Dornan will finally be seen as Christian Grey, the mysterious and seductive lead in the movie version of the bestseller Fifty Shades Of Grey.
He became one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actors after playing serial murderer Paul Spector in The Fall, as he attempted to outmanoeuvre Gillian Anderson’s coldly calculating police detective.
The BBC Two television drama, which completed its second gripping series last month, propelled the virtually unknown Dornan, 32, into the big league.
As he is already tipped as the next James Bond after Daniel Craig completes Spectre this year, his fourth film as 007, the spectacular transformation is almost complete.
Yet he admits that all he did as a 20-year-old was play rugby, get drunk and sleep. When he became known, it was for modelling Calvin Klein underpants and jeans and being the boyfriend of Keira Knightley.
“It was as if I didn’t have a life or a family. So far as some people were concerned I appeared on the arm of Keira one day and that is when I started to live.”
His light, ironic sense of humour will come in useful for the clamour around Fifty Shades Of Grey.
The original book from British novelist E L James was self-published but by the time a recognised publisher had bought the rights and she had written two more follow-ups, it had become an international bestseller.
It swiftly earned a reputation as “mummy porn” and film rights were bought by the studio giant Universal.
While the role of Anastasia went to 25-year-old Dakota Johnson, best known as the daughter of Melanie Griffith and one-time Miami Vice star Don Johnson, the casting of Christian Grey became tricky.
Dornan beat all-comers to step in after his compelling performance in The Fall.
“I am never going to please all the readers of the books,” he said, on getting the part. “If half are happy with me then that would be an achievement.
“As for the controversy, there is no forced sex in the film. It is all consensual.
"And from my point of view there is nothing sexy about performing scenes in front of half a dozen hairy men moving cables and lighting equipment.”
There have been reports of heated debates about the sex scenes between novelist James and female director Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose 2009 film on John Lennon’s childhood, Nowhere Boy, won her widespread recognition.
The fact that the film’s planned release last August was delayed and new scenes were filmed in Vancouver just three months ago has only added to the speculation.
“There is quite a lot of intellectual snobbery about the original book itself,” says Dornan.
“So that will carry forward to the film. I am realistic about how various people will react.”
The trailer was watched by 100 million in the first week it was released. If those figures are anything to go by then the film will be set for one of the biggest opening weeks of the year.
“The film is a love story rather than an S&M story,” he says.
“I actually found out in research that more men are submissive than women. Very powerful men, too. It is a far bigger scene than I ever imagined.”
He was living in Holywood, near Belfast – “which was the closest I thought I would get to Hollywood” – following very much a conventional route of GCSEs and university.
“My ideal job in those days was to become a professional rugby player,” he says.
“But once I knew I couldn’t make it and was at uni in Middlesbrough, I realised that this was not what I wanted from life.”
One of his two older sisters convinced him to apply for a reality TV show called Model Behaviour. He did not make the final but was told to stay in touch with the producers.
“It gave me an excuse to move to London and not return to university,” he reflects. “I somehow convinced my dad it was a good idea. I knew less about modelling than I knew about acting.”
But clients liked what they saw.
“It was all a matter of luck,” he insists. “I was told ‘Do not worry about rejection. They have an idea of what they want. If you turn up and you are not it, do not take it personally’.
“The audition process is hideous. No wonder so many actors go mad! You are being judged very many times and it is the judgment process and rejection that is so hard to take.”
For Dornan, there was an extra humiliation that he took in his stride for the Calvin Klein underwear advertisement.
“I had to stand in my briefs for test shots,” he says. “I felt ridiculous. But I was aware it could be a good break.”
He was pragmatic about modelling leading to other possibilities.
“It pays very well and it can open doors,” he says. “Equally it can be mind-numbing. There is only so much of yourself that you can give.”
Film directors soon wanted Dornan to give more.
His movie debut came in 2006 in Marie Antoinette, playing Count Axel Fersen opposite Kirsten Dunst, which had its première at the Cannes film festival. His first scene was with the experienced Dunst on the day they met.
“They were using real champagne in the scene, because there is nothing else that will produce the quality of colour and bubbles,” he says. “A fresh glass was poured for every take and I thought: ‘I could get used to this’.”
We first met on a 2009 film called Shadows In The Sun, in which he had the male lead opposite the famous Oscar-nominated Hollywood veteran, the late Jean Simmons.
His two-year romance with Keira Knightley was already over by then.
“I had been on one of the Pirates Of The Caribbean films with her which had an endless budget,” he recalled.
“You spend so much time just waiting to film a scene. It is very easy to feel lost on a big production.”
He has not had much time to feel lost since.
The Fall fell into his lap, in the sense that he turned up to audition for a minor part and ended up being given the male lead.
So Dornan has made his biggest impact in dark roles. There have, he says, been a few dark moments in his own life. The worst was when his mother Lorna died at the age of 50 from cancer.
“I was a very naive 16-year-old,” he says. “It forced me to grow up very fast.
“The sad thing about being so young is that you do not know yourself that well. Even sadder is that I did not know her well, either.
"She was a nurse, had three kids in five years – I was the youngest – but had always wanted to become an artist.
"She was stunning and glamorous and looked like an old-school movie star. Her parents were strict and thought there was no future in art.”
His father Jim, an obstetrician who turned down a place at Rada for a top medical profession, felt differently and was encouraging from the start.
Dornan insists that he is far from the control freak he portrays in the role that has made him famous.
He is married to actress and singer Amelia Warner, 32. They have 14-month-old baby daughter Dulcie.
“My wife looked at me a little strangely after we watched one episode of The Fall together,” he says. “I did not realise I was capable of coming across so darkly. But it is just an act.”
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