Dakota Johnson says 'psychotic' Fifty Shades of Grey shoot was 'always a battle' with author E.L. James
The 32-year-old actress has revealed that she "signed up to do a very different version of the film" than the one presented on screen by director Sam Taylor-Johnson, who helmed the first installment in the erotic trilogy — based on author E.L. James' best-selling novels — that launched her to stardom opposite Jamie Dornan.
In addition to citing Taylor-Johnson and unspecified production parties as sources of the on-set conflicts, she noted in an interview with Vanity Fair that "the author of the books," who goes by the name Erika, was a particularly difficult presence during the making of the movies.
"She had a lot of creative control, all day, every day, and she just demanded that certain things happen. There were parts of the books that just wouldn't work in a movie, like the inner monologue, which was at times incredibly cheesy. It wouldn't work to say out loud. It was always a battle. Always," Johnson said, recalling that auditioning to play Anastasia Steele opposite Charlie Hunnam (who later dropped out) as Christian Grey initially took on a different tone that appealed to her, thanks to a story with revisions by playwright Patrick Marber. "When I auditioned for that movie, I read a monologue from [Ingmar Bergman's] Persona, and I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be really special.'"
She noted that James scrapped the script after Hunnam dropped out, which led to further complications.
"I was young. I was 23. So it was scary. It just became something crazy. There were a lot of different disagreements. I haven't been able to talk about this truthfully ever, because you want to promote a movie the right way, and I'm proud of what we made ultimately and everything turns out the way it's supposed to, but it was tricky," she continued, adding that she worked with Taylor-Johnson to restore some of Marber's scenes. The only one that made it into the final cut, however, involved Steele and Grey outlining their sexual contract.
Johnson said that production often involved shooting scenes multiple times, to "do the takes of the movie that Erika wanted to make" balanced with "the takes of the movie that we wanted to make."
"The night before, I would rewrite scenes with the old dialogue so I could add a line here and there. It was like mayhem all the time," Johnson remembered.
When asked if she regretted making the movie, she responded: "If I had known at the time that's what it was going to be like, I don't think anyone would've done it. It would've been like, 'Oh, this is psychotic.' But no, I don't regret it."
Taylor-Johnson departed the series after the first film, with James Foley joining to finish out the trilogy's two subsequent releases. The addition of Foley changed the dynamic behind the scenes, mostly, as Johnson recalled, because "it was different doing those bizarre things with a man behind the camera."
"There are things that I still cannot say because I don't want to hurt anyone's career and I don't want to damage anybody's reputation, but both Jamie and I were treated really well," Johnson finished. "Erika is a very nice woman, and she was always kind to me and I am grateful she wanted me to be in those movies."
Despite Johnson's comments on the film's gestation, the series went on to become a global smash, grossing over $1.3 billion globally between 2015's debut, 2017's Fifty Shades Darker, and 2018's Fifty Shades Freed, on a reported $150 million combined budget.
"I just really understand it," Johnson previously told EW in a 2013 interview about her connection to the material. "I think it's an incredible love story and that's why it's affected so many people. [Erika] did a really good job of explaining how that just can happen sometimes and you have this chemical pull to someone. Adding in the sex makes it perfect. Sometimes you feel a little bit naughty and that's okay."
EW has reached out to representatives for James' agency, Focus Features, Taylor-Johnson, and producers on the film for comment on Johnson's Vanity Fair quotes.