In May 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey was released as an e-book, launching an immediate sensation. The trilogy, which started as Twilight fan fiction, was published by Random House a year later. In the series, author E.L. James describes the seduction of virginal college student Anastasia Steele by Christian Grey, a beautiful billionaire and secret sadomasochist. Fifty Shades went on to sell more than 90 million copies worldwide, ensuring that we’ll never look at a tie in the same way again. In March 2012 Universal Pictures purchased the rights to the books, setting the stage for a highly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey feature film. As the December 2 production date approaches, we read Entertainment Weekly’s Fifty Shades of Grey cover story and recap how the film became a reality, who’s playing who, and everything else we know so far.
Sex Sells: Like one of Christian Grey’s designer ties, or his elaborately furnished playroom, Fifty Shades wasn’t cheap. Focus Features, a Universal Pictures subsidiary, paid $5 million for the rights to the series. Additionally, Entertainment Weekly estimates that the first feature film will come with a “$40-million-or-so” price tag. Still, the studio expects that investment to pay off with a huge hit global franchise.
Ratings Games: In Entertainment Weekly’s recent Fifty Shades of Grey cover story, they refer to the upcoming movies as “an R-rated film franchise”. But Kelly Marcel, the British screenwriter entrusted with the task of adapting Fifty Shades for film, seems to have other ideas. In January, Marcel told The Sunday Times that, “there is going to be a lot of sex in the film. It will be rated NC-17.” Get out the whips and paddles; we sense some behind-the-scenes drama.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson is No Stranger to On-Screen Sex: The decision to give the 46-year-old director the job was a definite curveball, given the high profile of the film and Taylor-Johnsons limited number of credits. Fans and business insiders were expecting a bigger name; well-known directors like Gus Van Sant and Joe Wright were rumored to be vying for the X-rated opportunity. Despite Taylor-Johnsons’ relative inexperience, the director’s work lends itself to Fifty Shades’ erotic content. Johnson reportedly landed the gig in part due to her 2008 short film, Love You More, which told the story of two teenagers losing their virginity.
Good and Bad News for Fifty Shades Traditionalists: According to Entertainment Weekly, the film will not feature Anastasia’s “Inner Goddess” monologue, which is a staple of Anastasia’s narration throughout the series. However, the riding crop, Christian’s necktie, and the famous hardware-store scene are all slated to make the transition from book to screen.
E.L James is the Real Control Freak: Christian Grey is famously OCD when it comes to his business, his appearance, and his sex life. But it seems like Grey’s control freak tendency might have been loosely based on Fifty Shades author E.L James herself. Apparently Focus Features wooed the former fanfictress with script, casting, and director approval. Fans of the books will be happy to learn that James is taking such a hands-on approach to the film adaptation of her handsy trilogy.
The Never-Ending Search for Christian Grey: Apparently, brooding multi-millionaires with dark copper hair, gray eyes, and a penchant for punishment don’t grow on trees. The hunt for Christian Grey took months, and was complicated by an overactive rumor mill. Stars from Ryan Gosling to Garrett Hedlund were rumored to be up for the part, and fans even started a Change.org petition in an attempt to cast Matt Bomer in the starring role. On September 2, E.L James finally took to Twitter to announce that Sons of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam would be playing Christian Grey. But not so fast! Hunnam dropped out of the film just three weeks before production was slated to begin, citing a packed schedule. Luckily model-turned-actor Jamie Dornan was willing to take his place, settling the casting crisis once and for all.
Jamie Dornan Isn’t Shocked by Fifty Shades’ X-Rated Sex Scenes: 31-year-old Dornan hails from Northern Ireland, and made his name modeling for Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch. The model showed off his acting chops in ABC’s Once Upon A Time and BBC’s The Fall. While Fifty Shades is a make or break role for Dornan, there’s one thing he definitely isn’t afraid of: the film’s raunchy content. The actor insists, “I’m a fairly worldly guy, I grew up in a very liberal place. I’m not saying we had a playroom, but I’m not perturbed or 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.”
And Don’t Worry, Lena Dunham’s Totally Onboard: On the heels of Dornan’s controversial casting, Dunham took to Twitter to voice her support. The writer and actress behind HBO’s Girls raved, “I’m a monstrous fan. Wasn’t allowed to be attracted to him on The Fall bc he played a sex-murderer. 50 Shades is my big chance.”
Delays, Delays, Delays: While the saga of casting Christian Grey eventually had a happy ending, Charlie Hunnam’s decision to leave the film caused serious upheaval. Fifty Shades’ starting Vancouver production date was pushed back a month until December 2. Additionally, the release of the movie itself, which was originally planned for next summer, has been moved to Valentine’s Day weekend 2015.
All About Anastasia: But Fifty Shades isn’t just about Christian Grey. The books also center on the story of protagonist Anastasia Steele, a virginal college student and sadomasochist-in-training. Anastasia will be played by Dakota Johnson, a relative newcomer who’s best known for her roles in The Social Network and TV’s Ben and Kate. Johnson swears, “I’m not afraid of this story, I understand this girl and I get it.” But the 24-year-old is still slightly afraid of her parents, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. She explains, “I’m obviously not going to invite them to take part in this experience. I don’t need to watch movies of theirs where they do things like this. Why would you want to watch that?”
What About Everyone Else? While the Internet blew up with Christian and Anastasia rumors, Universal quietly cast the movie’s supporting roles. Jennifer Ehle of Zero Dark Thirty will be playing Carla, Ana’s mother. The role of Elliot Grey, Christian’s older, goofier brother, will be realized by True Blood’s Luke Grimes. Lastly, Victor Rasuk will play Jose, a friend who is competing for Anastasia’s affections.
Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson: Just weeks away from the production start date, Universal Pictures has yet to announce who will be playing Elena aka Mrs. Robinson, Christian Grey’s close friend and BDSM mentor. Rose McGowan is reportedly up for the part. The 40-year-old Charmed star met with E.L. James recently, sparking rumors of an impending casting announcement. Meanwhile Katie Holmes is said to be vying for the role as well, and has reportedly been spending extra hours in the gym in an attempt to get in shape for the film.
Not Your Average Audition: Actress Chloe Bridges of The Carrie Diaries was apparently scandalized when she read over the Fifty Shades audition script sides. Bridge told Cosmopolitan that “The scene was, like, the girl telling her friends about some sexcapade she had, but it goes into extreme detail and uses the word sperm a couple times.” Apparently, the actress read the scene “and then was like, I really can’t do this.” While Bridges ultimately wasn’t cast, it seems like she’ll treasure the story of her inappropriate audition for years to cum.