It was May 1st, 2010, about 7:00 pm at the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles... I had just flown in 4 hours earlier... I ordered room service, the room service waiter brought it up and saw my camera on the table. He asked, “are you a director?” I normally wouldn’t leave the equipment visibly out like that, but I was a little out of it from being hungry so I stammered out, “Oh yeah... just working on something.”
Priya and her assistant were driving over, I had my question list ready, stored on my (then brand spanking new) iPad, I was ready to go and be the objective interviewer..., but let’s face it, it was Priya Rai. How did Eddie Vedder put it ? “Thoughts arrive like butterflies...”
Her assistant texted me they’re at the bar, I slung the camera on my shoulder and went down to meet them. After the “oohs and ahhs” about having a new iPad, I set up and we started talking. I took a bit of time to get settled in, I noticed was she was a little nervous too. I was going to be asking her things she probably isn’t routinely asked by AVN or LukeIsBack.
Although I didn’t tell her at the time, she was one of my first interviewees for the film, I wanted to get the most “challenging” and well, exciting ones out of the way first.
We started off with some small talk, how does one make small talk with a porn star? I was trying to find the right way to transition from “A lot of traffic on the 101?” to “So, what was the first gangbang scene like?” She was kind and sensed my hesitation, and within 5 minutes of the interview she blurts, “Wait.. you’ve seen me F#$@, right?” oh.. and this was with the matter-of-factness that a person may ask his roommate, “Wait, have you seen my water bottle?”
After that I figured she'd be willing to talk about anything, and she graciously answered all my questions about her many experiences. She mentioned she was adopted by a white couple in Arizona, and therefore wasn’t raised particularly Indian or even Indian-American. But, inhabiting the body that she does, she’s certainly subject to many of the preconceptions and expectations that many of us are. We talked about some that are particular to her industry like being asked to do exotic Bollywood fantasy scenes, being asked if she has any relation to Aishwarya Rai (she chose the stage name before knowing who she was) and her family eventually finding out what she does. She told me she got called “Prius” once, then quickly reminded all of us that “I'm a Mercedes!”
As obvious as it may seem, she’s not much different than anyone who’s made a tough choice, and just pushing forward with it, come what may (err. pun sort of intended?) After, she took a photo with me, and I was just thinking how cool and open-minded she was to take the time to work with a first time filmmaker, doing a film about a community she admittedly doesn’t fully identify with, but clearly feels some connection to. Finally, I was happy she saw my passion and dedication for the project, and ultimately we connected that way. We both were dedicated to what we were doing.
Lots of people ask me about her interview, “how did you get her to be in it? what was she like? was she tough to talk to?” I feel, because she was so open about a topic that a lot of us have some awkwardness around, the interview turned out to be one of the easiest and free-flowing.