May 21, 2009 / 10:09 AM / 10 years ago

Just a minute with: Steven Soderbergh about new film

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest low-budget film “The Girlfriend Experience” stars a cast of non-actors led by a prolific porn star.

Director Steven Soderbergh attends the "Che" news conference at the 33rd Toronto International Film Festival September 10, 2008. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

“The Girlfriend Experience,” due for release in some U.S. theaters on Friday, follows an upscale Manhattan call girl who provides more than just sex — she offers clients a romantic relationship experience, playing their girlfriend.

The call girl is played by Sasha Grey, 21, an actress who has appeared in more than 80 porn films, while the other 38 cast members are all non-actors, including personal trainer Chris Santos, who plays Grey’s boyfriend in the film.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this film?

A: “It was completely accidental. I was having a drink with (writers) Brian Koppelman and David Levien in Midtown (Manhattan) and we were in this bar and there was a woman across the room that I sensed was somewhat not out of place, but there was something about her affect drawing my attention.

“I asked the two of them ‘what do you think is going on with that person’ and they both said ‘oh she’s obviously a GfE (Girlfriend Experience).’ I didn’t know what this stood for, so they explained to me this form of super high-end escort.

“I was fascinated by this idea that there was a surcharge for intimacy, that what they are providing is something that’s different than a straight sex session, that people are willing to pay extra for the illusion that it’s actually a relationship. I thought it was really interesting and strange.”

Q: How did you research the film?

A: “We interviewed GfE’s. They were intrigued by (the film). They were very helpful, very open. They would have to see the film to let me know if it’s an accurate depiction of their lifestyle or not. There was only one of them we talked to that was in a committed relationship. That was one of the things we talked about — how do relationships work when this is your job? Most of them said it really doesn’t.

“Most of them said if I’m going to get serious with someone then I’ll stop working for a while and play it out. All of them said it never works out with a client. Whenever you move from the client to a real relationship it never works out. Although the one that we met who was in a committed relationship did meet that person as a client and they have been together for a long time. So I guess there are no absolutes. But in general they seem to think that doesn’t work.”

Q: Why is there a lot of discussion about the state of the economy in the film?

A: “That’s just a consequence of the method that we used when we were making the film, which was that people were speaking for themselves and as themselves. And that’s what was on everyone’s mind at that time. These are very structured improvisations and everything just kept going there. And that was fine because I was always looking for ways to make the scenes somehow involve money or a transaction.

“It was true even when we weren’t shooting. All everybody was talking about was the election and the economy. The fact that we can make something and get it out quickly, I think in this case, is nice because there’s an immediacy to it. You watch the movie and you step outside and the world of the movie is still right there.”

Q: What do you like about making independent films as opposed to some of the Hollywood studio films you have made like “Erin Brokovich,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen”?

A: “The challenges are different and they kind of feed each other in a way. You can appropriate solutions from both. In this case to work like this — short shoot, low budget, nonprofessional actors, small crew — I can try things that if they work can be tweaked and used in other ways.

“It also forces you to make real choices about how you’re going to do things and then you just live with that. Your working without a net but the rope’s two feet off the ground so you’re not going to kill yourself, you might sprain an ankle, but nobody’s going to die. It’s a safe place to take some chances with things.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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