Sasha Grey: “I’d Accomplished All Of My Goals”
It’s the era of the slashie. Pop culture figures no longer specialise in just one thing. California’s Sasha Grey, AKA Marina Hantzis, may have found fame in the noughties’ world of adult entertainment (okay, as a porn star), but today she’s a model/actor/author/musician/producer and DJ. In 2013 Hantzis published The Juliette Society, an edgy alternative to EL James’ vanilla BDSM tome Fifty Shades Of Grey. Come December, the 26-year-old will hit Australia for her inaugural DJ tour here. And, in contrast to those ‘celebrity’ DJs, she’s playing credible underground venues.
Hailing from a broken home in blue-collar Sacramento, Hantzis initially worked as a bus-girl. But, being canny, pragmatic and almost defiantly cultured and intellectual, the teenager hatched an escape plan. A determined Hantzis headed to San Fernando Valley, Cali’s porn epicentre – and hustled. This original wrecking ball sensation made hardcore porn even more hardcore with her method acting. As such, Hantzis won 2008’s AVN (Adult Video News) “Female Performer Of The Year” Award.
Along the way, Hantzis crossed paths with controversial fashion photographer Terry Richardson – big on retro porn imagery – and she appears in a reprint of his coffee table book Terryworld. Today Hantzis is unsure what to make of ongoing allegations that Richardson sexually exploits young female models. “Years ago, when I was 18, I contacted him through his website,” Hantzis recalls candidly. “I had one of his assistants write me back and they said, ‘We’re working in LA, do you wanna shoot?’ He was super-chill – he’s very quiet, very reserved. That was the first time I shot with him, when I was 18 – and I’ve gone on to shoot with him four or five times since then. He’s very cool. [But] I’ve thought about these things myself. I guess it’s also true that everybody can see a different side of somebody, but all of my experiences have been nothing but positive.”
The performance artiste landed her break-out ‘mainstream’ Hollywood role playing the lead (an escort girl!) in Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 The Girlfriend Experience. She’s since primarily acted in indie features, and starred in Nacho Vigalondo’s cyber suspense Open Windows opposite Elijah Wood. Hantzis depicted a stylised version of herself in HBO’s Entourage. There have also been music videos, the most high-profile being Eminem’s Space Bound, which generated heat for its rendering of domestic violence and (the rapper’s) suicide. It was director Joseph Kahn, a Sasha Grey fan, who approached Hantzis to portray Slim Shady’s phantasmagoric girlfriend. “I said, ‘Hell, yeah – it’s Eminem!'”
Hantzis ceased shooting adult films in 2009 – a veteran of nearly 300 flicks at 21. She was already involved in a band, the largely studio-based industrial combo aTelecine (Hantzis’ “Sasha” alias is her tribute to KMFDM’s Sascha Konietzko). Hantzis provided vocals on Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Repentance on the invitation of his producer Andrew WK, the confused dubmeister himself subsequently denying it. “Who knows if he knew?,” Hantzis laughs. Yet it was only in 2011 that Hantzis formally announced her retirement from adult entertainment in a Facebook post, suggesting that she wanted to bow out “while I was on top.” Alas, some fans, and insiders, expressed a sense of betrayal.
“I definitely wanted new challenges but, long story short, I felt like I’d accomplished all of my goals,” Hantzis now clarifies. She’d develop her own adult production company, but it went awry. “I started this company with an old business partner [but], within those three months, the company stalled – quite terribly. It was my first big failure. I sort of had to take a step back and say, ‘Do I wanna start from scratch and find new investors and continue to get three hours of sleep a night…? Or do I want to keep focusing on the film and television roles that people are interested in me for and [keep] focusing on music?'” She settled on that latter. “But it wasn’t for another year or so when I actually said anything, because I didn’t really realise people didn’t know I quit!”
While Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian have indirectly benefited from the circulation of sex tapes, and many a pop femme has used porn’s tropes in performances (from Madonna to Lil’ Kim to Miley Cyrus), porn idols like Hantzis’ onetime cohort James Deen have themselves become ‘mainstream’. Last year Hantzis, a consistent advocate for the adult industry, published The Juliette Society – Story Of O-style erotica. It’s proven a huge success, being translated into over 20 languages. Hantzis spent most of 2013 on a global book tour. “It was a very humbling yet overwhelming experience,” she says. “It really showed me how much people are interested in what else I was doing – and that’s why it was so humbling. I didn’t quite expect the reaction that I received from it… There were a lot of young people who were interested in it – when I say ‘young’, I mean 16 to 20 – so people younger than me were able to relate to it and that was surprising as well.” She’s plotting a sequel.
Hantzis was first canvassed to DJ while in aTelecine. “I said, ‘Okay, well, I collect vinyl, I play at home…’,” she says. “I started asking a lot of my friends who DJ and they kinda gave me some tips on how to not take your vinyl with you (laughs) and that everything’s digital now! So I just bought a good mixer and I started practising at home.” It took a few gigs to discover her groove. “It was really strange at the beginning, because I was sort of under the misapprehension that I’m getting booked ’cause I’m in this band, and that’s where the main interest is coming from – and then I would play for these crowds that really didn’t listen to or know the band at all.” These days Hantzis DJs an underground variant of US EDM – “much more in line with house and progressive house.” It’s what the punters are into – but Hantzis is resolute that she not abandon industrial techno. “For now, I’m having fun playing in this realm and we’ll see what happens in the future, because I don’t wanna forget my roots.” She’s produced an epic house single, Heat Of The Night, teaming with LA electro-bass DJ Jayceeoh and the unknown vocalist Bella. Hantzis would eventually like to cut an album. And, as with Heat…, she’d rather recruit other singers. “I don’t really have any passion to be a powerhouse vocalist.”
In the meantime, Hantzis continues to consider film parts. She is “a big fan” of avant-garde Danish director Lars von Trier. “I’m sure you’ll be quite shocked to know that I have not seen Nymphomaniac yet!,” Hantzis cracks up, citing her travel schedule. “I would love to work with Lars von Trier… But, you know, doing something in the same vein as Nymphomaniac, I don’t think it would really do me any favours as an actress – and I also don’t think that [von Trier] would wanna hire me for something like that, because he’s not an obvious guy.”
From the outset Hantzis has assumed control of her body, and established a multi-faceted career. However, according to a disturbing TMZ report, she recently sought a restraining order against her longtime, and now ex-, partner Ian Cinnamon. Does Hantzis identify herself as a feminist? “I always struggle with that, and when I say ‘struggle’, I struggle with that label – not with the idea behind it, but the label of ‘feminism’ and that word and the term I feel like has become so watered down. But, yes, I do support and believe in female empowerment and standing up for yourself and your belief in your rights, no matter where you’re from or who you are. That is very important to me, and it will remain to be. People still associate me with my past, but I don’t really have a problem with that because, if I were to just ignore it and say, ‘I regret everything, I found Jesus,’ and stuff, well, what was all that work for? (laughs) All the things I did would just be a lie!”
Sasha Grey’s DJ tour of Australia kicks off December 5 in Perth. Details below.
Sasha Grey 2014 Australian Tour Dates
Friday, 5th December 2014
Saturday, 6th December 2014
Anyway To The Palace, Melbourne
Sunday, 7th December 2014 – EARLY SHOW
Marco Polo, Sydney
Sunday, 7th December 2014 – LATE SHOW