'Fifty Shades of Grey' stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson
Jamie Dornan was in his pajamas, and anxious. It was 1:30 a.m. London time, and the 31-year old actor was watching reruns of Storage Wars and praying for the phone to ring. “I was sort of pretending I wasn’t waiting, but the phone was in my hand, halfway to my ear,” Dornan says in throaty Irish brogue. He had just flown back from Los Angeles, where he had auditioned for the role of the world’s hottest control freak, Christian Grey, in Fifty Shades of Grey. Landing this part would propel him to instant stardom, and so, with his pregnant wife, actress Amelia Warner, snoozing upstairs, Dornan tried to focus on the show. Minutes later, the film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), phoned to tell the former Calvin Klein model that he was about to become the object of millions of women’s fantasies. “There was a slight fear,” Dornan says now, his wiry frame huddled on a couch in a Los Angeles photo studio. “But beyond anything else, I was really fucking excited.”
This weeks’s Entertainment Weekly cover story features the first exclusive interviews with the two stars of the new film based on Fifty Shades of Grey, the publishing phenomenon from British author E L James — about the seduction of virginal college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) by a beautiful billionaire with a penchant for sadomasochism (Dornan) — that has sold 90 million copies worldwide and ignited the libidos of a generation of women.
The stars open up about what drew them to the roles, the pressures behind getting the roles right for the fans, and how they feel about baring it all. For Johnson, 24, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, it meant seriously working out for the first time in her life. “Obviously, I want to look good naked,” the newly brunette actress tells EW. “I totally understand now why people exercise, because it kind of fucking feels awesome.”
Dornan, who spent his early days as a model frequently undressing for the camera, isn’t the least bit anxious about the graphic sex scenes he and Johnson are about to film. “I’m a fairly worldly guy,” says Dornan. “I grew up in a very liberal place. I’m not saying we had a playroom, but I’m not shocked by [the sex in the book]. It’s essential to tell the story. I can’t believe films that don’t invoke the sexual side of it. So it works for me.”
Everything also seems to be working now, too, for the studio behind the film, Universal Pictures and its indie subsidiary Focus Features, which purchased the rights to James’ trilogy back in March 2012. The studio experienced some initial bumps along the way, particularly with the initial casting (and subsequent departure) of Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Christian Grey. The film, which begins production in Vancouver on Dec. 2, was originally set for release this August, but has now been pushed to Valentine’s Day weekend 2015.
More from the interview
In a matter of weeks, Jamie Dornan will suit up to play the damaged billionaire Christian Grey — opposite Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele — in the adaptation of E L James’ bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The Northern Irish actor landed the role through a circuitous route, replacing Sons of Anarchy actor Charlie Hunnam after he dropped out of the film in mid-October. In this week’s cover story, he spoke with EW exclusively about his trek through the audition process and how he’s prepping his body for the part.
It’s the most high-profile role of Dornan’s career, one he’s approaching both rationally and with a great degree of excitement. “I certainly don’t fear it,” Dornan says. “I already got a glimpse into working with [director] Sam [Taylor-Johnson] at the test, and I’d met [co-star] Dakota [Johnson] by then. So I had a glimpse into how I felt it would be if I got the part. None of it scared me.”
Dornan initially performed an audition on tape for the first round of casting but didn’t progress to a face-to-face meeting until Hunnam bailed last month. “You know, one door closes, another opens,” Dornan says. ”When he dropped out, I didn’t instantly think, ‘Oh here we go, maybe I should cancel that holiday,’ but I did feel that maybe we’d revisit the idea of me.”
Revisit they did. Dornan was flown out to Los Angeles for an intense, day-long audition opposite Dakota Johnson, who had landed her role in early September. The two re-enacted the initial interview scene when Ana first meets Christian at his spacious office in Seattle, followed by the climactic scene near the end of the book.
“There’s quite a lot going on in both scenes,” Dornan says. “The interview scene is sort of a condensed version of the journey that the two of them go on. There are so many layers in it. It’s a beast.”
Since landing the role, Dornan has had to adjust to increased media attention, including paparazzi who have been hovering around him and his pregnant wife, Amelia Warner, who is due in a couple of weeks. (Warner will deliver their baby in Vancouver, where Fifty Shades is set to film.)
“It’s happening, but not in an unmanageable way at the moment,” Dornan says of the paparazzi. “I’ve been around it before and it’s ugly, but I’m glad I’m 31 and not 21, and married. I feel very settled. I’m not running in and out of clubs at 5 a.m. anymore.”
Dornan isn’t required to add a lot of muscle to play Christian Grey but the former Calvin Klein model does plan to train before disrobing. “I’ve never felt that Christian needs to be some kind of monster, but I think it’s very clear how he conditions himself and looks after himself,” he said. “I take decent enough care of myself anyway, so obviously I’m gonna up it slightly with training, but we don’t have any intention to really bulk up. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
Dornan’s family has been supportive of his new role, with his father and sisters offering their encouragement. Only his childhood friends have been teasing him for taking on the kinky control freak. “A friend of mine texted me saying, ‘I heard about Fifty Shades. Congratulations on the role. That’s going to be disgusting. I won’t watch it.’” One hopes that friend is the exception, rather than the rule.
*More from the magazine's published version*
Fans were elated with Dornan announcement: His smoldering gaze, lean physique, and much-lauded abs did not go unnoticed, nor did the acting chops he’d demonstrated as a serial killer on the BBC series The Fall. “I’m a monstrous fan,” tweeted Girls creator Lena Dunham. “Wasn’t allowed to be attracted to him on The Fall bc he played a sexmurderer. 50 Shades is my big chance.”
Dornan had mailed in an audition tape during the first round of Christian casting but was never called in to screentest. He now has paparazzi hovering around his neigborhood, and he's just beginning to grapple with what this new level of fame might mean. It has already changed his life on personel level: His first child will now be born in Vancouver, where Fifty Shades will film, instead of in England. Still, he insist, things aren't out of hand. "It dosen't feel mental on the inside," he says. "I'm sure from the outside it looks crazy, but... I'm lucky I'm on the inside."
She and Dornan are just now getting acquainted, but they already seem at ease, joking at the EW photo shoot about which of them is getting more compliments on the Christian-Anastasia hairstyles. That camaraderie could become critical, because these two people are about to get to know each other very well.
Yet while those at the top analyze the risks and potential rewards, Johnson and Dornan face the daunting task of translating fans’ expectations into a series that is both intimate and cinematic. “A lot of people care about this book, and I’m not under any illusion that they don’t,” Dornan says, eyes cast downward. “All I can say is I’m going to do everything in my power to portray Christian Grey as truthfully as possible. I can’t guarantee that’s going to please everyone – just me being cast doesn’t please everyone – but it’s happened and I’m going to give it everything.” A bad boy with a true heart? Now, that’s a fantasy man.