The Girlfriend Experience is a film about sex, starring a porn star, which has no sex in it. Instead, director Steven Soderbergh took a 15-page outline, a cast of non-professional actors, a DV cam and just over two weeks to make an improvisational film about the transaction of pleasure and intimacy.

Returning to his Sex, Lies, and Videotape roots, Soderbergh has stripped away the Ocean’s trilogy gilding and created a non-linear narrative that is as beguiling as it is incomprehensible. Starring adult film star Sasha Grey in her first mainstream movie, the film is about a top tier escort who offers “the girlfriend experience,” or “GFE,” an encounter based around the fantasy that the woman you’re with is your girlfriend for as long as you pay her to be, with most GFE escorts earning about $2,000 an hour.

“Why does kissing apply an incredible surcharge in the sex industry?” Soderbergh muses one afternoon at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, a hotel that has undoubtedly seen its fair share of GFEs. “Because that’s the thing GFEs do that for prostitutes is a no-no. You’re paying top dollar to be able to make out, and I think that’s interesting.”

When asked why he decided not to make the obvious choice and include a sex scene in a film about a sex worker starring someone known for having sex on camera, Soderbergh explains: “The sex act is irrelevant to me because that’s something that’s common to the GFE, the mid-level person who works through an agency and the person who’s working the street. The actual sex act is identical in all those situations. What’s not identical is everything else.”

Casting Grey was less about what she might do on camera physically and more what she would be able to convey emotionally.

“I wanted somebody who, in sexual situations, was going to feel in control, in command and comfortable because I think that’s hard to fake,” Soderbergh says. “She’s obviously fearless. I knew in the back of my mind there probably wasn’t anything I could think of where she’d go, ‘No, I’m not doing that.’”

He says he also chose her because he’d never heard anyone speak about the porn industry the way she did, approaching it with such a clear plan of attack. It’s that same strategic thinking Grey is applying to her career in mainstream films, one she’s quick to clarify does not signal her departure from the adult industry.

“Right now, I want to do both,” Grey decrees. “I think the climate is right, and there’s room for growth. It really hasn’t been done to the full potential. It’s unprecedented that a woman from the adult industry has been able to juggle both at the same time. Usually they quit and it’s like, ‘I’m a redeemed sinner. It’s OK that I hate porn now. You can all accept me.’ And I think that’s bullshit,” she spits, a mischievous smirk spreading across her face.

Grey, an unabashed film geek who admires filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and John Cassavetes and aspires to write and direct, relishes the cynicism her ambition inspires.

“I enjoy people saying no to me and me proving people wrong. That’s just my personality,” she grins.

She says she also learned quite a bit being on set with Soderbergh, who revealed one of his secrets after making 20 films in as many years.

“My rule is to work quickly and not to agonize over things,” he says. “I have a certain amount of money, and I have a certain amount of time. I’ve never gone over-budget, and I’ve never gone over-schedule. When they’re done, they’re done. I’ll do anything that I can to improve them until I’m supposed to deliver them and then I deliver them, and I don’t look at them again.”

The Girlfriend Experience releases in select theaters May 22.