It was day one of trying on her new brown locks as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, a role that could come to define up-and-coming actress Dakota Johnson. The 24-year-old daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson was approaching her first photo shoot and interview for EW’s cover story in a very relaxed manner: joking with her future on-screen boyfriend Jamie Dornan; snapping photos for author EL James who was visiting the set, and trying to stay away from the tempting desserts that filled the craft services table.
The actress did acknowledge that it was a bit strange to embody a character for a role she hasn’t even had a chance to rehearse. “At first it felt like what are we doing because we haven’t done anything yet: How are we supposed to be in character when I don’t even know what’s going on,” said Johnson about the photo shoot. “But then everyone chilled out and that was good.”
Johnson coveted the role of the virginal college student for a long time. Once she found out producer Mike DeLuca was making the movie she quickly emailed her manager pleading with him to get her the part–and she had not yet read the books. Her mindset didn’t change once she perused the popular trilogy.
“I just really understand it,” said Johnson. “I think it’s an incredible love story and that’s why it’s affected so many people. Erica (EL James) did a really good job of explaining how that just can happen sometimes and you have this chemical pull to someone. Adding in the sex makes it perfect. Sometimes you feel a little bit naughty and that’s okay.”
Johnson auditioned for the film by reading a long, sexually-explicit monologue from Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona, one that chronicles the sexual adventure of Nurse Alma on a beach with another woman and two young boys. It was an unconventional choice for an audition piece but one that suggested to Johnson that the filmmakers were going to address the sex in a mature, direct manner.
“They weren’t–and I can’t think of a better word right now–pussy footing around the subject,” said Johnson with a laugh.
The actress stalked her manager and agents on a daily basis waiting to hear if she had landed the role. It was the end of summer and she was in New York at a friend’s loft apartment. No one, with the exception of her boyfriend, actor Jordan Masterson, knew she had even auditioned for the role. She was sworn to secrecy.
“The phone rang and I remember looking out of this apartment to an apartment across the street. And I was looking at all of these people in their windows. And I thought, ‘How funny would it be if I were watching people having sex right now?,” she laughs.
No one was of course having sex but that didn’t stop Johnson from having an extreme response to the news of her new job. “They said ‘You got the offer’ and I couldn’t speak,” recalls Johnson. “I was just so relieved. I was crying and crying. Water was literally squirting out of my eyes because I had been so stressed out. And there’s this giant Doberman Pincher laying on the bed next to me. And he just slowly fell asleep. It was so special and [this dog] didn’t give a f— about me and what I was going through.”