Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by ELAINE LIPWORTH

Fifty Shades Darker ac­tor Dakota John­son opens up about those “dif­fi­cult” sex scenes, and re­veals her fam­ily’s re­ac­tion to the steamy role.


Sex sells,” ob­serves Dakota John­son – an un­der­state­ment, com­ing as it does from the star of phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess story Fifty Shades of Grey. The 27-yearold has made her name as Anas­ta­sia Steele, a guile­less stu­dent em­bark­ing on an af­fair with sado­masochis­tic bil­lion­aire Chris­tian Grey, played by Jamie Dor­nan.

The pair re­turn in Fifty Shades Darker, open­ing in cine­mas this week. As se­quels go, it prom­ises to be sex­ier, more ex­cit­ing and – yes – darker than the first film in the tril­ogy. Although still Chris­tian’s “submissive”, Anas­ta­sia’s role this out­ing is rather dif­fer­ent. “You see her evolve from a semi-meek, in­hib­ited young girl to a forth­right and strong woman,” John­son tells Stel­lar in a trailer on the Universal Stu­dios lot, out­side LA.

Rak­ing in $756 mil­lion world­wide, Fifty Shades was ev­i­dence, if any were needed, that there’s a huge au­di­ence for erotic cin­ema aimed at women. “Movies ex­plor­ing fe­male sex­u­al­ity are rare. That is why I was drawn to it,” says John­son. The ac­tor had ap­peared in films The So­cial Network and 21 Jump Street, but it was her turn as Anas­ta­sia that vaulted her to star­dom. “It’s been a to­tal whirl­wind since the film came out,” she says.

No stranger to the lime­light, John­son comes from an il­lus­tri­ous Tin­sel­town lin­eage. She’s the daugh­ter of ac­tors Me­lanie Grif­fith and Don John­son, who tied the knot twice and fi­nally split in 1995. An­to­nio Ban­deras, who was mar­ried to Grif­fith for 19 years, is her step­fa­ther, and her grand­mother is Al­fred Hitch­cock muse Tippi Hedren. So it’s no sur­prise that act­ing is sec­ond na­ture to her. “I spent my en­tire child­hood on film sets and we were al­ways watch­ing movies,” says John­son, who made her screen de­but aged 10 along­side her mother in Crazy in Alabama, di­rected by Ban­deras.

While priv­i­leged, John­son’s child­hood had its com­pli­ca­tions. She has an older half-brother, Alexan­der, from her mother’s first marriage; a half-sis­ter, Stella, 20 – Grif­fith and Ban­deras’s daugh­ter – and four half-sib­lings on her fa­ther’s side. John­son and Alexan­der “would travel two weeks with Mum if she was on lo­ca­tion in, say, Bu­dapest, and two weeks with my dad if he was film­ing in San Fran­cisco. I wouldn’t change it and I don’t re­gret it… not that I had a choice.”

How­ever, “I would get in all sorts of trou­ble,” she adds. John­son doesn’t elab­o­rate, but did spend time in re­hab for drug abuse aged 17. Her par­ents were strict. “I was grounded a lot,” she re­calls. “But mostly they were just sup­port­ive.”

Her peri­patetic early life meant there were ed­u­ca­tional chal­lenges. “My brother and I would travel with a tu­tor, so I didn’t go to school till I was 10. It was tricky,” she ad­mits. “I never spent a full year at school; I was taken out if my par­ents were on lo­ca­tion. I didn’t know how to man­age my time, do home­work, or even stay in a class­room all day long. I was used to go­ing to mu­se­ums and trav­el­ling around talking to peo­ple. I love learn­ing – but I hated school.”

The ac­tor de­scribes Grif­fith as “an amaz­ing mum, the most lov­ing and gen­er­ous woman”. She is also in­spired by her grand­mother, “a pow­er­ful woman. She’s the pic­ture of grace and I spend a lot of time with her.” John­son tells Stel­lar she worked with Hedren on her re­cent book, Tippi: A Me­moir, in which the 87-year-old re­vealed she was sub­jected to sex­ual ha­rass­ment from Hitch­cock, who was ob­sessed with her. “She was not hav­ing any of that,” declares John­son. “She was ex­tremely wil­ful and she pro­tected her­self. Hitch­cock told her he was go­ing to ruin her ca­reer and she said, ‘Do what you have to do,’ and walked away.”

Would John­son have the courage to do the same? “Yes,” she says. “It’s in my blood. We’re all very strong women. I was brought up that way – I am as­sertive if I need to be and I have an in­ner strength. We’re all pretty fiery women.”

Her mother’s ca­reer sky­rock­eted in the ’80s, and in­cluded an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for Work­ing Girl (1988), but she has been ab­sent from screens re­cently. John­son lashed out at Hol­ly­wood’s ne­glect last year, ask­ing, “Why isn’t my mother in the movies? She’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­tress,” adding that the in­dus­try is “f*ck­ing bru­tal”.

“I do think it is very hard for women,” she says now. “But also, as an artist, your life evolves, and some­times you don’t want to make movies any­more.” In her mother’s case, “I think it’s a bit of both,” she says. Any plans to act along­side Grif­fith? “That would be awe­some. I would love to do that.”

While it’s hardly fam­ily view­ing, John­son says her loved ones sup­ported her decision to work on Fifty Shades: “If it’s some­thing that makes me happy, they’re into it.” None of them actually watched the first film. “It would be like if they watched me get bru­tally mur­dered. Why would they want to see that? It’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The new in­stal­ment has yet more sex scenes. “They are ex­plicit,” says John­son. Film­ing them “was un­com­fort­able at times. You feel vul­ner­a­ble. There are times when you’re hand­cuffed or blindfolded, your senses are taken away and there’s a height­ened anx­i­ety, but I’m still try­ing to do my job. There were mo­ments that were dif­fi­cult, emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally. It’s not some­thing you ever re­ally get used to, but I trust Jamie,” she says of her co-star. “He’s ex­tremely pro­tec­tive of me.”

Vet­eran film­maker James Fo­ley ( Who’s That Girl) was in charge of those tricky scenes after a highly pub­li­cised clash with the books’ au­thor, E.L. James, led to Part One’s direc­tor, Sam Tay­lorJohn­son, quit­ting the fran­chise. Switch­ing bosses, says John­son, “was ini­tially scary, be­cause I was com­fort­able and knew what to ex­pect from Sam. But James has a real eye for cin­ema and we all worked to­gether re­ally well.”

The re­spect is mu­tual. Fo­ley has high praise for his fe­male lead, com­par­ing her to “Jane Fonda in her prime… I think Dakota’s per­for­mance is as bril­liant as Fonda’s in [1971 cult clas­sic] Klute, in terms of psy­cho­log­i­cal com­plex­ity,” he says.

Dor­nan and John­son’s on­screen chem­istry, says Fo­ley, was born from an au­then­tic ca­ma­raderie be­tween the ac­tors. “We shot for 103 days and I’m here to tes­tify with a lie de­tec­tor that I never saw one mo­ment of testi­ness. There is an in­cred­i­ble sense of hu­mour be­tween the two of them. The sex is, yes, BDSM, and in­tense, but in the mid­dle of a very in­tense thing, one of them is smil­ing or a gig­gle bursts through.”

One ques­tion still di­vides crit­ics and ob­servers: are the films de­mean­ing to women? For John­son, they de­liver “a pos­i­tive mes­sage, en­cour­ag­ing women to be bold, un­afraid and con­fi­dent; to love them­selves and their bod­ies”. She sees Anas­ta­sia as a role model, not a vic­tim; “a young woman who has in­sane amounts of self-re­spect. She is very hon­est about her evo­lu­tion as a young girl be­com­ing a woman, ex­plor­ing her sex­u­al­ity. Ev­ery­thing is con­sen­sual; ev­ery­thing’s her choice.”

Although some ac­tivists have called for fans to boy­cott the film, ar­gu­ing it pro­motes vi­o­lence against women, like all in­volved in the project, direc­tor Fo­ley agrees the fe­male lead is very much in con­trol – and the dis­tinc­tion be­tween fan­tasy and real-life is never blurred: “Ana dis­cov­ers there are sit­u­a­tions sex­u­ally where she en­joys be­ing dom­i­nated, but it’s very clear that, out­side the bed­room, that’s the last thing that’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Be­yond the box-of­fice pow­er­house that is Fifty Shades, John­son, who cites Ni­cole Kid­man, Michelle Pfeif­fer and Gena Row­lands as role mod­els, has al­ready starred along­side such lu­mi­nar­ies as Johnny Depp and Tilda Swin­ton, and has a di­verse slate of up­com­ing projects. And with her celebrity on the rise, she’s savvy enough to keep her per­sonal life out of the spot­light. Sin­gle after a two-year re­la­tion­ship with rocker Matthew Hitt, John­son won’t dis­cuss ro­mance, and claims to lead “a low-pro­file life” in which un­wanted me­dia in­tru­sion “actually doesn’t hap­pen to me a lot”.

Next year she will ap­pear in Fifty Shades Freed, the fi­nal film in the se­ries. After that, “I don’t know where I’m head­ing – all I know is I want to make films,” she says, re­veal­ing that, out­side of work, she dreams of hav­ing chil­dren and mov­ing to the coun­try. “I grew up on a ranch in Colorado, rid­ing horses. Life is just sim­ple there. It’s a spe­cial place to me. One day I would love to have that for my­self… and for my fam­ily.” Fifty Shades Darker is in cine­mas on Fe­bru­ary 9.



GREY MAT­TER (from top) Fifty Shades stars Dakota John­son and Jamie Dor­nan; with her grand­mother, Tippi Hedren, and mother, Me­lanie Fifty Shades Darker.

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