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Q&A: Sasha Grey

The I Melt With You actress on film, time travel, and L.A.'s "vampires"

Sasha Grey is known as a “thinking man’s porn star,” due in part to her passion for obscure independent film and music. Writing in the New York Times, film critic A.O. Scott remarked that her porn career was “distinguished both by the extremity of what she is willing to do and an unusual degree of intellectual seriousness about doing it.”

Recently, Grey has transitioned to independent and mainstream entertainment, including a starring role in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, and a recurring part on the seventh season of HBO’s Entourage. Grey is also featured in director Mark Pellington’s I Melt With You, which was released this December. It’s the story of four college friends and their chaotic, drug-fueled reunion in Big Sur, starring Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Thomas Jane. Last week, Davy Rothbart spoke with Grey about the film, the ups and downs of the audition process, and her childhood fantasies.

Even when a scene in a movie involves drugs or alcohol, there’s usually nothing of the sort on the set. But one scene in I Melt With You includes such an insane frenzy of booze, pills, and powder, I had to wonder: Were you guys actually getting wasted?

Believe it or not, no. The whiskey was apple juice. The pills were placebos. There’s times when you’d think, “Wow, this would be a lot more fun if we were really drinking,” but in reality, even for a scene that only runs 45 seconds to a minute on-screen, it still takes from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. to film it. Actually drinking alcohol for 12 hours straight would probably not be as much fun as it sounds.

The movie deals with four friends who are 44 years old and find themselves disillusioned. All the things they had wanted to accomplish by that age have not panned out. What are your hopes and dreams for the future, and how do you handle disappointment?

My goals are to continue acting, and also to produce some independent films in the next few years. Music is a passion of mine, so I also want to continue along that path, creating with my friends.

When I run into disappointment — say, for example, not getting a role I’d hoped for — I just try not to take it personally. Often, the director and the casting directors have an exact type they’re looking for. Sometimes as soon as you walk into the room, they know if you’re what they’re looking for or not. Rejection just motivates me to keep trying and to try to do better. Danny DeVito went on something like 111 auditions before he landed a role. He just never gave up. You can never fail if you never give up.

The same philosophy is true with relationships. Persistence and determination are incredibly important. But sometimes you need to analyze the situation and understand when you’re wrong. You need to be able to cop to being wrong, learn to change, and continue to grow as a human being.

You’re known as an enthusiast for independent film. What’s the latest movie that really impressed you?

I just saw this great film called Afterschool. It stars Ezra Miller as this teenager who goes to a private boarding school, and while he’s working on a video project for one of his classes, he accidentally captures the deaths of these two rich girls in his class. The emotions he’s grappling with are really captivating. He also has a fascination with Internet porn — the more extreme stuff — and you see the way he tries to implement all of it into his life as a virgin. The movie’s tempered with cliché “rich kid” problems, but it’s all handled tastefully. It stayed with me.

What are a couple of your all-time favorite flicks? Ones you’ll watch again and again?

John Carpenter’s The Thing is definitely a favorite. What a classic! It’s like a “Ten Little Indians” type of story — putting all these people together and testing them. It’s serious but has its funny moments, and a certain je ne sais quoi that’s missing from a lot of films today.

Last night, I picked up a Blu-ray copy of Back to the Future. I just couldn’t resist when I saw it on the shelf! You’ve got Christopher Lloyd at his best, and the whole movie is so endearing, funny, and wonderfully bizarre. I always had all of these childhood fantasies about wanting to invent things, like a spaceship or a time machine. And everyone’s imagined what it would be like to go back in time and change things, to see what would happen if you had a different life. Back to the Future fulfills all of those daydreams. It’s the perfect movie.

If you could jump into Marty McFly’s DeLorean, crank it up to 88 miles per hour, and go back in time to change one thing that’s happened in your life, what would it be?

You know, I commit to most things I do in life, so I don’t really have any serious regrets. But I’ll say this: There are plenty of people that I wish I could un-meet. It’s kind of an L.A. syndrome. You’re always gonna meet people that you end up not being friends with, and that’s fine, but there are a lot of vampires here.

Davy Rothbart is the creator of Found magazine, editor of the Found books, author of the story collection The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, and a frequent contributor to public radio’s This American Life. He’s also the founder of an annual hiking trip for inner-city kids called Washington II Washington.

Previously from Davy Rothbart:

What’s Your Deal? With soul singer Mayer Hawthorne
What’s Your Deal? With Anne Buford, director of Elevate
What’s Your Deal? With Richard Jenkins
What’s Your Deal? With Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko
What’s Your Deal? With Joseph Gordon-Levitt
What’s Your Deal? With Dominic Fredianelli
What’s Your Deal? With Bismack Biyombo

Filed Under: Movies, Grantland Q&A