Grey matters

Jamie Dornan is about to bring literature’s biggest sexpot to the silver screen, taking the lead in the adaptation of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. Jessica Hundley asks him if the role carries more risks than rope burns

Grey matters

It is a flawless LA morning, the sun already high enough to fill a sixth-floor suite of the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. Yet despite the soft glow pulsing through the windows, Jamie Dornan seems worried. The Irish actor (also one of the highest paid male models in the world), takes a sip of black coffee and his good looks settle into the expression of a man about to leap out of a plane: intense, focused, serious and – above all – afraid.

It is the first day of what will be an endless stream of press junkets surrounding the movie release of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the sure-to-be-divisive adaptation of the global erotic phenomenon. And Jamie Dornan, the film’s relatively unknown star, senses he is about to be thrown to the lions.

At 32, the Belfast-raised Dornan has only just begun his ascent to the A-list. As a brooding serial killer in the BBC crime drama ‘The Fall’, he’s established himself as an acting force to be reckoned with, but with ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, Dornan has been thrust (!) at hyper-speed into the limelight. 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 for ever into the silky, sensual fabric of female fantasy.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a romantic novel with lots of sex – rough sex, to be exact – masochistic, erotic and apparently exactly the stuff which the reading public had been breathlessly awaiting. With the book an international bestseller, the movie adaptation has, of course, been hotly debated, becoming one of those ‘novel into film’ discussions about which pretty much everyone has a very strong opinion. Under the unexpected direction of renowned visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, 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-that-famous – and cast only a month before shooting began. Today, at the Marmont, he is essentially standing at the brink and looking down with a mix of excitement and trepidation. It’s time to finally take the leap.

Dornan, in a clip from the trailer

This isn’t your everyday Hollywood starring role.
‘No. People are… well, let’s just say if you’re into it, it seems you’re really into it.'

And if they hate it, they’ll hate you?
‘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.’

How did you land the part? People must have fantasised about all kinds of big stars playing Christian Grey.
‘It was very peculiar. I auditioned, then they cast someone else [English actor Charlie Hunman] and I moved on. But then it came around again. From the day I got cast to the day we started shooting was only a month. Which is really insane.’

Wow, that must have been intense.
‘I hope I never have to go into a job like that again. My wife was also very 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 overthink 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.’

Maybe this is one part you just have to throw yourself into?
‘I would still want more 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.’

Like what?
‘I had a decent sense, I think, of his 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 just felt – I don’t mean it is in any way parallel with my own life – but I felt early on I had an understanding of that and I felt comfortable when I went to play him.’

What was it like to work with Sam Taylor-Wood? She was quite a leftfield choice to direct.
‘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 sex in a very classy, demure kind of way. There are directors out there who could have made this content very gratuitous, explicit and unnecessarily intense, but she handled it all in a very sophisticated manner.’

Oh yes, there are some sex scenes, aren’t there? How were they?
‘It’s work. There’s no other way to approach it [than] just accepting that you’re doing intimate things with lots of people you don’t know well in a room with you. The physical side of it, the nakedness, that was still hard. I tried my best not to end up naked too much when I was modelling. I’m never entirely comfortable with that, although Google Images would probably deny that fact! Unless you’re massively pleased with yourself and vain beyond belief, you’re never going to be happy. I’ve never seen a picture of myself with my shirt off and thought: That looks good. You know?’

But having been a hugely in-demand model must have made it all a bit easier?
‘Yes, there are aspects of having your photograph taken a lot that can help. Not just in this role. Every job I do I think I take something from the fact that I spent a lot of time in front of the camera. There’s a comfort that comes with doing that a lot.’

Do you like the dark side? ‘The Fall’ has very grim subject matter, and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is dark in its own way.
‘Yeah. I’m not entirely sure why, but dark characters do have an allure for me, characters who are into things that aren’t happy-go-lucky, smiley situations. Not to say that I only want to play dark characters. 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 we all have our moments.’

Perhaps you – like Christian Grey – are just exploring that?
‘Yes. That’s what’s great fun about choosing this profession. You find out a lot about yourself. On every project you find out something different about yourself. It’s like self-therapy, in a mad way.’

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ opened on Fri Feb 13.

Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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