At first glance, the casting of porn star-turned-actress Sasha Grey in director David Guy Levy’s Would You Rather (out now in limited theatrical release, and On Demand with InDemand, Sundance and iTunes under the IFC Midnight stamp) seems like a novelty gimmick. In context, though, this small bit of casting – subtle in comparison to that of her co-star, Jeffrey Combs’, in the sadistic, rich showboat role – makes quite a bit of sense. In the same way that Grey’s career as an adult performer has been notoriously without boundaries, her character, Amy, is unflinching in the wildest of circumstances, when vying for a hefty sum of cash at the expense of the health – or lives – of others. Competing against Shepard Lambrick’s (Combs) other desperate, down-on-their-luck dinner guests, she’s not afraid to get down and dirty, once all in attendance realize they’ve gotten more than the “charity” they’ve come seeking.
Whereas Iris (Brittany Snow), Lucas (Enver Gjokaj) and the rest of a group of unwilling participants in their host’s staged fight to the death attempt to work together to make it out alive, Grey’s Amy gladly shocks, stabs and smiles her way through Would You Rather‘s proceedings till the bitter end. Diabolique chatted with Grey about Would You Rather – both the film, and that oh-so-memorable childhood game on which it’s based.
DIABOLIQUE: Would You Rather is your second go at a horror film since Smash Cut, which you did with the late David Hess, Michael Berryman and Herschell Gordon Lewis. Now you’re adding Jeffrey Combs to your list of co-collaborators.
SASHA GREY: [Laughs]
DIABOLIQUE: Does working with so many cult favorites teach you anything that other work like, say, The Girlfriend Experience might not?
GREY: Oh, for sure. On The Girlfriend Experience, I was the only person who hadn’t had acting experience. In films like these, you’re talking about actors who have done the good, the bad and everything in between. When you’re working on a low-budget film, you don’t have the luxury of time. To be able to watch these actors conserve their energy and bring it every single time the camera’s rolling is really inspiring. It’s all about exercising your talents; it’s like a muscle, you know, keeping them warmed up before a long run. It was really inspiring.
DIABOLIQUE: Would You Rather’s horror is conveyed by the extremity of choices made quickly. Your work in porn has often been defined by your willingness to go to extremes that others often don’t, and here we see your character, Amy, as the sole participant of the “game” who throws herself in without hesitation. Were you conscious of that connection at any point?
GREY: I actually haven’t compared the two, but now that you say that, that’s interesting. As far as David [Guy Levy]’s thoughts, I’m not sure. We haven’t spoken in about two plus years, so my memory isn’t the freshest. But in an ensemble cast like this, you have to have that antagonist. You have to have a character like that, someone who’s sort of one of the bad guys, but maintains a sense of humanity. She’s trying to buy her freedom from her husband, who killed her daughter. She’s lost faith in humanity. She has nothing left to live for. This is really it for her.
DIABOLIQUE: Outside of the film, have you played “Would You Rather”?
GREY: [Laughs] Yes, actually. I used to play it when I was younger, obviously. But I was driving home from Malibu the other day with some friends, and we were joking around, but we were doing the more “what’s grosser than gross” version of “Would You Rather,” rather than our film version of “Would You Rather” [laughs].
DIABOLIQUE: It can take you to some pretty sick places. My friends and I went through a phase where we played that game incessantly. Some of the hypotheticals involved bathing in infected blood, bestiality…
GREY: [Laughs] Oh my God!
DIABOLIQUE: You can’t recall any “choices”?
GREY: Um, I can’t repeat most of them [laughs]! Well, okay, here’s one… We were really tired when we were driving home, and my friend would always start the question “Would you rather…” and there would be a first idea, but we could never come up with a second one. But my friend said, “Would you rather have an abnormal pregnancy where the child grew out of your butt and then moved to your leg…or…”
DIABOLIQUE: That sounds like something out of The Thing.
GREY: [Laughs] Basically, you could never really sit comfortably. You would always have to be cautious about where you were carrying the child. And after you give birth, your body’s destroyed, because the baby essentially moved around your body, and you’d have stretch marks and be saggy. Or, “would you rather have a child that’s born with defects?” When you go through the hypotheticals, you think, well, obviously you want to give birth to a healthy child that would have equal opportunities. So, we asked, “If you have the abnormal pregnancy, does that mean you can get plastic surgery afterwards?” [Laughs] When you go in, you start asking all these questions, like, “Well, if I choose that, could I do this?”
DIABOLIQUE: I imagine the film’s been eliciting some strong reactions from crowds. How has it played with a packed house?
GREY: I went to a screening at Cinefamily on Friday night. We did a Q&A with David Levy and Jeffrey – and yeah, people laugh at the right moments, and are disgusted at the right moments. It was fun to see it with an audience.
– By Max Weinstein