KINKY SEX AND POPCORN HAVE MADE HIM A HOUSEHOLD NAME, BUT THERE’ S A LOT MORE TO THIS IRISH ACTOR THAN HIS MOST FAMOUS FILM ROLE.
The 34-year-old’s filming the lead in a small indie movie, Untogether, and has been up since daybreak to catch first light. Not that we’re here to talk about that. As most are aware, Dornan’s now famous for playing Christian Grey – the billionaire businessman with a taste for sadomasochism and the protagonist in the blockbuster Fifty Shades movie franchise. The first instalment hit screens in 2015 and there are two more en route – the next being Fifty Shades Darker. It’s the reason for today’s chat – and conversation quickly turns to sex. “People think they set up a camera and the actors just go for it, but everything’s so broken up and each shot takes time. There wouldn’t be an actor in the world who doesn’t think sex scenes are awkward,” offers Dornan. “But they have got all kinds of tricks to keep your modesty. You sort of put everything in a wee bag, tie it up and get on with it. It’s bizarre.” We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Long before Dornan had to worry about awkward on-screen sex or tucking his junk into a bag, he was just a kid from Northern Ireland. The youngest of three, he grew up in Belfast with his parents and two sisters. He lost his mother to cancer when he was 16, an event that he says left him fractured and drawn towards wounded characters. Four years later, he caught the attention of a model scout and soon climbed to the top of the fashion world – photo shoots alongside Kate Moss and Eva Mendes, ad campaigns for Dior Homme and Calvin Klein. Then came a New York Times profile in which he was dubbed ‘The Golden Torso’ – not a title he cherishes. “I always hated modelling, but that doesn’t mean I definitely knew I wanted to be an actor. It’s one thing to enjoy it and another to think you can make a career out of it – only five per cent of actors are employed at any one time. Why would anyone want to be an actor?” he says, laughing. “My whole twenties I fucked around, travelling the world and having a lot of fun. It’s only when I met my wife seven years ago that I wanted to get my shit together.” It was in early 2013 that Dornan married actress and musician Amelia Warner – for the record, she’s not seen Fifty Shades of Grey – and the couple had their first daughter, Dulcie, later that year. Their second child, Phoebe, was born last February. Dornan’s first film role was as Count Axel Fersen – Kirsten Dunst’s love interest in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 feature, Marie Antoinette. From there came a series of smaller projects, before landing his acclaimed lead in the Irish TV crime drama The Fall. As the series’ good-looking, if disturbed serial killer, Paul Spector, it meant an opportunity to play opposite Gillian Anderson and showcase his actual acting credentials. “As much as people think Fifty Shades changed my life, I’d be nothing without The Fall – Fifty Shades would never have come anywhere near me without it.” He labels the dark TV series – a British and Irish co-production that recently screened its third season – the most fun he’s had as an actor. “It might be the best role I ever play. If they had wanted to do 40 seasons, I wouldn’t have hesitated.” We’ll have to see about that. Still, it was Fifty Shades that led Dornan to a sex dungeon on a Tuesday afternoon a couple of years back – nursing a warm beer as a trio of punters went at it with whips and paddles. “It was like nothing I’d experienced before. I’d never seen any form of S&M and before this, I had no interest in that world.” He took notes of the experience – not that he found them in any way relevant when it came to shooting. Still, he can see the appeal the so-called fetish holds for so many. “It doesn’t float my boat,” he says. “I’ve always been open-minded and liberal – I’d never judge anyone’s sexual preference. Whatever gets people off is entirely up to them and there’s a million different ways to please yourself, sexually.” Unlike the novel’s description of Grey’s voice as “warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel... or something”, Dornan’s tones are coated by a charming sing-song Irish accent – one that feels at odds with the profanity that peppers his sentences. “He’s not the sort of bloke I’d get along with,” states Dornan of Grey. “All my mates are easy going and quick to laugh – I wouldn’t imagine myself sat in a pub with him. I don’t think he would be my type, when it comes to choosing mates.” While they’re unlikely to share a pint, there’s no denying Grey’s major place in Dornan’s life. Fifty Shades of Grey cost $53.8m to produce, but claimed more than $766m worldwide, breaking box office records along the way. “I don’t let myself think about it – it drives you mad because there’s so much scrutiny and fucking craziness surrounding this series of films. But I always had a strong belief that it would be a success and make a lot of money – you don’t have to be a scientist to work out that 100 million readers of the book will translate into bums on seats in the cinema. But I didn’t expect it to be this big, to be honest.” Dornan’s carefully tempered this side of his career with smaller roles, such as last year’s indie feature Anthropoid and the small-budget thriller The 9th Life of Louis Drax. And it’s work he’ll continue to seek out. “There’s an element, when you become an actor, of thinking it’d be cool to be in a big movie and go to the fucking premiere and all that shit, but I could never be satisfied just doing big-budget studio movies. It would just fucking drive me insane.” Now in his mid-thirties, his rise has been more of a slow burn than any immediate explosion – something he’s grateful for. “My career took an upward turn when I was 29 or 30, and I was delighted that it didn’t happen when I was 20. I just don’t know how I would have handled myself. I was never lost in my twenties, but I was always mucking around and had a lot of fun – but if it had all come too soon…” he trails off. “You’re just far more in control of yourself in your thirties –
and it’s helpful to have faced a bit of rejection, it gives you a better idea of yourself.” While only a lucky few have managed to avoid the Fifty Shades phenomenon, it’s worth remembering where it all started. The work of British author EL James, it began as fan fiction written about teen vampire series Twilight. Originally titled Master of the Universe, before being renamed, it was first published as an e-book and then, as a print-on-demand paperback. Almost instantly, it erupted. Launching the so-called ‘ mommy porn’ genre, the novels became a kind of Harry Potter for sexually frustrated housewives – selling 125 million copies globally and turning James into a literary star. Then, in 2012, she was reportedly paid $6.7m for the serialised film rights. Not everyone was a fan. The books were roundly criticised for clunky prose and awkward turns of phrase – “I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again. I must be the colour of The Communist Manifesto.” Reactions to the debut film were equally mixed, with reviewers picking holes in both performance and script. The New York Times simply called Fifty Shades a “terrible movie”, while the UK’S Guardian lamented the “tineared prose” that survived the transition from book to screenplay. Not that such critiques bothered Dornan. “I always knew people would have a lot of opinions about it, and as much as it has 100 million fans, there’s a lot of people who aren’t into it and are very vocal about that. You go in knowing it’s a divisive project and you just accept that – it doesn’t stand alone in that realm. But I don’t blame people. I’ve got plenty of opinions about things I don’t know a lot about, or that I don’t give a chance – it’s just the nature of the beast. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.” Fifty Shades Darker picks up where the first film left off, with Dakota Johnson reprising her role as Anastasia Steele. She’s attempting to move on from her relationship with Grey, as he tries to rekindle their romance – this time allowing things to move forward on Steele’s terms. Last September, the trailer for Darker broke the record for most Youtube views in 24 hours – dethroning Star Wars: The Force Awakens with 114 million in a day. It’s fair to say anticipation is high. “There are other areas explored about Grey and his relationship,” says Dornan. “I knew that would be the case with the sequels – we get to see different sides of him.” For fans, the MA15+ rating (R in the US) promises no shortage of bedroom antics. “It doesn’t feel like there’s as much sex as it looks from the outside,” says Dornan, unconvincingly. “There’s certainly plenty of it and more than any job I’ve ever done, but Dakota and I are close – we get on well and make each other laugh. I think that’s really helpful.” And reports suggesting Dornan isn’t sticking around for the third instalment are wrong – not least because Fifty Shades Freed has already been filmed. “That’s an expensive mistake,” the actor joked about the rumour he’d been replaced with Ian Somerhalder ( The Vampire Diaries) during a November appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “But good luck to him – he’ll be great!” It’s not the first time casting rumours have surrounded the series. Gossip Girl’s Chace Crawford reportedly expressed interest in originally playing Grey, before Charlie Hunnam ( Sons of Anarchy) landed the role, only to drop out. Meanwhile everyone from Alicia Vikander to Imogen Poots was rumoured to play Anastasia Steele, until then newcomer Johnson landed the role. There was also talk of friction between EL James and British director Sam Taylor-johnson. And for whatever reason, Taylor-johnson’s no longer on board – James Foley has taken over directing duties for the next two instalments. “The circumstances of me doing the first movie were so insane – I only got cast five weeks before we started shooting. My wife was heavily pregnant and we had a baby three days before we started filming. It was fucking madness, really,” says Dornan. “But it’s also nice knowing the first movie made nearly [USD] $600m – that gives you some comfort going forward.” Though Dornan shrugs off suggestions of superstardom, the films have turned him into one of the world’s most bankable actors. And while Fifty Shades gave him the freedom to pursue smaller projects, he doesn’t buy into the hype. “The thing is, the fundamentals of life don’t change. I’ve had the same group of mates since I was a child and my wife and my kids and all that stuff doesn’t change. And none of those people will let me change, unless they’re not very good people,” he says. “But you see plenty of that in this industry – the people around you fucking lose the plot and you become a prick. I think I have great people around me.” He owns a house in rural England and avoids London if he can. It’s not so much the fans, he’s just not one to court the spotlight. “Some people can peacock a little bit – I’m not one of those people.” Dornan also avoids social media and isn’t likely to ever be snapped tumbling out of a nightclub. “Bizarrely, some people don’t fucking understand that,” he says. “It’s part of this nonsense celebrity culture and people reading a load of shite magazines. They build up this idea that actors are a weird, glossy version of themselves who live in some celebrity land. But we’re really just normal fucking people who play dress up for a living.” See, here’s the thing about Jamie Dornan – he’s not Christian Grey. He’s not a kinky billionaire or a commitment-shy control freak. He may have found himself in one of the biggest film franchises to date, but he’s also a busy father of two who tries to steal enough time to play a round of golf and grab a couple of pints with his mates. Just a regular guy, trapped in a movie star’s body. Fifty Shades Darker is in cinemas February 9