The Teenager & The Porn Star

Will 18-year-old Sasha Grey become the adult film industry’s next Jenna Jameson?

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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.”

Taking his advice, Spiegler’s newest client dropped Anna Karina for Sasha Grey, though on days like this she could resemble the French actress. She wore a simple black dress that stopped above her small knees, and black high heels. A slight red sash gathered the dress about her waist, and her hair, looped in a ponytail, fell to one side of her face. Thin stemmed and delicate, Sasha looked nothing like the surgically enhanced women around her, who, made up in Day-Glo mascara and cornea-damaging, superreflective lip gloss, resembled garish orchids.

After just six weeks, however, she already relished playing the part of an exhibitionist. “I like the feeling of being in front of the camera, of having someone watching me have sex,” Sasha told me. But she was still a novice. “My job is to fulfill the fantasies of my fans,” she’d also say, as if she were seconding Tia Tanaka’s Web thoughts. Maybe at 32, or 45, Sasha might fully understand what she was doing today—but not at 18. Looking to the looming convention doors, she said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when I get in there.” Then she followed the Spiegler girl pack inside.

Just remembering to breathe would have been a good start. Sprawled in a maze pattern over acres of convention floor space, its right pathways clogged by thousands of perspiring, yam-shaped fans, its film company booths as large as houses (one booth actually being a house), “Erotica L.A.” was tougher to negotiate than Disneyland in August. In whichever direction you turned, you were immediately assaulted by a barrage of high-def plasma wide screens on which women were busy either fellating or being sodomized. Next you were confronted by the women themselves, who had somehow materialized off the plasma to give you their autograph.

“The girls are here because they want to meet the fans,” said Spiegler, chugging up one Technicolor corridor and then steering his seven clients down the next. “But if they’re signing, they’re not meeting directors and producers. Personally, I’m not Mr. Party, but business-wise, meetings are the reason to be here, and I’ve got to go, too.” He is a small man with marsupial features who walks with a limp and both elbows hiked back in an unnatural crook—more or less what you’d expect a porn agent to look like. He is also genial, self-effacing, and well read, and about the most likable—as well as talkative—individual one can encounter on a porn set. He knows which agent just impregnated a client, which producer was banned from the set for hitting on the talent, which actress recently suffered a meltdown on a Maui shoot, and which magazine editor was known in a former life as the sadomasochist Lord Master Damien. Every dozen or so yards he would abruptly stop before a company booth, pulling over Sasha and a few other actresses to meet a new director or longtime producer.

At the Club Jenna compound, ringed by a velvet rope and several small podiums where starlets were autographing posters, Spiegler ushered Sasha in to be interviewed for the company’s Web site. In the glow of her Fashionistas buzz, Sasha had been approached by Club Jenna with a contract offer. There are two kinds of careers available to adult film actresses. They can work movie to movie, earning anywhere from $400 for a blow job scene to $1,400 for a double penetration scene to upwards of $5,000 for a gang bang scene. Or if chosen, they can contract with a company like Club Jenna, where they might be salaried at $60,000 a year and perform in a limited number of films. Sasha passed on Club Jenna’s offer. Her schedule was so busy by late June, she was on track to earn $200,000 within the year by filming as many as 150 movies—a not-unusual amount of screen time for a teenager in her first year in the business.

It wasn’t that long ago when 150 movies would have been three times what an adult film actress might accomplish in a career. In little more than a half century, the business has undergone several radical transformations. The first successful American exploitation film released nationally was titled Mom and Dad. Made in 1945 by a company called Hygienic Productions, it showed a vagina onscreen in the only way allowable at the time—as an “educational” detail in the birth of a baby. Nudist volleyball films would follow, and then the first “nudie-cutie” film, The Immoral Mr. Teas, directed in 1959 by schlockmeister Russ Meyer. In Miami, in 1971, a woman who rode with a local biker gang demonstrated a sexual technique she called “deep throat” to another woman named Linda Boreman, who was working in stag films under the name Lovelace. When Deep Throat opened in 300 theaters in 1972, it became a national sensation; even Vice President Spiro Agnew attended a screening of the movie at Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs compound. Fifteen or so years of plot-driven X-rated films came next, until the VCR and the advent of gonzo porn—which is extremely inexpensive to produce—exploded the industry overnight.

Sasha was 11 years old when she first watched a pornographic movie in 1999. By then the computer monitor was well on its way to becoming the preferred device for viewing porn. She belongs to the first generation that has come of age with pornography streaming into the home over the Internet. For teenagers like her, the traditional divide between pop culture and porn doesn’t exist. The celebrity most fascinating to 13-year-old girls, Paris Hilton, also stars in one of the best-selling sex videos of all time. Even 18- and 19-year-old actresses in the Valley recall having favorite porn stars when they were still attending junior high school. (‘N Sync, come back–all is forgiven.) At the same time, thousands of X-rated DVDs are being released with tides containing words like teen, little, virgin, fresh, tender, barely, and legal. Many feature teenage girls being degraded sexually by much older men. It’s a new boom that requires a steady supply of

Sasha Greys who were sexualized by the same easily accessible porn they now show up in.

On the convention floor, after finishing her Club Jenna interview, Sasha explained to me, “I probably asked Rocco to punch me in the stomach that day because when you’re having sex, all the wind gets knocked out of you, and that’s a really euphoric feeling for me. Rough sex sometimes hurts, but that’s the point—that’s when the endorphins kick in and I feel good.” Spiegler worries that in a business where teenage girls and sexual degradation are colliding, his new star could cross a line. He will not allow his clients to work with certain producers because of the violence and sexual humiliation practiced on their sets. But in the Valley, where every imaginable transgression has been caught on tape, it’s hard to say where Spiegler’s line exists anymore.

“It’s true I would do stuff that might not be publishable,” Sasha said, standing in the crush outside Naughty America’s life-size tract-home-style booth. “Slapping, peeing, spit, vomit.” Reeling off her wish list, she looked demure and thoughtful. Later that summer she was scheduled to fly to San Francisco, where her vagina would be electrocuted on film. “But no shit,” she said, her one taboo.

Just then, outside the tract home, a teenage boy holding an Instamatic camera from another era nervously approached Sasha and asked to take her picture. My conversation with the starlet, the earnest kid, the ersatz house—nothing made sense. I felt like I’d forgotten to breathe. Spending time with Sasha, clothed, and hearing about her work life, unclothed, was enough to scramble any image of her I could conceive in my mind. One day I might find myself talking to her about the novelist Philip Roth, and the next I’d come across an image of her on the Internet being sodomized by a man in a bear suit. There were two disconnected Sashas, or maybe nine Sashas, all adding up at that moment on the convention floor to wild incoherence.

Sasha turned gracefully to her left, presenting for the Instamatic what she believes is the best side of her face, and offered an enigmatic, closed-lip smile. She looked like she was holding a canary in her mouth.

By July 1, about two and a half months after her 18th birthday, Sasha had been filmed in 33 X-rated movies. She had developed a routine. Every night before a shoot she would pack a suitcase with the following items: enemas, douche, distilled water, lubricant, dildos, washcloths, disinfectant, mouthwash, toothbrush, toothpaste, body wash, hand sanitizer, hairbrush, lotion, and Orbit chewing gum. The location of the next day’s shoot, owing to the vagaries of the business, might not get relayed by Spiegler to her until after 6 p.m. If an anal scene was scheduled, she would eat a light dinner, followed by an enema. When she first moved to the Valley, she found on Craigslist a small backyard pool house with no stove and no air-conditioning that rented for $1,000 a month. There she would wait alone in the heat for Spiegler’s evening calls. She saved her money and when summer came, moved into a new two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Studio City. On her block sat condo building next to identical condo building, and when she left in the morning for work, she drove past identical Jamba Juice after identical Starbucks, Baja Fresh, Koo Koo Roo, Walgreens, Longs, Target, Lowe’s, OSH, Home Depot, Gap, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Chili’s, Subway, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Quiznos. Everything was the same but the sex, and most days crossing the Valley, Sasha had no idea where she was.

Sacramento, where Sasha was born and grew up, is centrally divided by two major boundaries—one man-made, Interstate 80, and one natural, the American River. The American flows into the Sacramento River, as does the McCloud, the Pit, the Bear, the Yuba, the San Joaquin, and the Feather. For a million years the land was marsh and watercourse and tule muck, until the swamp was vanquished by the construction of levees, dams, canals, dikes, and seepage ditches. Sacramento is an entirely artificial environment formed between watery divides. But the town’s two most impressive borders remain the 80 and the American. They split the area’s more prosperous neighborhoods, in the south, from some of the poorer quarters to the north. Sasha spent her first 18 years crossing and recrossing the river and the highway.

The most Sasha will say about her divorced parents is that her mother works for the state and her father is supported by the state. She was born north of the American, in a neighborhood named North Highlands, where the median household income is below state average, the unemployment rolls are above state average, the length of residence is below state average, and the percentage of individuals with a college degree is significantly below the state average. Before Sasha started middle school, her father had left home, moving south to another neighborhood. For a couple of years she and her mother, along with Sasha’s sister and brother, lived in an area named Antelope, which had been a tiny farming community until April 28, 1973, when a train carrying some 7,000 aircraft bombs exploded, erasing Antelope from the map. When Sasha turned 12, in 2000, her mother remarried, and the family moved south of the American into a better neighborhood. In junior high school, now surrounded by kids from wealthier families, she felt out of sorts. At home, around her stepfather and what Sasha alleges were his drug habits, she felt miserable.

At 16 Sasha informed her mother that she could no longer live in the same house with her stepfather and was planning to move out. (Although porn stars are stereotyped as victims of childhood sexual abuse, Sasha has never claimed that she was abused as a child.) Instead, her mother moved with her kids back across the American and into North Highlands. Sasha drifted from high school to high school, unhappy in each one, eventually attending four before graduating. She and her friends, she says, were too poor even to go to the movies at the mall. She spent a lot of time alone in her room getting stoned and a lot of time with friends at the park getting drunk.

When she finished high school in May 2005, Sasha’s interior life was as broken and divided as the topography of Sacramento. “I come from an underprivileged community that doesn’t have a mission,” she says. “People there take life step-by-step. They don’t believe they have futures. I earned As and Bs in high school, but when you’re in classes where you know you’ re not being taught well, those grades mean nothing to you. I became one of those anti-everything kids that come out of places like North Highlands. Nothing could make me happy.”

In the fall of 2005, she attended junior college, where she discovered the works of European directors and American novelists while taking classes in film, dance, and acting. Still, she felt disconnected inside and estranged from her surroundings. One thing that could center her was the sexual affair she had begun with the steak house cook, who was eight years her senior. “He unlocked a lot of things inside of me I hadn’t explored before,” she says. Where desire can undo other people, tearing apart the order of their lives, Sasha felt completed by it. In bed—smacked, slapped, yanked, and sodomized—she felt whole. Viewing porn with the cook, she could sense a future assembling, a mission that North Highlands hadn’t equipped her with.

“When he wasn’t around,” she says of the cook, “I started watching the porn movies to study them. I wanted to understand how the scenes played out. Could I pretzel myself into those positions? Could I get fucked like that? Where were my eyes supposed to go when the camera shifted?” By October she had decided on a career not listed in her junior college’s job placement office. “It just clicked in my head one day,” she says. “‘This,’ I thought, ‘is what I am now going to do with my life.’” Come spring, she would drive the Hyundai her mother had purchased for her to the San Fernando Valley. Her life would become an endless repetition of the act that made her indivisible. She stayed at the steak house through March, busing tables and saving $7,000, which she would use to lay waste her past—just as 7,000 aircraft bombs had once eliminated a north Sacramento neighborhood.

As summer progressed toward fall, Sasha began to feel more accomplished in her work and more knowledgeable about her likes and dislikes on the set. She didn’t like male actors who asked, “Can we get ready for the scene by fucking for a few minutes right now?” “I’m not paid to be a fluffer,” she would say. She didn’t like men who attempted to kiss her on camera. “I’m not here to make love, I’m not here to be romanced,” she would say. “I’m here to fuck.” She didn’t like partners, male or female, who showed up high on Vicodin, Valium, cocaine, or crystal meth. “If you have to be on drugs, you shouldn’t be doing porn,” she would say. Sasha estimates that about a third of the people she works with are high on something, but if you throw marijuana on that list, many in the adult film industry place the number closer to 80 percent.

Finally, she didn’t like directors who wanted to dress her up as an adolescent. “They ask you to bring along with you the clothes of a 12-year-old,” says Sasha. “Or they’ll wardrobe you in little white panties with a pink stripe. It’s awful. They’ll straighten out your hair like a young girl’s, or they’ll put on a light makeup job to produce a teenybopper’s fresh face. I’m 18—that’s the age every director wants now. And porn exists only for masturbation. But no one should be jacking off to a 14-year-old.”

Unfortunately, the age Sasha might find herself depicting in any given film is more or less out of her hands. A common opening line of dialogue in the DVDs she appears in is “Where are your parents today?” It doesn’t help matters that, naked, Sasha has the body of a young teenager—small breasted, tiny limbed, with a 14-year-old’s pouting mouth and unsure gait.

On a hot afternoon, at a house in Agoura Hills, Sasha—wearing a robe, with her hair in curlers—sat quietly in the set’s single makeup chair, which on that day was located just off the garage. Before every shoot she prepares mentally with internal self-affirmations. Like an outtake from Boogie Nights, it’s a mantra that runs along the lines of “You’re Sasha Grey, and you’re here to do good.” Most adult movies are filmed in private homes that rent for as much as $1,500 a day, existing on a location grid that stretches from Sunland to Thousand Oaks. In the Agoura makeup room a tattooed stylist named Glen walked over to Sasha and said with sympathy, “Well, sweetie, here’s the outfit they want you in.” Glen held out a yellow bra-and-panty set that didn’t look like something a woman would wear. “I hate yellow,” Sasha growled, slipping out of the chair. An actress named Missy Monroe, who had recently filmed The Da Vinci Load, walked naked into the garage, her scene for the day completed. “Okay, sweetie,” said Glen. “That’s your cue.”

Acts in adult films, listed here more or less in order of increasing pay, progress from blow job to girl-girl, boy-girl, anal, double penetration, double vaginal, double anal, and gang bang—the lingua franca for an industry whose most prized performance is as mechanical as it is mundane: swallow. Sasha’s scene, a double penetration, included two men who, when she entered the room, were lounging on couches, reminiscing about how much they loved the cycling film Breaking Away on its release—a movie made ten years before Sasha was born.

That day’s director, an excitable man named Pat Myne who was dressed in chinos and wore a scruffy blond soul patch, lay down on the floor and began snapping pictures of Sasha for the DVD’s cover. Whether she was aware of it, Sasha had just landed in the Austin Powers version of a film by one of her favorite directors—Antonioni’s Blow-Up. “That’s it, baby!” Myne motormouthed, rolling back and forth across the tile with his telephoto lens. “Give me that cute tease. I need that look—there, that’s it! So cute, so innocent, but dirty, dirty, dirty, so dirty at the same time. Oh, my little girl! My sweet little 18-year-old! Do you understand how beautiful and cute you are?” Finished, Myne stood up and faced the other men. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s fuck her.”

Off camera, Sasha speaks with a flat affect that lacks the typical inflection of women her age—the loopy high and low cadences and accompanying grimaces of teenspeak. At times her personality can come off as equally bleak. Often her sentences seem to drift out of an emotional desert, and around her I would find myself thinking, “I can’t imagine Sasha telling a really good joke.” But of her voice, at least, she is self-conscious. “I’m still trying to work on my speech patterns,” she says. “People think I’m from the South or from the country, but even friends I grew up with say, ‘Why don’t you sound like us?’”

On camera, however, she’s a cross between Dawn Upshaw and Andrew Dice Clay. She’s scary–which is the reason she’s in demand. Within the first three minutes of the shoot she’d already screamed out all but one of George Carlin’s famous seven dirty words, “piss” being the only absent noun. If I had doubts at the convention center of who Sasha Grey was, they were gone now. She was completely present and uncomplicated here in Agoura Hills. “It’s porn,” she told me before the shoot. “Make it ridiculous, make it disgusting, make it loud and filthy—that’s what I want to do on film. That’s why I’m in the business.”

This, at 18, is who Sasha Grey is. When you take the most aberrant parts inside of you, then convert them to everyday normalcy, maybe the problems of your past become a breeze. Growing up, Sasha hated her stepfather, she says, “because he had a split personality. One minute he could be sweet, the next minute a dick.” She loved her mom but loathed the weakness she saw in her—how easily she allowed herself to be manipulated by the overbearing men in her life. Sasha spoke often of the importance of maintaining her confidence, of remaining in control of her career and her life. She had, however, purposefully transplanted that life into one of the West’s more feral environments. She liked the sexual degradation. “I have a high threshold for pain,” she’d say. “I love the energy, the passion, the enthusiasm in being degraded. I want to have that.”

She didn’t consider pornography to be exploitation. Instead, it seemed, it was a test of her strengths. Where her mother had been overwhelmed by husbands, Sasha daily pitted herself against what looked to be some of the most intractable situations life offers. She complained of talent who, she said, were “weak” or “needed to be babied” or were “off their game.” The Sacramento Delta, on which she grew up, was once deemed by the Army Corps of Engineers to be the nation’s most uncontrollable river system, overwhelming its boundaries more than any other. Sasha, through the summer of 2006, was building her own levees.

MARK SPIEGLER drives six cars: a Cadillac Escalade, a Range Rover, a Hummer, and a Mercedes S430 and two CL500s. If he’s driving alone, he listens to Steely Dan, and if he is driving a client to the set—a trip he can make several times a day—they listen to hip-hop. In either case, on the 405, the 101, or the 118, his right foot unconsciously spars with the gas pedal, endlessly accelerating and decelerating the vehicle in rolling swells of stop-and-go progression. He talks in jags: sick clients, lost clients, stranded clients, penniless clients, upset clients, and clients who have just crashed one of the other five cars. All this information is constantly being updated by Bluetooth, a ringing in his ears that never stops. Though the agent has an assistant, he takes all calls himself, even in the shower. Thirteen hundred contacts are programmed into his cell phone, and he averages 170 calls a day. His entire existence consists of his clients’ travails, and he has not had a day off in seven years. But that work ethic is his only stable streak. Like his driving, Spiegler’s life, piloted by Bluetooth technology, is in constant flux.

One Sunday morning, in his black Escalade, Spiegler was chauffeuring a blond actress named Lorelei to a shoot in Tujunga. The director—a man named Skeeter Kerkore, whose most infamous DVD features him fitting 103 chopsticks into his then wife’s rectum—originally requested Sasha for the shoot. Off and on over the summer, due to the aggressive sex scenes she liked to film, Sasha had been incurring minor injuries that could force her to miss a day’s work. Like all other adult film actors, she tested monthly for HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. While those tests had proved negative, she had alternately scratched or bruised her thighs and vagina, and today—for which Kerkove had scheduled an anal scene—she was at home with hemorrhoids.

Luckily for Spiegler, Lorelei was on call at 8 a.m. and was ready, apparently, for anything. “I want to do a sploshing video,” she enthusiastically informed Spiegler. “Girls smearing Jell-O or ketchup or chocolate sauce all over each other.” Lorelei, who was down from San Francisco, spoke with authority on the fetish community—about the popularity of clown fetishes versus balloon fetishes (balloons less scary), or plushie fetishes versus foot fetishes (feet bigger). “I think I’m beginning to cultivate an amputee fetish,” she said, giggling. “There are so many things you can do with a stump.”

“I have a girl who has a pirate fetish but also suffers from a hair phobia,” Spiegler replied. “I told her she was an oxymoron.”

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 a girl 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.”

Photographs by Gregg Segal

ALSO: Find out how writer Dave Gardetta met Sasha Grey in Postscript: The Teenager & The Porn Star 

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Comments

  1. Rommel

    May 7, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    I’ve been a big fan of Ms Grey for a while now. She’s a very fresh face back then in a world full of fake body parts and blonde hair. I feel bad that she quit porn though, but at least she idi what she wanted to do and made a better future for herself.

    Reply