dakota johnson deconstructs the 50 shades hype
We talk sex scenes with Jamie Dornan, being on set with Sam Taylor-Johnson and why Anastasia Steele is actually a feminist with the 50 Shades star.
As the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, and the granddaughter of Hitchcock's muse Tippi Hedren, Dakota Johnson was always destined for success. Born in Austin, Texas, the 25 year old beauty spent her youth snapping up modelling jobs, and carving out a career as an actress. In 1999, she appeared in Crazy In Alabama, opposite her mum, and has since starred in the short-lived sitcom Ben & Kate; played the sex-obsessed (see where this is going?) girlfriend of Jason Segal in The Five-Year-Engagement; and had bit parts in The Social Network and 21 Jump Street. In short, she was a million miles away from being a house-hold name, which is why it came as such a shock when she was cast as Anastasia Steele, in what is bound to be one of the most divisive (there were hoards of angry protestors outside the premiere) films of the year: 50 Shades of Grey. It's been one week since the film's release and already Dakota Johnson has become the tweet of the town, with half the world commending her for empowering her character and preventing her from becoming a victim (like she is in the book), with the other half condemning her for being in a film that supposedly promotes domestic violence- something which Dakota is quite keen to set right.
How has it been getting used to all the hype surrounding the film?
It's crazy. I don't think you ever get used to it. If you do then I think you have a serious problem.
E. L. James' fans, in particular, seem to be quite intense.
She's got some fans. But they're cool. People are so excited about it and it's cool to be involved with something that everyone's so excited about.
Was it challenging being in a film that already had so much hype surrounding it?
Yeah. Just because you read a book and everybody has an idea of what the character should be like, what she should look like, what the film should be like. It was an interesting challenge to try and do something creative with it, but also stay true to the book and the fans.
What kind of character traits did you want to emphasise from the book and which did you want to play around with?
When I read the book I found humour in it. I found an array of types of people in Anastasia, and I really wanted to amplify the comedic bits, as some relief from the really intense moments. You have to be able to laugh a little because it's so crazy.
How important was it to you to make Anastasia more empowered than she is in the book?
It was really important for both Sam and I to maintain her level of strength and amplify that. She's a woman of incredible self-worth who goes through something so profound; she goes on this insane journey. She's not a weak person; I don't see her as a victim at all. I really wanted people to leave the room feeling a bit empowered.
Would you consider her character a feminist?
Obviously there was a lot of tension between writer E. L. James and director Sam Taylor-Johnson on set, how did that affect you?
There are always battles on set. There's a battle to make anything creative. It's a precious thing to Erika and it's a precious thing to Sam, so, you know, it happens.
How important was it to have a female director, particularly Sam?
So important. That's one of the main reasons I wanted to do the movie. Because I knew that none of the sex scenes would be gratuitous. She knows how to film those, she knows how to make the emotional undertones so specific during sex scenes that you feel more than you think you do. Instead of being like, ''oh I'm watching a sex scene right now,'' you feel the emotions you're supposed to.
50 Shades of Grey is a global phenomenon, how do you think it will affect the representation of sex in the future?
I don't know yet. I'm excited to see where it goes. I think it will be positive. There's nothing really negative in the movie. If anything I hope it's a vessel for women to not be ashamed of their sexuality, and men. And also so that women aren't ashamed of their bodies. Women are beautiful and should be proud of themselves.
You share a lot of sex scenes with Jamie Dornan, what were they like to film?
Sometimes they were weird just because you're naked in front of a lot of people. It's just so technical; it's not a very sensual environment.
Was it weird when suddenly the director shouts cut and you're naked?
A little weird. I'd be immediately covered and we'd start talking about what we needed to change and make better. There was some giggling, but I have giggle fits all the time, especially on set. But there isn't really any time for it to be awkward.
How did you feel about all those negative signs saying, ''50 shades of Blue, because not all Anna's survive their Christians'' and ''Christian Grey is a rapist'' that were held up at the premiere?
Oh my God. I didn't see those! But I mean, I would love for them to see the film and to do some research into the psychology and lifestyle of the BDSM subculture. It's not about abuse; it's about people's taste in pleasure. The whole dominant/submissive relationship - it's just roles. Everything Anna does in the movie is consensual, it's her choice. And everything in the book as well. With the book you have infinite words to explain yourself, but you don't have that time in movies. So we were very careful in not trying to make this woman a victim. Also it's entertainment, it's a story, these people aren't real. I don't think we're going around promoting domestic violent.
How much research did you have to put in?
Jamie did a lot of research because he really needed to, to be perfect at it. But the thing with Anna is that she'd never seen anything like it. So I really wanted it to be a genuine experience. I never saw the Red Room until the scene. You see me see it for the first time in the movie.
How did you react when you saw it?
I thought it was incredibly creative. The room was so beautiful. Everything right down to the most minute details is perfect. All the drawers and cupboards have things in it. It's all real.
Did you and Jamie play around with the equipment?
We'd joke around at all time. There are some really crazy things in there that I never even knew existed. There are certain chairs for certain positions. There's a tiny little chair that looks like what happens when you go to the gynaecologist, you know, when you put your feet up.
I hate those.
Aside from all the sex, how important was it to emphasise the fact that this is a love story?
That's the thing, which I think people are so attracted to in the books and the movie. It's an incredible love story. It's like a really dark, twisted fairytale.
Where do you see yourself going next?
After 50 Shades I did two films - Black Hole and Bigger Splash - which are completely different. Bigger Splash I play a sociopath. The next film I'm doing is How to be Single, which is a comedy with some really incredible actresses. I'm really excited for that. One of my most favourite things in the world is to be on set on a comedy. It's just so funny all the time.
How do you feel about the rise of all-female casts?
It's so exciting. It's a lot nicer for everyone to feel supported by women. I feel like women know what happens privately in a woman's mind and those are the things that are becoming more relevant in art and movies - glimpses of what women are like with their friends and on their own. Men don't really understand that.
What would be our dream role and who would you most like to work with?
I'd love to work with Meryl Streep. But also maybe not Merely Streep - because I'm a terrible actor compared to her.
A cameo role then.
Yes. I'd also like to play Cat Woman. I could totally be Cat Woman. Write that down so everybody knows!
Text Tish Weinstock
Photography courtesy of Universal and Focus