Full ex­po­sure

Is Dakota John­son the most fear­less ac­tress in Hol­ly­wood? We spoke to the Fifty Shades star about fame, sex and build­ing a ca­reer on her own terms.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents -

igot you bal­loons!” Dakota John­son shouts above a din of bark­ing dogs. As the gates of her mother’s house open, the ac­tress is half-re­vealed be­neath a tan­gle of bal­loons, wear­ing jeans and boots. “Is this an ap­pro­pri­ate out­fit for meet­ing your land­scape ar­chi­tect?” she asks, pulling on a red sweater.

Of course she was jok­ing about the bal­loons. They’re the de­tri­tus of the 27th birth­day party that her mother, Me­lanie Grif­fith, threw her a few nights be­fore.

We snake through the hills to the mid-cen­tury home that Dakota bought last year in a clear con­ces­sion to the fact that she was, is, and al­ways will be a crea­ture of Hol­ly­wood. It was the sec­ond house she saw, but she says she fell hard for its mod­ernist pedi­gree. “I spent hours googling mid-cen­tury houses. I get ob­sessed.”

Now a thou­sand grown-up ren­o­va­tion de­ci­sions must be faced. Has she set­tled on wood or poured con­crete for the mas­ter bath? The con­trac­tor asks. “High-class prob­lems, y’all,” she says, shak­ing her head.

She calls for a wall of white blooms to con­ceal her skinny-dip­ping habit. “You want a hedge that’s re­strained but wild,” the land­scaper says. “Like me,” she quips.

And on it goes. He sug­gests a cit­rus grove. She sug­gests a cannabis farm. With Dakota, there is al­ways a naugh­ti­ness min­gled with sur­prised plea­sure at her own naugh­ti­ness. Is this how she ac­com­mo­dates the at­ten­tion gar­nered by her star turn op­po­site Jamie Dor­nan in the Fifty Shades fran­chise? Or is that amused tit­il­la­tion among the qual­i­ties that earned her the role of Anas­ta­sia Steele in the first place? It’s been two years since Fifty Shades changed her life and, al­though her blood­line is true-blue Hol­ly­wood – her dad is Don John­son, her for­mer step­dad is An­to­nio Ban­deras, her grand­mother

is Tippi He­dren – there’s no gene for cake­walk­ing along­side a cin­e­matic jug­ger­naut. She’s heard it said that she de­spises Fifty Shades. Not so. “I’m truly proud of it,” she says. “It’s dif­fer­ent, and dif­fer­ent is what I’m about.”

Later, sit­ting at lunch at a restau­rant where the women have lac­quered lips and pro­nounced curves, Dakota’s cool-girl looks don’t reg­is­ter. And yet very likely most peo­ple here have seen her naked. A lot.

“Nu­dity is re­ally in­ter­est­ing for an ac­tor,” she says. “There’s no makeup. There are no clothes to tell you a bit about the story. So it be­comes purely about the per­for­mance. Maybe I have more of a Euro­pean mind­set. I don’t want to see some­one wear­ing un­der­wear in a sex scene. Let’s be hon­est about it. Peo­ple are naked when they have sex.”

De­spite all the on-screen ex­po­sure, she has strug­gled with the idea of a pub­lic life. “I’m ter­ri­ble in crowds,” she says. “I have a thing with the ex­po­sure, with the ex­pe­ri­ence of the past two years. I no­ticed my­self be­com­ing shut off to strangers, even cold. That’s not my na­ture. I pre­fer to be ten­der.”

Ten­der is Dakota’s favourite word, and her friend Dr Woo, the cur­rent sta­tus tat­too artist, re­cently etched it onto her fore­arm in fine, loop­ing let­ters.

Born in Texas and raised nowhere in par­tic­u­lar, Dakota had an un­con­ven­tional child­hood. Her par­ents were usu­ally on lo­ca­tion, and Dakota tagged along, nan­nies and tu­tors in tow. She can’t count the num­ber of schools she at­tended or the num­ber of friend­ships that slipped away. She started ther­apy at age three. “The whole she­bang,” she ex­plains. “All the help you can get.” She had to con­tend with her par­ents’ di­vorce, and their strug­gles with drugs and al­co­hol. School was a chal­lenge and she hated study­ing. “I thought, ‘Why do I have to go to school on time?’” she says. “What’s the point when you’re liv­ing in Budapest for six months while your step­dad films Evita and you go to school in your ho­tel room? I was a dis­as­ter, and I thought there was some­thing wrong with my brain.

“Maybe I have more of a Euro­pean mind­set. I don’t want to see some­one wear­ing un­der­wear in a sex scene. Let’s be hon­est about it.”

Now I re­alise it just works in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Film was al­ways the best way to en­gage Dakota, and cel­lu­loid ob­ses­sions were her es­cape: she watched Mary Pop­pins, Home Alone, Beetle­juice, and later all of Bernardo Ber­tolucci and John Cas­savetes films over and over. She stud­ied bal­let un­til age 16 but al­ways imag­ined a ca­reer in act­ing. “I thought, ‘This is just what my fam­ily does.’”

Dakota did some mod­el­ling while in high school, and when she grad­u­ated she moved to West Hol­ly­wood and started au­di­tion­ing. A cameo in The So­cial Net­work was the break she needed.

Last year, in the long wake of the first Fifty Shades film, Dakota ap­peared in Luca Guadagnino’s A Big­ger Splash, a re­make of the 1969 film La Piscine. To watch her slowly peel a fig in it, as she stares at the men who stare at her, makes one feel some­what un­easy. This kind of ado­les­cent sex­ual power has been her on-screen do­min­ion. “I’m fas­ci­nated by young women com­ing to terms with their sex­u­al­ity,” she ex­plains.

Luca then of­fered her the lead in Sus­piria, a re­make of a 1977 cult hor­ror movie about a US bal­let stu­dent who en­rols in a Ger­man dance acad­emy that turns out to be run by witches. Dakota spent six months re­train­ing her­self in bal­let, and was in­volved in the project from the start.

“It feels like we’re not mak­ing this for any­one but our­selves,” she says, “which is how I’d like to feel all the time when I make films. I know that’s not go­ing to hap­pen, but the thing about Fifty Shades is that, even if it’s main­stream, the sub­ject mat­ter isn’t. That way I can do some­thing mass but stay true to my weird in­ter­ests.”

We meet again a few weeks later at the fa­mous Glass House built by Philip John­son. Dakota is struck in par­tic­u­lar by the bed the ar­chi­tect shared with his part­ner of 45 years. “It’s the tini­est bed,” she says. “I love it. I mean, if you al­ways want to cud­dle, you’re in a pretty good spot.”

Last year, she broke up with model and mu­si­cian Matthew Hitt. “Things hap­pen. I think I’m a bit heart­bro­ken all the time, even when I’m in a happy re­la­tion­ship. My feel­ings, even the good ones, get so in­tense that they hurt,” she says. Right now she’s on her own. Enough said. “Can we make things re­ally juicy? Can we say I’m tak­ing this time to ex­plore my bi­sex­u­al­ity?”

She de­scribes the ‘new’ Anas­ta­sia, who al­lowed Chris­tian back into her life on her own terms in Fifty Shades Darker, as a badass. “She’s hy­per­sex­ual and very tough and very lov­ing. Her char­ac­ter has so many dif­fer­ent as­pects that don’t nor­mally make sense in one per­son. I tried to am­plify them all.”

“I was a dis­as­ter. I thought there was some­thing wrong with my brain. Now I re­alise it just works in a dif­fer­ent way.”

In the process of un­puz­zling this char­ac­ter’s com­plex sex­ual life, Dakota de­vel­oped an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for BDSM. “What I ad­mire is the brav­ery and the hon­esty of peo­ple who aren’t afraid to say they need some­thing a bit more in or­der to get off. The world is still so sex­u­ally op­pressed. Isn’t God’s gift to hu­mans the or­gasm? Here’s a fun fact: a woman has as many nerve end­ings in her cli­toris as a man has in his en­tire pe­nis.”

The third film, Fifty Shades Freed, is due for re­lease early next year. It was shot back-to-back with the se­quel, both un­der the di­rec­tion of James Fo­ley.

Dakota would love to get be­hind the cam­era her­self, and al­though she has her own pro­duc­tion com­pany, Sil­hou­ette Pro­duc­tions, she’s been too busy to get any­thing off the ground. For now she moves on to the set of the love story The Sound of Me­tal. Dakota re­cruited friend St Vin­cent to cre­ate mu­sic for the film.

“I fi­nally feel that I’m in the right place at the right time in my life, col­lab­o­rat­ing with artists who el­e­vate me,” she says. “A few years ago, I was wait­ing for some­one to give me a chance. I’m a pretty sen­si­tive per­son, and when I don’t feel pro­tected, I tend to close right up. But when I feel safe, I think I can do any­thing.”

2015 In Dolce & Gab­bana at the pre­miere of Jupiter As­cend­ing.

2013 In Gucci at the LACMA Art + Film Gala. 2015 In Marc Ja­cobs at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val. 2016 In Gucci at the Met Gala. 2017 In Gucci at the Os­cars.

2015 In Chanel at the Golden Globe Awards. 2015 In Saint Lau­rent at the

pre­miere. How to Be Sin­gle

2017 In Gucci at the Gucci Cruise 2017 show.

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