Opinion: Crazy, sexy, dud? Should Dakota Johnson be surprised ‘Fifty Shades’ turned out the way it did?

Hanna Flint Column | Soho House

As the Hollywood star shares her dislike for the movie’s end result, not having full autonomy comes with the territory, says Hanna Flint

Saturday 2 July      By Hanna Flint

When it comes to the business of movie-making, Dakota Johnson has confirmed just how difficult it can be when you agree to star in a film, but the end product is not what you signed up for. To be fair, when that film is Fifty Shades Of Grey there were always going to be problems with the final cut so, you know, that’s on you.

The franchise, based on E.L. James’s bestselling novel series, which began life as Twilight fan fiction, saw Johnson cast as the romantic, virginal lead, Anastasia Steele, opposite Jamie Dornan’s eponymous BDSM-loving billionaire, Christian Grey. Like Dornan, she was mostly unknown despite her Hollywood ancestry: she’s the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, the granddaughter of Tippi Hedren, and for better and for worse, it made her a global name.

‘I signed up to do a very different version of the film we ended up making,’ she told Vanity Fair while promoting Persuasion, her new, hopefully, better literary adaptation. According to Johnson, James had a lot of creative control over the film, which was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson from a screenplay by Kelly Marcel. The book is basically a lot of repetitive sex scenes with a thin plot in between about psycho exes, childhood trauma, and how a bad boy dom can change his ways if he just met the right submissive. Or something like that.

Hanna Flint Column | Soho House

James had scrapped the first script written by playwright Patrick Marber after Charlie Hunnam, the original actor cast as Grey, dropped out because of scheduling conflicts. ‘She just demanded that certain things happen,’ Johnson recalls. ‘There were parts of the book 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... It just became something crazy.

‘We’d do the takes of the movie that [author] Erika wanted to make, and then we would do the takes of the movie that we wanted to make,’ she added. ‘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 joins the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Sylvester Stallone and Jude Law, among many others, in expressing dislike for their movies after they made them. Grease 2, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and the Alfie remake are certainly not ranked highly in the annals of film history. ‘It didn’t quite turn out the way I wanted it to,’ Law said of his 2004 flop.

You have to feel for film stars, well, a little bit at least. They read a script, shoot a film and often only find out at the premiere just how good or bad it turned out – unlike theatre where arguably the actors are in control each night. They can edit and tweak their performance for as long as the show runs, whereas in cinema it’s up to a team of people to decide which take, which angle, and which scenes remain in the final edit. More often than not, there are too many cooks, especially in studio projects.

Hanna Flint Column | Soho House

Maybe the answer is securing a producer credit like Millie Bobby Brown who recently explained on Hot Ones that she had a lot of influence in the making of Enola Holmes. I spoke to the film’s writer Jack Thorne recently and he said, despite her tender her age, she was an utter delight to work with.

You could simply become the biggest movie star in the world like Tom Cruise. ‘Auteur’ is a word that’s bandied around a lot, but there is no denying nowadays that when he is top-billing, the actor, not the director, is at the helm of the ship and they’re sailing with Cruise control. Aye aye, Cap’n!

Or maybe the best thing to do when you sign up for a film that is, personally, perhaps not going to be artistically rewarding, you take a leaf out of Miriam Margolyes’s book. Speaking of her role in the Harry Potter franchise, she said: ‘I’ve never seen a film, I’ve never seen the books, I’ve never read them. I just pocket the money when it comes in, and I’m very grateful for it.’

Hanna Flint Column | Soho House

It’s the end of the world as we know it

National treasure, Stephen Fry, has been getting a bit of flack for lending his name and face to the Extinction Rebellion cause.

‘If you support environmental causes and organisations like Extinction Rebellion, people – especially ones in the public eye – want to cry, “Hypocrite, look at him, he’s wearing clothes and he’s pretending to care about the environment”,’ Fry said in a video.

‘But the fact is, reasonable people, I think, understand that something has to be done about fossil fuels – most of all about our insatiable appetite for them.’

Some are claiming he’s not living in the real world for asking the government to act on reducing carbon emissions before it’s really too late. They also don’t like the environmental group for disrupting life with protests. Well, if you didn’t mind the travel disruptions caused by the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, but moan about those caused by people trying to highlight the damage inflicted by ineffective responses to climate change, then maybe you’re not too reasonable a person.

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