ew women in the world are more self-actualized than Erika Leonard, better known as E. L. James, the 51-year-old, dark-tressed British author who created a compendium of her sexual fantasies, called the book Fifty Shades of Grey, and watched in shock as the book and its two sequels (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, making her more than $100 million. That is, few women except Sam Taylor-Johnson, director of the first film in the Fifty Shades trilogy (yes, there will be not one, not two, but three movies, provided that the first, which opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day, isn’t a colossal misfire). Like James, Taylor-Johnson, 47, is British. She’s also futzed with her name of late, after falling in love with Aaron Johnson, the 24-year-old Godzilla and Avengers: Age of Ultron star, whom she cast as a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, her first feature film.
The two were married in 2012, and together they have two daughters, whom Aaron delivered on his own at their home in London. Wasn’t that scary? I asked. “No, it was amazing,” said Taylor-Johnson, adding that women shouldn’t listen to male doctors at hospitals who tell them to give birth in a certain way. “I hate that,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Screw off—it’s my body.’
On a recent weekday at 8:30 A.M., those young girls, plus Taylor-Johnson’s two daughters from her previous marriage to art dealer Jay Jopling, a near tween and a teenager, were climbing around her Hollywood Hills villa like macaques on a Hindu temple. They had moved in three days earlier. “It was move the family to Los Angeles to finish Fifty Shades or commute from London,” said Taylor-Johnson, a slender, self-possessed blonde who had dressed in sporty blue shorts and a white T-shirt in expectation of taking a hike. The kids went off to the playground with their father. “Aaron takes care of the girls when I’m working and he’s not,” she said. “And we’ve also got two dogs who are girls, so Aaron is completely outnumbered: it’s seven to one in this household! There are crazy hormones here.”
Stepping lightly in her sneakers, Taylor-Johnson headed out of her home and began hiking up a steep path. “I have had to [hike] every day because of the madness of Fifty Shades. It helps me clear my mind and helps me keep sane,” she explained. We talked about her childhood in England, spent on welfare in a “strange, dark, gloomy house that still gives me nightmares,” before she made her way to Goldsmiths art school, where she befriended Damien Hirst and many of the young artists known as the Y.B.A.’s, or Young British Artists. “In the art world, the more blue-collar you are, the more you get invited to dinners with ambassadors of whatever, because you’re presumed to be an interesting person,” she said, a bit dryly. Jopling, Taylor-Johnson’s first husband—an Eton-educated son of a Tory M.P.—became one of the most powerful art dealers in Europe and the primary salesman of the Y.B.A.’s, including Hirst and Tracey Emin. The couple lived in a Georgian home in Marylebone. “We had staff, yeah,” she said. “Life was all about parties and entertaining.”
Then tragedy struck: at 29, Taylor-Johnson was diagnosed with colon cancer. At 33, breast cancer. At 40, divorced. None of these experiences, she said, did anything but make her stronger. “I’ve experienced, you know, a few major challenges in my life, and I think it definitely gave me a determination to go feet first into things,” she said. “Once you’ve stared into the void … you grab life by the horns and run with it.” Has making Fifty Shades been a challenge? I asked. “Oh, yes, definitely,” she said. “But once you’ve experienced the kind of fear I’ve experienced, the fear of taking on something big like Fifty Shades is a silly fear, that’s just fear of your own ego.”
Dirt crunched under Taylor-Johnson’s sneakers as the hiking path split in three. She pointed straight ahead. “So there’s the hard-core way, the semi-hard-core way, and then the one for people who think they’re doing it the hard way.” I had a sense of which one she wanted to go up, and begged for mercy. “O.K., we’ll do the easy one,” she said, smiling. “No need to show off.”
There are few book-to-film projects in recent memory that have been as anticipated, debated, and kept under wraps as Fifty Shades of Grey. At first, E. L. James says, she wasn’t sure she even wanted to make a film, but then jokes, “Have you met my agent, [Valerie Hoskins]?” She adds, “When I started out writing Fifty Shades and sharing it with friends on the Internet, I had no idea this is where this would all lead. But when they went viral and started selling in millions, Hollywood came calling, and the demand for a movie, from studios and from fans, became almost overwhelming. I used to work in TV [as a producer], and I enjoyed it, but like a lot of TV people I’d always wondered how it would be to work on a movie. I thought this would be my one opportunity, so I said yes.” She adds, “There’s all sorts of fun you can have in a darkened room … You can eat lots of popcorn, for example … But there’s a special thrill seeing what used to exist only in your head and on the page up there on a screen for an audience to experience together. In a way, your daydreams come to life before your eyes, if not always in exactly the way you imagined.”
When the Fifty Shades film rights came up for sale, in 2012, they created an explosion in Hollywood. At least six studios and dozens of producers were interested, meeting with James and her agent in Los Angeles and London. Universal—chaired by another fortysomething British woman, Donna Langley—and Focus Features won the rights, paying what’s thought to be as much as $5 million, plus a far bigger than usual slice of the gross proceeds for the author. James was over the moon, and not just about her financial haul.
While Universal will not comment on the details of the deal, Hoskins told Mike Fleming in a Deadline.com interview, “I sent out a term sheet of what we wanted … something that was truly collaborative…. The Universal offer fulfilled it 100%. The goal was to protect the material and its manifestations into movies…. E.L. said she would be all over it like a rash.” Insiders have implied James managed to retain control over the film—unusual for any writer, let alone a first-time novelist. Most writers are handed a check and told to go their way, so the Hollywood professionals can take over. But James was involved in an immense number of decisions, including Fifty Shades’ casting, script, and choice of director.
This would seem to be a lot of responsibility placed on one person, but it was never going to be about the individual. The Fifty Shades movie has always been about the horde. Like so many blockbuster books that have been turned into films lately—The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight, Harry Potter—the property brings with it a huge fan base, and that’s both a boon and a curse to filmmakers. While Jaws, The Exorcist, The Godfather, and other best-sellers from the 1970s were more loosely adapted from the original texts, today’s book fans are looking for literal interpretations of their beloved novels—or at least movie marketing departments think they are.
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Let’s summarize how the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey came to be, in case you managed to miss the attention lavished on it by the mainstream media over the past few years. In 2012, Vintage published the trilogy, which clocked in at an astonishing 1,664 pages, but that was far from the moment when the author began her Fifty Shades journey. In 2009, James, who has two sons, a Westie, and a screenwriter husband, Niall, of 27 years (he has called himself the “least romantic fecker that ever lived” and admitted to buying her a can opener as a Christmas present), began experiencing what she has called a “midlife crisis, writ large.” During the day, she worked at her television job, as she says. At night, she adopted the pen name “Snowqueens Icedragon” and later “E. L. James,” shielding her identity from nosy co-workers so that she felt free to write “some naughty stuff.”
James published her stories online in forums filled with a very specific fan group: the Twihards, or, specifically, the slice of Twihards who are obsessed with not only the interactions of Stephenie Meyer’s two main characters, human girl Bella and vampire Edward, in the four Twilight novels, but also their erotic peregrinations. Twilight was the bible, but Snowqueens Icedragon and her fellow fan-fiction writers spun their tales in many different directions. James had the clever idea of remaking Bella as Anastasia Steele, a Brontë-loving virgin finishing college in the Pacific Northwest, and transforming Edward into Christian Grey, a bondage-loving, emotionally stunted Seattle billionaire.
As you might imagine, there’s a lot of sex in Fifty Shades, though it’s not as brutal as advertised. In the first book, I count about a dozen sex scenes, of which one and two are “vanilla” episodes, as Christian calls them, which means (mostly) missionary-style sex in a bed. Three is Anastasia’s introduction to oral sex and gentle bondage with a silk tie. Four is a fan favorite: sex while Christian dribbles white wine into Anastasia’s mouth and melts ice chips in her navel. In five, Anastasia gets a spanking (later, when she feels sad, Christian rushes back to her apartment to sleep with her in his arms). Six is in Christian’s “playroom,” where he ties her up and teases her with a riding crop. There’s also sex in his parents’ boathouse, sex with silver beads in her vagina, sex on a desk, sex in bathrooms, showers, and tubs. He says, “Look at you. You are so beautiful.” And they “lie staring at each other, gray eyes into blue, face-to-face, in the super king bed, both hugging our pillows to our fronts. Naked. Not touching. Just looking and admiring, covered by the sheet.” Once, after sex, they jump into a convertible as Verdi’s Traviata booms from the car stereo and head to an airfield to fly gliders, which Christian calls his “second favorite pastime.” His favorite is “indulging in you, Miss Steele.”
In the second-to-last sex scene, Christian blindfolds Anastasia, cranks up a hymn on the stereo, and flogs her while she’s spread-eagled and cuffed to the four-poster bed in his playroom. Then, in the last sex scene, he is distracted. He’s worried for Anastasia’s safety, because a former paramour of his has gone crazy and wants to kill her, but he can’t tell Anastasia this, because it is a fact too, too terrible to contemplate. Terrified by his mysterious sadness, she asks to face her deepest fears and tells him to give it to her as hard as he can. He hits her hard with a belt. She freaks out and leaves him. The power shift is complete, and he is devastated, lost and adrift, without a soulmate.
It was a great surprise to James, and an honor, when a small Australian publisher took on her story. Then, in a quirk of fate that’s more and more the case for cultural products in a viral world, the ladies of Long Island just so happened to get their delicate, manicured hands on Fifty Shades. A knot of toned, plucked, and thoroughly bored mommies began to talk about the novels, furtively, at spin class and school pickups. These women weren’t great readers, per se, but there was something in James’s books that lit a spark in them, and I have a feeling it wasn’t the plot. Fifty Shades quickly traveled up and down northeastern America, and James started to receive media requests to talk about the book. It was a “weird thing—the way it spread,” she says. “I had no idea it would happen like that.”
When Vintage picked up the trilogy for a reported seven-figure sum, there was some nay-saying in the publishing world. Sure, women would buy erotica as an e-book in the privacy of their own homes, but who would ever think they would go into a bookstore or go on Amazon and buy a hardcover copy, to leave lying around? The naysayers couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, millions more women wanted to check out what had everyone else panting. Worldwide operating profits for Random House, Vintage’s parent company, jumped almost 76 percent for 2012, and every U.S. employee got a $5,000 bonus, which was announced at the Christmas party. “It was the most joyous Christmas party in the history of publishing,” says executive vice president of Knopf (another Random House division) Paul Bogaards.
And what is the appeal, exactly? Well, Fifty Shades is about the sexual awakening of Anastasia, and the emotional awakening of Christian—and the way these two trajectories intersect and enhance the other. It’s also about the fantasy of most middle-class, romance-reading women around the globe, who still imagine, in 2014, that it takes only the right woman to transform even the most callow single fellow into a dutiful, doting husband. In this case, the man in question is a billionaire with a staffed penthouse and a helicopter nicknamed “Charlie Tango” parked on a personal helipad on his roof. What Christian does for work remains mysterious, revealed mostly in snippets of phone conversations about “attractive investments” and “plots of land,” and discussions about feeding Darfur—which makes it even more delicious that this man’s head could be turned by the mild-mannered, after-school-job-at-the-hardware-store, thoroughly down-to-earth Anastasia Steele, whose only real shortcoming is that she’s too skinny because she never, ever feels a desire to eat.
Then throw in the blindfolds and chains, and the fact that Christian uses the blindfolds and chains to torture his girlfriends—the books, at least in this regard, are hardly pro-women’s rights—because he’s in deep pain about a childhood spent with a crack-addicted mother and her abusive pimp, and you’ve got an unstoppable train barreling straight into the libidos of middle-aged mommies everywhere.
It also doesn’t hurt that Christian thinks of Ana’s every need and showers her with presents—three $14,000 first editions of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a red hatchback Audi, and a closet filled with designer labels and fancy lingerie (and that’s just the first book). If only readers’ husbands would say the same things to them in bed that Christian does, all about how beautiful they are, how soft their skin, how luminous their eyes. This, at the base of it, is what they’re really craving: devotion and adoration. And James understood this well. “This is a book for women,” she says. “I wrote it for me.”
Though she can be seen in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont, where she’s often found in the dimly lit garden with a nice glass of wine, James likes to eat Nutella with a spoon and has only recently upgraded her home in West London. She is funny, warm, and a great dinner date; she has described herself as a “gregarious party girl” and is a “hanger-outer,” says a friend. But she doesn’t do a lot of hiking up the “hard trail.” James is fond of tweeting her fans at night, saying, “I may have had too much to drink but I wanted to say how much I love you guys. You are everything & I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” and has said that her ultimate fantasy dinner party would comprise “my fanfiction friends from around the world.”
It wasn’t a surprise that James and Universal’s Donna Langley got along well: “She knows how to make a brilliant cup of tea,” James has said. “Most of you [Americans] do not know how to make a cup of tea.” The women set about finding a producer for the film, settling on The Social Network producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, who were in London finishing Captain Phillips, in which Tom Hanks gets kidnapped by Somalian pirates. “I thought the Fifty Shades ship had sailed, because every producer under the sun was chasing the thing,” says De Luca. The two men met with James in Los Angeles and laid out their vision. “I thought, first and foremost, Fifty Shades was a love story … despite all the press the books were getting about being taboo or scandalous,” says De Luca. “I talked about, you know, literary books that featured female characters in various states of either sexual oppression or repression or awakening…. I go right back to Madame Bovary. I read it in high school, and it was my favorite book, but also Wuthering Heights, and the collected works of D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller—all the novels that have been about love and sexuality in more nuanced and subtle ways.” James’s Anastasia, says De Luca, is a lot like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, with Christian as Mr. Darcy. “I thought Erika was playing with a lot of classic archetypes that have a lot of power.”
With an estimated budget of $40 million, James and the team set about finding a writer, director, and cast—all while fans, and the public, offered their opinions in a hail of social-media messages. In terms of a screenwriter, the fans didn’t have many suggestions, but then American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis publicly jumped into the fray. “I read the book out of curiosity. If it had not been as big of a hit, I would not have picked it up,” says Ellis. “I realized, Oh, this isn’t well written. It isn’t a good book. But this is a really good story, and it would make a really good movie.” He devoted hundreds of tweets to the film and recommended himself as writer, engaging fans in his ideas and lobbying them to pressure James to give him the job. Ellis thought Fifty Shades should be an unapologetic, NC-17 “sex movie,” a “chance to do something scandalous in mainstream American culture.” He liked the way “each sex scene moved the story forward on an emotional and dramatic level. You just had to re-write these two characters because they both sound like 50-year-old British people.”
Ellis met with De Luca and Brunetti, but the job ultimately went to Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks), yet another British woman in early middle age. (Marcel’s script was ultimately revised twice by other screenwriters.) “I ran into Erika at a party, and she was quite friendly,” says Ellis. “I was wasted, and she was wasted, and she said, ‘Your Twitter rants about Fifty Shades were so fun, and I know you wanted to write it, but you were never going to be hired.’ I said, ‘Why did I have to go in and see Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti?’ And she said, ‘Well, I just found your tweets so entertaining, and I wanted you to keep running with them.’ ”
For director, James and the team whittled the list to Danish director Susanne Bier and to Gus Van Sant, who, reportedly, even shot an audition scene with Alex Pettyfer, the star of Magic Mike, as a calling card. According to Ellis, Van Sant wanted to do a sex movie, too. But, he says, “Erika wanted a woman director and screenwriter from the beginning.” (James has denied this.)
This makes some sense: can a male director truly do justice to a movie that’s about a female fantasy? Unfortunately, there aren’t many prominent female directors in Hollywood, and Kathryn Bigelow was not throwing her hat into the ring. Taylor-Johnson, who has spent so much of her own life making fantasies a reality, fit the bill. Also, she was free. After Nowhere Boy, she took four years off from directing to “build family,” she says. Like so many women who dip out of the workforce, she was surprised at how hard it was to get back in, especially in Hollywood. “I’d go into meetings where I could see the attention was just not in the room,” she says. “ ‘What have you been up to?’ they’d ask. ‘Just had my fourth kid,’ I’d say. They’d say, ‘Um … Moving on.’ ”
Taylor-Johnson, who may have been a relatively new feature-film director but has a long-established photography career, did what she does best: She was “proactive” and “pushy” and decided to “push and fight to get through the door,” she says. She finally landed a job directing a Sony picture, a film adaptation of the wanton Wisconsin romance novel A Reliable Wife, but the movie fell apart. De Luca, a producer on that film, thought she might as well come in to talk about Fifty Shades. She agreed that the story was about love: the beats of Fifty Shades are the beats of a fairy tale. “It reminded me a lot of a Grimm’s [tale],” she says. In the interview process, she was asked how she would deal with a huge fan base, since she hadn’t yet done so in her work. “I said, ‘Well, actually, the film that I just made was about one of the Beatles.’ ” Within a day of the meeting, Taylor-Johnson says, she had the job. “The minute I said the words Fifty Shades of Grey, it was like I’d gotten on to a bullet train,” she says, “and I couldn’t get off.”
Fans were interested less in who was going to write and direct Fifty Shades than in who would be cast as their beloved Anastasia and Christian. De Luca says that casting Fifty Shades was a little like the casting of Gone with the Wind, with the country engaged in a debate about who should play Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Should Mila Kunis play Anastasia? Allison Williams? Emma Watson? Not all of these women actually wanted to be in the movie, a career gamble considering the racy material. Watson even tweeted her displeasure with this line of questioning: “Who here actually thinks I would do 50 Shades of Grey as a movie? Like really. For real. In real life.”
After Dakota Johnson auditioned, the team was basically sold, but, “poor girl, we wanted her, but we had to check out three or four or five hundred other girls,” says Taylor-Johnson. “We brought her in again just to check if she was right, and then [making her read with] guys who we were considering for Christian.”
The role of Christian was much harder to cast. James had her heart set on Robert Pattinson, her inspiration for Christian, according to two sources, though James says today that “everyone who’s read the books has their own vision of what the characters look like. But from the start I had hoped we would cast unknowns for the lead roles—actors that the film could make into stars.” For Pattinson, it would hardly have been a wise career move to take on a Twilight-inspired role. It was rumored that the team considered Alexander Skarsgård, Garrett Hedlund, and Christian Cooke—“It was really hard work,” says Taylor-Johnson, smiling, “sitting in a casting office in Studio City meeting 20 devastatingly handsome men each day”—but eventually settled on Charlie Hunnam, the rough, blond star of Sons of Anarchy, who perhaps didn’t resemble the metrosexual Christian Grey of the books (the fans noted this and were unhappy), but definitely dripped with libido. Hunnam, however, dropped out weeks before shooting was to begin, citing scheduling conflicts. “There was just some sort of nagging reservation, and … there was definitely scheduling issues…. I think he was nervous about signing up for the whole trilogy,” says Taylor-Johnson. “He could see how we were going to work well together, but the unknown of the next two films—I think that was a really big thing.” She sighs. “I was really sad when he left…. I’m ever the optimist. I think we ended up with the right one.”
Taylor-Johnson and the team pivoted to Jamie Dornan, who stars in the hit BBC series The Fall, which has just completed its second season. “It’s common knowledge that the casting process had its ups and downs, but I was won over by Dakota and Jamie—they seemed the perfect fit,” says James. Dornan, the 32-year-old onetime boyfriend of Keira Knightley, was a fan favorite. With his chiseled jaw and copper-colored curls, he definitely looks the part. “I think Jamie is perfect for Christian,” says Taylor-Johnson. Dornan is a former Calvin Klein model from Northern Ireland, and when he was cast, his wife, actress and musician Amelia Warner, was eight months pregnant with their first daughter in London. “I would never have been this understanding, but Amelia flew to Vancouver so he could shoot the film, leaving all her doctors and her family behind,” says Taylor-Johnson. “Then Jamie had a brand-new baby the first week of shooting.”
In Vancouver, when production started, James came to the set every day. “One day I remember really well was the very first day of shooting,” she says. “I was impressed by how calm and focused everything was on set, and I told my husband, who was over from London to visit me, to come down and join us for lunch. I checked the street signs and told him to take a taxi to ‘the corner of Winston and Fifth’ or somewhere like that. After half an hour he still hadn’t turned up, and I was wondering what had happened to him, and then I realized the art department had switched all the street signs to match the ones in Seattle, and there was no such address in Vancouver. My husband turned up, like, an hour later, in a really bad temper because he couldn’t find the place. But he’s a grumpy sod anyway, and once I’d fed him he was O.K.”
Taylor-Johnson and her family rented a house on Howe Sound, in northwest Vancouver, so that she could sit at four A.M. and have a moment of peace looking out at the water before going to the set. James lived in the same hotel that De Luca and Brunetti stayed in. “We shared a driver, so we all met down in the lobby of the hotel, got in the car. We would discuss the sides [a script with only the scenes about to be shot] for the day, and … have it all laid out,” says Brunetti. “We’d determine any changes [that needed to be made] or any notes that needed to be given when we arrived, [and then relay that to] the costume designer, production designer, or director. Then we’d sit at our monitors and watch the magic happen.”
This sounds so calm, so peaceful. But, in fact, there were more than a few tense moments. James was an amateur among sophisticates. Taylor-Johnson had her own ideas about how to shoot the film, including the sex scenes. Their knowledge of film and reference points was completely different. Taylor-Johnson thought Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now had one of the best sex scenes in any film, and one with the woman mostly in control. James’s favorite films, she tells us, are Casablanca, Good Will Hunting, Cabaret, Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption, Finding Nemo, and It’s a Wonderful Life. “I know that’s an odd selection—but like most people I just love a good story well told,” she says.
James didn’t have much to do with set design, other than sketching floor plans for Christian’s penthouse, which helped production designer David Wasco incorporate doors and corridors leading to rooms and annexes used in Books II and III. “His spaces are tightly controlled, the art and furnishings, the architecture, all deliberately chosen with an undeniable sophistication but completely devoid of feeling other than an isolated aloofness,” says Wasco. Taylor-Johnson provided him with a reference image from Helmut Newton’s book White Women, with a near-nude beauty astride a man she has smothered, in a room framed in translucent green drapery and matching green carpet that seem to hush all emotion. This image informed the look of the whole film. “The quality of Christian’s art collection was very important to Sam, as it had to reflect his status, his connoisseurship, and his youth,” says Wasco. Taylor-Johnson, without question, had the connections to call in the kind of art that a young billionaire wants to own, from John Baldessari and Edward Ruscha to creations of her friends Gary Hume, Georgie Hopton, Rob Pruitt, Michael Joo, Harland Miller, and the brothers Dinos and Jake Chapman, the last of whom Taylor-Johnson dated prior to her first marriage.
James, however, had her own ideas not only for the script, which she guarded fiercely, but also for the dialogue, the costumes—and the sex. Fifty Shades, you see, is more than three novels now—it’s a lifestyle. The merchandising that James has done off the books is extensive, to say the least. She’s released a Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack on her YouTube channel, Fifty Shades of Grey™ Fine Jewelry, Fifty Shades of Grey lingerie in regular and plus sizes, and a line of Fifty Shades of Grey sex toys—“I very much like the nipple clamps,” James says in a Web-based infomercial, adding, “The crop is really lovely, simple, and elegant, and hopefully easy and fun to use as well”—and is even bottling Fifty Shades of Grey wine in California. Her businesses, which may seem diverse, actually work closely in concert with one another. If you and your husband, presumably, would like to re-create the scene where Christian places white-wine-flavored ice chips on Anastasia’s abdomen, perhaps she can interest you not only in buying some sex toys for later and wearing her lingerie and jewelry but also in putting Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Bachiana Brasileira No. 5 (for Soprano and 8 Cellos): Aria (Cantilena)” on the CD player, as well as indulging in a $17.99 bottle of Fifty Shades of Grey White Silk, “a white wine with floral aromatics of lychee, honey, and pear tempered by flavors of crisp grapefruit and a faint hint of butterscotch.”
James’s deep desire to control the Fifty Shades films is not as cynical as all this might sound. In truth, she doesn’t seem to care that much about money, so I doubt she loses sleep over whether these ventures are doing well or not. It’s about something else: the fans. On set, James may have felt that she was the only one who would stand up for this specific fantasy, which has had such universal appeal. “There’s an Erika who is fun, fancy-free, and enjoying her success a lot, and the Erika who is obsessively controlling the property,” says a friend of James’s. “She truly believes that she has to control it because of the fans, because she’s the only one they trust.”
Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?
This means that everyone on set balanced two masters: Taylor-Johnson and James. The movie’s costume designer, Mark Bridges, says James sent him “friendly e-mails,” to explain that her readers would expect to see certain garments from the book, like Anastasia’s gray chiffon graduation dress, and a tightfitting wine-colored dress in another scene. She sent him pictures of the jeans Christian wears in his “playroom,” noting the color of the denim and the way they fit. Taylor-Johnson and Bridges conceived of an idea for Christian’s clothes to change through the film, tracking the way he becomes more open and loving toward Anastasia, from a double-breasted suit in one scene to a three-piece suit in the next, then peeling away and softening textures as the story goes on. They custom-made and tested a double-breasted suit, but “our excitement was short-lived as word came down to us from the powers that be that double-breasted suits ‘weren’t sexy’ and we should stick to single-breasted. We were disappointed in having to change Christian’s first film moment but were able to use the metaphor of self-protection of the vest in his next change,” Bridges says. “I respected [Erika’s] opinion and took her suggestions seriously, always discussing [her] notes with Sam before finally putting them into the film.”
De Luca, who notes that he loves Erika and always feels “protective and in her corner,” admits that “there were ups and downs” during filming. “Erika feels so protective over the initial novel, and the way fans are going to react to [the film],” he says. “She’s the keeper of the flame, really, for her fans…. [But] a picture is worth a thousand words, so sometimes what works in a novel doesn’t work in a movie, and vice versa. There were some spirited debates.” He cites Christian’s playroom, which Taylor-Johnson wanted to be womb-like but masculine, with a ritualistic aspect to the décor and furnishings. In the books, many of Christian’s sex implements are hidden in drawers, and Anastasia goes on a process of discovery as they’re opened one by one. “But in a movie we don’t have time to let it play out at that kind of pace,” says De Luca. Cutting an important scene like this was hard for James. “We talked a lot with Erika about the design, because she had such a specific vision in her mind of what it should look like…. But it needed to look a certain way so it could have impact visually on-screen the way it had impact in your mind as a reader in the book. It just was different in how it needed to be presented.”
Was there a time you thought Taylor-Johnson, or James, was going to walk off the set? I ask De Luca. “No, because it wasn’t something that could ever be allowed to happen,” he says. “Our mantra through the whole movie was ‘When debates come up, we’re going to work it out, because this thing is going to shoot, and it’s going to wrap, and it’s going to get released.’ None of us are going anywhere, so we might as well lock arms and have a good time.”
Taylor-Johnson says, “I kept trying to remind myself that they hired me for a reason. Some people said to me, ‘I’m surprised you haven’t quit.’ I was like, ‘Why would you think I’d quit?’ I never quit anything. Not without a fight.” She admits, of James, “We battled all the way through. She’d say the same. There were tough times and revelatory times. There were sparring contests. It was definitely not an easy process, but that doesn’t mean to say that it didn’t come out the right way.”
Says De Luca, “Sam’s a master of understanding how to communicate things quickly with pictures, and how to get across a feeling with images. Erika was the true north on the narrative, and the story that the characters needed to tell each other and needed to tell the audience. They’re two very different ways of telling the same story … but I think together it ended up being the best of both worlds.”
And what about filming the sex scenes? Let’s address that for a moment. For those scenes, which were shot over the course of two weeks at the end of filming, Taylor-Johnson had to be alone with the actors and a few crew members. “I didn’t want [Dakota or Jamie] to have to come re-shoot those kinds of scenes,” she says. “It was a closed set, and so we couldn’t be there for those very intimate scenes … but so much of the movie turns on those intimate scenes,” says De Luca. “We’d be in our trailers, but [the actors] were miked, and we had cans—you know, headphones—but I actually got shy from listening. There was something about not being there and having the audio that made us feel like peeping listeners, and so we all put them down.”
The sex, Taylor-James says, is tastefully handled: “It’s details, flesh and fingers and skin and eyes and looks.” She thinks that if you saw the actual sex “the mystery would be gone. You see a lot, but you don’t have to see anything graphic.”
Taylor-Johnson and I had reached the end of the “easy” trail, and now she was going home. There would be naps and, in the afternoon, cherry pie with the kids. “We had some cherry pie that Aaron loved—someone had made it with tapioca, and it was perfect—so yesterday, surrounded by like 17 suitcases, he said, ‘O.K., let me try to make this cherry pie,’ ” she said. “He’s in the kitchen, and I’m upstairs, and I hear ‘Sam’ in a tone of voice that didn’t sound right. I came down—he was using one of those hand blenders—and he’d cut his thumb down the middle.” She cleaned up Aaron’s thumb a bit, and then the group, four daughters and all, jumped in the car and headed to the emergency room. Aaron was stitched up and they saved the pie to eat today with their afternoon tea.
“So, that’s the cherry-pie story,” said Taylor-Johnson. “I have to say, the excitement and buildup to this cherry pie has been just ridiculous.”
Will it be good? I asked
“It better be good,” she said.
Content Source : http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2015/01/fifty-shades-of-grey-sex-scenes
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