May 19, 2009 / 1:25 PM / 10 years ago

Director Soderbergh uses nonactors for latest film

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With a cast of nonactors led by a porn star, director Steven Soderbergh describes his new low-budget film “The Girlfriend Experience” as a “fictionalized documentary” — a style he now plans to bring to Hollywood.

Director Steven Soderbergh speaks before the screening of the film "Che" at its Japan premiere in Tokyo December 16, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

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

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

“It’s kind of like a fictionalized documentary because all the people in the film do those jobs that they’re doing in the film. Like the guy at the prepaid phone store is the guy at the prepaid phone store,” Soderbergh told Reuters in an interview.

“It really makes you analyze how much we buy into this construct of what acting is because when you see someone who’s obviously not acting, it’s really different. It’s kind of startling,” he said.

The Oscar-winning director said he had a very detailed scene-by-scene treatment for the film, but no script. The cast were given a goal for each scene, which they then improvised.

Known for experimental methods with films like 2008’s epic “Che” and his 1989 feature debut “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” Soderbergh plans to cast up to 60 percent of his next Hollywood studio film “Moneyball,” starring Brad Pitt, with nonactors.

“‘Moneyball’ for me is going to be the culmination of this thing that we’ve been messing with for 10 years of fusing real people into the world of a movie,” said Soderbergh.

“I’m ... trying to do something that’s just going to be different, that’s going to feel more like life than a movie.”


Soderbergh, who won a best director Oscar in 2001 for “Traffic,” said he cast Grey after reading a profile of her in Los Angeles Magazine in 2006.

“I needed someone who, in sexual situations, felt a complete sense of command,” he said. “That’s hard to fake.”

The director said the idea for the film came after he met with screenwriters Brian Koppelman and David Levien at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan in 2006 and his attention was drawn to a woman in the bar, who he was told was a “GfE” or “girlfriend experience” call girl.

“I didn’t know what this acronym stood for so (Koppelman and Levien) explained to me this form of super high-end escort and I was really fascinated by this idea that there was a surcharge for intimacy,” he said.

He said several escorts who offered this particular service were interviewed as research for the film.

The Magnolia Pictures movie, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, has received generally positive reviews with Variety calling it an “arthouse gem.”

Made for $1.7 million, “The Girlfriend Experience” is the second of six low-budget films that Soderbergh signed a deal with Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment to make. The first film made as part of the deal was 2005’s “Bubble.”

Soderbergh said he will begin filming “Moneyball,” due for release in 2011, in the next few months. The film follows Oakland A’s baseball team general manager Billy Beane and his bid to use a computer generated analysis to draft players.

The director said that among the nonactors in the film will be many of the real players from that team. “The reason I think it will work is that they are playing themselves and there’s really no wrong answer there,” he said.

Editing by Mark Egan and Cynthia Osterman

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