Jamie Dornan was in his pajamas, and anxious. It was 1:30 a.m. London time, and the 31-year old actor was watching reruns of Storage Wars and praying for the phone to ring. “I was sort of pretending I wasn’t waiting, but the phone was in my hand, halfway to my ear,” Dornan says in throaty Irish brogue. He had just flown back from Los Angeles, where he had auditioned for the role of the world’s hottest control freak, Christian Grey, in Fifty Shades of Grey. Landing this part would propel him to instant stardom, and so, with his pregnant wife, actress Amelia Warner, snoozing upstairs, Dornan tried to focus on the show. Minutes later, the film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), phoned to tell the former Calvin Klein model that he was about to become the object of millions of women’s fantasies. “There was a slight fear,” Dornan says now, his wiry frame huddled on a couch in a Los Angeles photo studio. “But beyond anything else, I was really f—ing excited.”
This weeks’s Entertainment Weekly cover story features the first exclusive interviews with the two stars of the new film based on Fifty Shades of Grey, the publishing phenomenon from British author E L James — about the seduction of virginal college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) by a beautiful billionaire with a penchant for sadomasochism (Dornan) — that has sold 90 million copies worldwide and ignited the libidos of a generation of women.
The stars open up about what drew them to the roles, the pressures behind getting the roles right for the fans, and how they feel about baring it all. For Johnson, 24, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, it meant seriously working out for the first time in her life. “Obviously, I want to look good naked,” the newly brunette actress tells EW. “I totally understand now why people exercise, because it kind of f—ing feels awesome.”
Dornan, who spent his early days as a model frequently undressing for the camera, isn’t the least bit anxious about the graphic sex scenes he and Johnson are about to film. “I’m a fairly worldly guy,” says Dornan. “I grew up in a very liberal place. I’m not saying we had a playroom, but I’m not 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.”
Everything also seems to be working now, too, for the studio behind the film, Universal Pictures and its indie subsidiary Focus Features, which purchased the rights to James’ trilogy back in March 2012. The studio experienced some initial bumps along the way, particularly with the initial casting (and subsequent departure) of Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) as Christian Grey. The film, which begins production in Vancouver on Dec. 2, was originally set for release this August, but has now been pushed to Valentine’s Day weekend 2015.
For more on Fifty Shades of Grey, including exclusive interviews with author E L James, director Sam Taylor-Johnson, and the full story behind the casting of Christian and Anastasia — plus which scenes from the book have made it into the script, and which have already hit the cutting-room floor — pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday.