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Porn meets mainstream in elusive crossovers

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It girl porn actress Sasha Grey strikes a pose at AEE.
Photo: Sarah Feldberg
Levi "Big Red" Chronister

What does a porn star have to do to get into mainstream advertisements, music videos and movies?

For Sasha Grey, it was just being herself.

"I never sought any of these projects out," she said Friday at the Adult Entertainment Expo, "and I've been very fortunate enough and very, very, very grateful to have people come to me and seek me out, I believe, because of my own interest in film and music, because it stretches much further than a James Bond (film) or radio music."

Rolling Stone magazine's Hot Porn Star for 2008, Grey has appeared in music videos for Smashing Pumpkins and the Roots, an ad for American Apparel clothing, contributed vocals on a recent Lee Scratch Perry album, and plays the lead role (with no nudity) in the upcoming Canadian horror film Smash Cut.

Sasha Grey on her First Time

The biggest mainstream job for Grey — the one that likely makes her the front-runner for the 2010 Adult Video News Jenna Jameson Crossover Star Of The Year award — is Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, coming out later this year. Grey plays the lead role of a call girl, though it was the character-driven plot line that interested her, not the chance to take her clothes off one more time.

"For me it's another way to continue my brand and discover myself as an actor," Grey said. "Right now I'm just focusing on continuing my brand, inside and outside of adult, and trying to bridge that gap. I want to get feedback before I try anything (else mainstream)."

Another mainstream project of Grey's is an online video series by mainstream director James Gunn (and his brothers, Brian and Sean).

2009 AVN Awards co-hostess Belladonna.

2009 AVN Awards co-hostess Belladonna.

Grey's spoof hasn't been put online yet, but the most-recent video features Michael Rosenbaum of Smallville and adult star Belladonna, who has seen an increase in the number of girls entering pornography with dreams of moving beyond the adult world down the line.

"There might be more people who are career-driven, who realize this isn't just another job," she said. "It's something that really can go further. And people with a desire like that, nothing can stop them. It's only a matter of time before more and more acceptance happens. More and more of the girls getting in the business these days are smarter and have this drive in them. It's a select group, but there are a lot more of them than there used to be."

However, Grey has words of warning for any such actresses.

"Don't do it," Grey said. "If you want to be an actor, go be an actor, because you're not going to be happy in this business. Because, at the end of the day, no matter how much fun we have, it's still a business. You still have to remember that."

Even if you do get mainstream work out of the adult industry, there's often criticism to deal with.

Whether it's because she has come so far so fast -- having started her adult career in May 2006, just two months after turning 18 -- or some other reason, Grey has heard plenty of harsh words about her mainstream endeavors, which also include making music and creating her own artwork.

"I think that's the most ridiculous crock of s--t I've ever heard," Grey said about her critics' complaints, adding that an actor or actress can't perform a hardcore sex scene complete with the requisite "money shot" and expect to then move into mainstream film making. As she says, "I got into this business because I wanted to be in this business."

Grey isn't the only one who has words of warning for young porn stars hoping to make the leap to mainstream work.

"You do not start with porn in order to get into mainstream," veteran adult actress Nina Hartley said. "It's just not going to happen. Sasha Grey is just the exception that proves the rule. If you want mainstream, I still tell people to stay away from porn. If that's what you want, don't come here."

Prior to Grey's casting, Hartley had one of the biggest mainstream roles recently filled by someone from the adult industry. She played philandering spouse Little Bill's Wife in 1997's Boogie Nights.

The veteran adult performer said she got the role in part because writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson was a fan, though she did have to audition for the part. The fact she was used to taking her clothes off on camera didn't hurt, either.

"He knew I would feel comfortable with the nude scenes," Hartley said. "He knew he wouldn't have to close the set and put a curtain around me and babysit my emotions. It was work. Nude is my work uniform."

Of course, while the role was certainly more than just playing a sex object, the film was about the adult industry. And it says a lot that the character didn't even get a real name.

Even lately, mainstream jobs for adult performers have commonly been of a sexual nature. Jenna Haze and Aurora Snow were topless in Superbad, and Katie Morgan just won the 2009 AVN Jenna Jameson Crossover Star Of The Year award for playing a porn actress in Zack and Miri Make a Porno.

The male talents in mainstream roles get cast as sex objects, too. Lexington Steele played himself in two episodes of Weeds and a swinger in an episode of Nip/Tuck.

So as great as Hartley thinks it is that more and more adult actresses are getting mainstream roles, she isn't hopeful that anyone will be cast in a role that doesn't require showing skin or behaving sultry.

"That it's happening at all is pretty amazing," she said. "It used to be super-duper daring, but right now it's daring. But, porn and pop culture are starting to merge at the trash culture level, so it's not a bad move financially, depending on the person, to put an adult star into a movie."

"I don't think there's ever going to be a big wedge. I think most adult performers, if they do get into mainstream movies, will be pretty much as themselves, as strippers, as prostitutes … as jokes."

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