exceptions?
Haha, of course. Modern art is in decline, whether we’re talking cinema, music, etc. Everything is packaged by selling the 10 best women, and 10 best men. Even in the contemporary fine-art world. There are exceptions, and there always will be, but let’s not just think it’s purely the system/business’ fault. It’s the audience who wants the same easily digestible, repetitive entertainment. Steven Soderbergh said something very poignant in a speech he gave recently. “I think that what people go to the movies for has changed since 9/11. I still think the country is in some form of PTSD about that event, and that we haven’t really healed in any sort of complete way, and that people are, as a result, looking more toward escapist entertainment. And look, I get it. There’s a very good argument to be made that only somebody who has it really good would want to make a movie that makes you feel really bad. People are working longer hours for less money these days, and maybe when they get in a movie, they want a break. I get it.” France is a great example; they are also suffering from big-budget box office failures, because they are only trying to repeat or plug in the same top tier, highest paid stars. The exceptions will always be there, and I think Jeff Nichols is a great example of that. Mud, for instance, is one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
Catherine mentions Last Tango in Paris a few times. Was the love scene, which involved Crisco and a fireplace, a playful nod to the infamous butter scene?
When I was writing the book, sometimes I would think of a favorite scene in a movie and then riff off that for an episode in Catherine’s life. So there are a ton of film references in the book. Some are obvious, many are not. But that way of working also fit with the idea that Catherine is someone who relates to the world around her—visually, emotionally, the way she reacts—through her love of film. Things she sees and experiences and learns always relate back to something she’s seen in the movies.
Have you known women like Anna, Catherine’s uninhibited and sexually liberated classmate who introduces her to the Juliette Society, or is she based on explorations of your own limitations?
I’ve met a lot of women like Anna, and while she seems free and uninhibited, Catherine slowly realizes that Anna doesn’t think about her actions. Like the old saying goes, “ignorance is bliss.” I wanted to depict two women who have taboo fantasies they intend to explore, but one is self aware, and the other isn’t.
Is there one creative medium you prefer?
I prefer writing and acting. Writing was my first passion that wasn’t influenced by my siblings or friends. But I like to learn and explore this world. I want to continue with photography. [My band] aTelecine formed in 2005/2006, and now I’m looking to branch out from that and try something different in music as well.
Do you plan on writing another novel?
I definitely do. I’m already planning the sequel for The Juliette Society! Also, look out for Nacho Vigalondo’s film Open Windows, starring Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell, and myself.