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(Transcripted by us)
Recently, more and more people have been coming up to Jamie Dornan and exclaiming: "So - you're Mr Grey!" Dornan's reaction has been muted. "I go, 'What? No, I'm not. I'm just Jamie, I'm an actor. Nice to meet you.'" Dornan, 32, is a scarily handsome man, but he is also furiously down to earth. It is, he insists in a piercing Belfast brogue, a "weird" way to approach someone. "It's not like people go up to Michael Keaton and go, 'Beetlejuice!'"
Bless. How do we tell him? First, people surely do still go up to Keaton and shriek "Beetlejuice!" - when not shouting "Batman!", or maybe even "Birdman!" And second, of course he's Mr. Grey. He may try, but no amount of straight-up, down-the-pub folksiness will quite undo the Faustian pact Jamie Dornan has entered into for 2015. In two weeks' time, after all, comes the worldwide launch of Fifty Shades of Grey, the movie.
Ever since EL James's humble piece of Twilight fan fiction morphed into an ebook, then a paperback mega-seller, back in 2011, it has been impossible to avoid this romanca suffused with the pleasures of S&M (all slap, no tickle, as posters don't say). Dornan plays the billionaire bondage enthusiast Christian Grey, who wants to subjugate our heroine, Anastasia Steele, for weekends only, whereas she has other, longer-term plans for the two of them. Christian has issues and a "Red Room of Pain": Anastasia has pluck and an unfortunate propensity to think in italics. It's tosh, sure, but it's huge, era-defining tosh. As Dornan puts it: "If you have an Oyster card, you know Fifty Shades of Grey."
And now we have the film. What will it be like? Nobody seems to know. Whispers waft around, and the internet is positively panting with speculation, but previews have been scarce. (I haven't seen it yet, and I asked.) An educated guess would be that the producers are hoping the director, the artist Sam Taylor-Johnson, will cover the whole thing with a high sheen of voyeuristic gloss: I'm sensing lots of stares, squeaks, slowly closing doors. Because how filthy can it be?
It's a mainstream movie, after all, to be released on Valentine's Day. So far, the film has been rated R in America, which means anyone under 17 can see it, if accompanied by a not-so-appropriate adult. Taylor-Johnson has said they look out a lot of sex in the script for instance, the episode where Christian charmingly removes Anastasia’s tampon, still in situ, before giving her a thorough going-over, was sadly axed from the off. This does all seem like going to McDonald’s and asking for one of those sad little salads, but never mind.
What’s more, the production was dogged with rumours throughout. First, the original Christian, the British actor Charlie Hunnam, dropped out; second, nobody seemed to much care for the actress cast Anastasia, Dakota Johnson; third, they did an awful lot of reshoots only a few months ago, for a reported “lack of chemistry”.
In the middle of all this is Dornan, faced with the impossible task of fulfilling everybody’s sexual fantasy, not least the redoubtable EL James’s. Admittedly, as a former face of Dior and Calvin Klein, he has a head start, but it’s still a tall order, “Nobody can walk in and embody what she wants,” the model-a-turned-actor sighs. “It doesn’t exist. But I hope I’m closest thing. I hope I’m a good enough actor, and it’s passable.”
Sitting in a private members’ bar in west London, not far from the home he shares with his wife and baby daughter. Dornan is a little tired: from the wedding of his pal Eddie Redmayne, which he attended the weekend before; from having a young family; and from filming not only Fifty Shades this year, but the second series of The Fall, the BBC thriller in which he played the serial killer Paul Spector – his breakout role, after years in the showbiz wilderness. It took him long enough to shake of the supermodel tag.
If you are wondering whether, in the flesh, Dornan is as handsome as he is on screen, then yes. Yes, he is. Many models are odd-beautiful – cat eyes, a cluck pout, something a bit bizarre. Dornan is just relentlessly handsome, in a terrifyingly symmetrical, classical way. And where once he’d say he didn’t work out – he was just “sporty” – now, from the look of his watermelon biceps, Fifty Shades has pushed him full tilt into the gym.
Anyway, it’s the week before Christmas, and as he sips on a “regular pint”, he can’t wait to get back home, where, he says, he can "see my mates in Belfast and not talk about acting. They don't give a shit!"
Unfortunately for him, though, the rest of the world does. He has seen the movie. Does he like it? "I mean, there's so much going on for the first time, picking apart not only your performance, but the film itself," he says both wearily and warily. "It's hard to watch it for the first time and enjoy it for what it is." Sure, but what is that? It's hard to ascertain what this film is trying to be, beyond a cash cow. Basic Instinct? Last Tango in Paris? The mummy-porn Mamma Mia!?
"It's sexual, of course it's sexual. I personally don't think it's pornographic, but I grew up in a very liberal household," he offers. "I think there'll be a few things in the movie that you don't get very often, which I think is a good thing. I think it's cool that people will go to the cinema and experience something they haven't really seen on the screen before."
He seems to be both deeply tolerant and lightly cringing at the subject matter. Erotica, he points out, has been a constant genre in literature. "Who's that dude with the brilliantly long hair?" Hmm... the Marquis de Sade? "Fabio! He was on the cover of those books. That's a form of erotica." Yet when I try to sum up the film - I go for "classy erotic romance-drama" - he winces.
"I just wouldn't use the word 'erotic'," he says, which is possibly a little alarming, considering the novel's USP. "The word 'erotic' - it brings up different ideas for me. I just think we tried to make a good picture, you know?"
There is a real oddness to Dornan's trajectory. After years spent trading on his classic good looks, his career is now defined by degrees of weird sexual sadism. After Spector comes Grey. Now, let us be clear: Paul Spector is an evil killer who not only stalks and torments women, but murders them. Grey is a romantic hero, a man who may stalk and torment his intended, but who will then release her from his playroom and make her breakfast, and might even marry her if she plays her cards right. Still, to abuse Oscar Wilde yet again, to play one sadist may be unfortunate: to play two looks like carelessness. Isn't he worried about going to extremes?
"No, because it's exciting to me. I think one of the really brilliant things about being an actor is that you get to explore that - to play around with things that you don't personally deem to be, um, you know, appropriate."
Right. Like murder? "That doesn't sit well with me," he laughs. "But it's fascinating to try to embody the mind of people who do find that kind of thing essential to their existence. I think the thing with both Spector and Grey is that they both need what it is they do. Spector is a far more heinous individual than Grey, but they both do stuff that society deems wrong. Spector, a lot more fucking wrong."
In short, they're both "fun" to do, but no, he doesn't want to do them for ever. "There's a fluffy romantic lead in there somewhere, I guess. All in good time."
In fairness, this strange sequence very nearly didn't happen: the Grey rol was given to Hunnam first. Wasn't that odd? Dornan says not; he argues that he didn't have much time to think about it (he was on set in a matter of weeks, which was "brutal"), that "actors replace actors all the time" in Hollywood, and that it's just the mad anticipation for this movie that had everyone following every move.
He's dismissive of the "lack of chemistry" rumours, ("Bollocks") and say the recent reshoots were no big deal. "I have never, ever had a job where you've not done reshoots." He is, naturally, complimentary about Johnson, with whom he had to form a trust early on. "There were days on set where it as, like, 'This is a weird way to make a buck.'"
As for BDSM itself - bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism - he went to a sex club for research, and had a consultant dominatrix on set (tee-hee), but no amount of prying will change the fact that it's not his thing. Mind you, he is refusing to snicker. "My thing about this is that these situations are all consensual. If someone wants to get spanked with a studded paddle while they have a gag in their mouth, that's their choice, that's fine. I like golf. A lot of people can't get their head around that - they really struggle with it."
He even seems happy to become a kind of goodwill ambassador for the cause. "In that scene, I've been told, there's far more acceptance. There are far more people trying to sign up to BDSM clubs. I think that's a good thing. It's like when Wimbledon's on - all of the local tennis courts are rammed!" Well, yes, but there's a rather different use for the racket, isn't there? "Yes. 'Indoors or out?'"
The sporting analogies are no accident. Dornan was sports-mad, growing up. He still is, and gives the impression of preferring any kind of athletic terrain to the rockier surfaces of showbiz. "I'm a competitive little bastard," he reflects. "It's funny. I'm very competitive with sport, but I'm not hugely competitive as an actor. I'm sort of - stubborn."
Upon which, he announces it's the first time he has realised this - which may be true, but seems surprising. Stubbornness seems implicit in his whole career, especially in those tumblweed years when he tried to fight off the stigma of fashion modelling. "I mean, you have to be really stupid or incredibly tenacious," he says, reflecting on his slow climb up. "I don't know, there's not much between those two characteristics."
He blends affable courteousness with a definite mulish streak. For instance, I had expected that, as a former model fighting for credibility, he might feel guilty that he didn't go to acting school - but it turns out not. Quite the reverse. "I'm happy that I'm not trained," he announces. He might be wrong, he concedes, and he can see why you'd need it for Shakespeare, but generally he thinks much of it is instinct. He points to the example of Barkhad Abdi, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for Captain Philips, never having been in a film before. "What more proof do you need that acting is instinctual?"
Dornan's next months are taken up with the huge promotional push for Fifty Shades, before he starts work on a new film, The Siege of Jadotville, which he says he is "obsessed with". A true-life tale of the heroism of Irish troops in war-torn Congo, it is, it's fair to say, a world away from Christian Grey's great conflicts, and presumably a lot more to his taste. But only the most determined - or established - actor couldn turn down the lure of the Red Room. When Fifty Shades opens, he and his family will fly out immediately to somewhere remote, far removed from wi-fi and internet. "We don't usually make a big meal out of Valentine's Day, my wife and I. We won't be going to see the film," he laughs.
After our conversation, I was searching for a way to describe how Dornan felt about Fifty Shades, which could make him either a megastar or a fool (or both). Then it came to me, inevitably: bondage. There's clearly some pleasure there, some pain: submission to the master, but a whiff of defiance, too. Which is all well and good, but how will it all climax?
Thanks to @Gossipgyal & @JamieDornanJPN for the scans.