Jamie Dornan is about to hit the big time, taking the lead in the most anticipated film of the year. Jessica Hundley meets the Fifty Shades of Grey star as he nervously awaits his moment in the spotlight…
It is a flawless morning in Los Angeles, the sun high enough to fill a sixth-floor suite of the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. Yet despite the soft glow gleaming through the windows, Jamie Dornan looks worried. The Irish actor and model (one of the highest paid male models in the world, in fact) takes a sip of black coffee and his good looks settle into the expression of a man about to leap from a plane – intense, focused, serious and, above all, afraid.
It is the first day of what will soon seem an endless stream of press junkets surrounding the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, the book/global phenomenon/Hollywood movie. And Dornan, the film’s relatively unknown star, senses he’s about to be thrown to the lions.
At 32, the Belfast-raised Dornan has only just begun his rise. His recent television role, as a brooding serial killer on the BBC crime series The Fall, has established him as a force to be reckoned with, but with Fifty Shades of Grey, Dornan has been thrust, at hyper speed, into the celebrity stratosphere. Playing the lead character of Christian Grey, he has gone from being a man to swoon over in the occasional Calvin Klein ad to being woven forever into the silky, sensual fabric of universal female fantasy.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Fifty Shades of Grey is a romance novel, and apparently exactly the stuff for which the reading public has been breathlessly awaiting. With the book an international bestseller, the movie adaptation has, of course, been alternately ballyhooed and critiqued, becoming one of those ‘novel into film’ debates about which pretty much everyone in the world has a very strong opinion. Under the unexpected direction of renowned UK artist Sam Taylor-Johnson, the movie is expected to be either pure genius or pure junk.
And at the centre of the debate is Dornan himself – gorgeous, mysterious, not yet famous – and cast only a month before shooting began. Today, at the Chateau, Dornan is essentially standing at the brink and looking down with a mix of excitement and trepidation. We spoke with him about what it feels like to finally take the leap.
Starring as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades is not like starring in a normal movie…
No. People are… well, let’s just say if you’re into it, it seems you’re really into it.
There are millions of fans of the book eagerly waiting to see the film. Do you think they’ll like the finished product?
I think for this series of books particularly, people have very strong opinions about who their Christian Grey is and who their Anastasia Steele is. Some people will be happy enough with the film. And some will be rabidly disappointed.
You weren’t initially cast in the role. How did you come to get the part?
It was under very peculiar circumstances. I had auditioned, then they cast someone else and I moved on. But then it came back around and from the day I got cast to the day we started shooting was only a month – which is really insane, even saying that now.
That must have been intense.
I hope I never have to go into a job like that again. My wife was also heavily pregnant at the time. We had our daughter three days before we started filming. In a way, I didn’t have enough time to over-think things. I just had to grin and bear it and be like, ‘Right, this is happening. It’s quite a big deal. I have to make sure I’m as ready as I can be in the allotted time.’
Do you think this is a character that was better to approach viscerally and physically, rather than trying to over-think or over-prepare?
I would still want more time than four weeks from finding out you’re working to ‘action!’ Luckily, there were aspects to the character
that I felt relatively solid with, without feeling I needed to do loads of work.
What aspects were those?
I had a relatively decent sense, I think, of his sort of torture, of people misunderstanding him, of his struggle for love and acceptance. He’s an extremely powerful guy, but I think there’s a big element of Christian that is really unfulfilled. I don’t mean that is in any way parallel with my own life, but I felt early on that I had an understanding of that, and I felt comfortable when I went to play him.
Did you hesitate at all in taking this part, knowing the weight of this particular role?
I think taking relative risks is a sort of must in this industry. Essentially you’ve got to figure out the reasons for and against, and literally weigh them up and make a decision. People think of it as a risk, but once I weighed everything, I felt it was the right thing to do. I don’t want to have a safe career. I hope to have plenty more risks in me, because it makes it fun.
What was it like to work with Sam Taylor-Johnson? She was an interesting choice for this film, being a female director from a visual art background.
She has this amazing ability to calm potentially crazy situations. When we were making the picture, she had a very easy way of negating the outside craziness, not making it feel that we were involved in this hugely anticipated monster that everyone had an opinion on. And she deals with the content in a very classy, demure kind of way. There are directors out there who could have made it very gratuitous and unnecessarily intense, but she handled it all in a very sophisticated manner.
Do you feel that modelling helped in this particular role?
Yes, there are aspects of having your photograph taken a lot that can help. Not just in this role. Every job I do, in a way, I think I take something from the fact that I spent a lot of time in front of the camera. There’s comfort that comes with doing that a lot.
The Fall has a very dark subject matter. Fifty Shades of Grey is also dark in its own way. Is that attractive to you?
Yeah. I’m not entirely sure why, but I do have an allure to dark characters who are into things that aren’t considered happy-go-lucky, smiley situations. Not to say that I only want to play dark roles. I don’t seek it out, but I do find myself drawn to characters that are slightly broken or fractured. That’s somewhat applicable to my own life, so maybe there’s something to be said there. But on a general level, I don’t consider myself like that at all. I consider myself a happy person. I don’t have too many demons. I don’t find myself in places of darkness too often. But I guess we all have our moments.
Perhaps these characters allow you to explore your own darkness in a way that’s safe?
Yes. That’s what’s great fun about choosing this as a profession. On every project you find out something different about yourself. It’s like self-therapy, in a mad way.
Click here to see The Players
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The British singer plays Christian Grey’s adopted sister
Don Johnson & Melanie Griffith
Mum and dad to Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia Steele (Dad ‘not wild about it’)
E. L. James
Despite being criticised for her writing, she birthed a phenomenon
Kevin Spacey’s former assistant landed the rights to the novel
The celebrated British director, pictured with actor husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson