Anastasia Steele, the pliant, pretty heroine of the red-hot erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey, likes her man, Christian Grey, because he’s sexually forceful. But the author of the surprise best-seller, who goes by the pseudonym E L James, sold the movie rights to her trilogy to Universal Studios and Focus Films because they made her laugh — especially Focus president of production Jeb Brody. “I really like clever men who challenge you,” said James by telephone from Los Angeles today, just before returning home to London, “and with Jeb, I thought, yeah, I can work with that!”
Universal and Focus are rumored to have paid in the neighborhood of $5 million.
Even dazed and bemused after a whirlwind week in Hollywood with her agent, Valerie Hoskins, entertaining pitches from eager movie studio executives, James’s funny, earthy, grounded personality comes through — and so does her practicality. “We went with Focus because they have a great background in handling difficult material,” and also because the studio gave the author the approvals she wanted, including script and casting. “This makes me sound like a control freak, doesn’t it?” she acknowledged with a laugh.
As for negotiating all the tricky bits pertaining to the books’ extremely graphic, kinky sex, James says, “I think that’s going to be a collaborative process. That’s a big word in Hollywood, isn’t it — PRO-cess.” Along the way, too, the fortysomething wife and mother of two teenage sons demonstrated a forcefulness that her dark hero Christian Grey might admire. “We always said that if we didn’t find a fit, we’d pack our bags and go home. Seriously. We’d have a wonderful week in Hollywood and go home,” she said. “But also, look, life is not a dress rehearsal. I didn’t want to get to be 90 and say, why didn’t I try something? This is a great opportunity. And I took it.”
Follow Lisa on Twitter: @lisaschwarzbaum