The Fifty Shades Of Grey film franchise not only defined Dakota Johnson’s career for years, but it also launched her into the spotlight. Leading the film as Anastasia Steele, Johnson became the BDSM sex symbol for middle-aged moms across the country. The trilogy wrapped up four years ago, and as Johnson continues to move onto bigger and better projects, she looks back on the “psychotic” process of making the Fifty Shades films, starting with the creative control the books’ author had over the features.
“I’m a sexual person, and when I’m interested in something, I want to know so much about it. That’s why I did those big naked movies. I signed up to do a very different version of the film we ended up making,” Johnson says before detailing her experience with E.L. James.
“[E.L. James, who goes by Erika,] had a lot of creative control, all day, every day, and she just demanded that certain things happen,” Johnson tells Vanity Fair in a new interview. “There were parts of the books that just wouldn’t work in a movie, like the inner monologue, which was at times incredibly cheesy. It wouldn’t work to say out loud. It was always a battle. Always.”
Charlie Hunnam was originally set to star opposite Johnson as Christian Grey, but eventually dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Johnson states James became so angry about the casting change, she threw out the original script penned by playwright Patrick Marber.
“I was young. I was 23. So it was scary,” Johnson says. “It just became something crazy. There were a lot of different disagreements. I haven’t been able to talk about this truthfully ever, because you want to promote a movie the right way, and I’m proud of what we made ultimately and everything turns out the way it’s supposed to, but it was tricky.”
James Dornan would go on to replace Hunnam, and when filming finally commenced, director Sam Taylor-Johnson tried to work from Marber’s script.
“We’d do the takes of the movie that Erika wanted to make, and then we would do the takes of the movie that we wanted to make,” Johnson continues. “The night before, I would rewrite scenes with the old dialogue so I could add a line here and there. It was like mayhem all the time.”
Taylor-Johnson would depart after the first film, with James Foley taking her place as director. Johnson goes on to describe how this changed on-set dynamics.
“Sam didn’t come back to direct after the first movie, and, as a female, she had brought a softer perspective,” Johnson says. “James Foley came on to direct, and he’s an interesting man. It was different doing those bizarre things with a man behind the camera. Just a different energy. There are things that I still cannot say because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s career and I don’t want to damage anybody’s reputation, but both Jamie and I were treated really well. Erika is a very nice woman, and she was always kind to me and I am grateful she wanted me to be in those movies.”
At the end of the day, Johnson still says she does not regret starring in the trilogy. “I don’t think it’s a matter of regret,” Johnson says. “If I had known… If I had known at the time that’s what it was going to be like, I don’t think anyone would’ve done it. It would’ve been like, ‘Oh, this is psychotic.’ But no, I don’t regret it.”
She concludes, “Look, it was great for our careers. So amazing. So lucky. But it was weird. So, so weird.”