In a matter of weeks, Jamie Dornan will suit up to play the damaged billionaire Christian Grey — opposite Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele — in the adaptation of E L James’ bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The Northern Irish actor landed the role through a circuitous route, replacing Sons of Anarchy actor Charlie Hunnam after he dropped out of the film in mid-October. In this week’s cover story, he spoke with EW exclusively about his trek through the audition process and how he’s prepping his body for the part.

It’s the most high-profile role of Dornan’s career, one he’s approaching both rationally and with a great degree of excitement. “I certainly don’t fear it,” Dornan says. “I already got a glimpse into working with [director] Sam [Taylor-Johnson] at the test, and I’d met [co-star] Dakota [Johnson] by then. So I had a glimpse into how I felt it would be if I got the part. None of it scared me.”

Dornan initially performed an audition on tape for the first round of casting but didn’t progress to a face-to-face meeting until Hunnam bailed last month. “You know, one door closes, another opens,” Dornan says. “When he dropped out, I didn’t instantly think, ‘Oh here we go, maybe I should cancel that holiday,’ but I did feel that maybe we’d revisit the idea of me.”

Revisit they did. Dornan was flown out to Los Angeles for an intense, day-long audition opposite Dakota Johnson, who had landed her role in early September. The two re-enacted the initial interview scene when Ana first meets Christian at his spacious office in Seattle, followed by the climactic scene near the end of the book.

“There’s quite a lot going on in both scenes,” Dornan says. “The interview scene is sort of a condensed version of the journey that the two of them go on. There are so many layers in it. It’s a beast.”

Since landing the role, Dornan has had to adjust to increased media attention, including paparazzi who have been hovering around him and his pregnant wife, Amelia Warner, who is due in a couple of weeks. (Warner will deliver their baby in Vancouver, where Fifty Shades is set to film.)

“It’s happening, but not in an unmanageable way at the moment,” Dornan says of the paparazzi. “I’ve been around it before and it’s ugly, but I’m glad I’m 31 and not 21, and married. I feel very settled. I’m not running in and out of clubs at 5 a.m. anymore.”

Dornan isn’t required to add a lot of muscle to play Christian Grey but the former Calvin Klein model does plan to train before disrobing. “I’ve never felt that Christian needs to be some kind of monster, but I think it’s very clear how he conditions himself and looks after himself,” he said. “I take decent enough care of myself anyway, so obviously I’m gonna up it slightly with training, but we don’t have any intention to really bulk up. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Dornan’s family has been supportive of his new role, with his father and sisters offering their encouragement. Only his childhood friends have been teasing him for taking on the kinky control freak. “A friend of mine texted me saying, ‘I heard about Fifty Shades. Congratulations on the role. That’s going to be disgusting. I won’t watch it.'” One hopes that friend is the exception, rather than the rule.

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.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Book)
  • Book