Actress Dakota Johnson is getting down while housecleaning. “Take that, floor! Dirty, dirty floor,” she raps to herself as she scrubs while listening to an iPod. “Say it! Say my name, bitch! Back it up, back it, back it up!”
Sure, she’s talking to inanimate objects in this “Ben and Kate” sitcom scene, but the newly cast “Fifty Shades of Grey” star has clearly got the chops for playing a sensual yet awkward heroine.
“She used to do physical comedy stuff for us that was like Lucille Ball,” says Dana Fox, creator of the short-lived Fox sitcom that starred Johnson. “I try not to fall into writing scenes where gorgeous girls have to trip and fall so they’ll be likable — but she had that thing, so we’d use it.”
Fox recalls one scene in particular that showed Johnson’s willingness to “go there” for a bit. “She was cleaning the house, and I wanted her to be listening to a funny song, like a dirty, sexy song, while cleaning, and not realize that everybody was watching her — she was doing this dance with the mop, pretending to booty-slap a plant. She grabbed this lamp and was on the floor, pretending to hump it.
“It was so awkward and funny. The next day, she was just covered in bruises! We had to use makeup to get rid of them. She was like, ‘I’ll do whatever it takes to make this funny.'”
Now, her pluck has paid off handsomely.
Playing Anastasia Steele, the heroine of E.L. James’ smutty series, is a career-making role for the 23-year-old blonde. The book has sold more than 70 million copies, most of them to women who can’t wait to plunk down money to see the book’s (literally) torturous love affair played out onscreen. As with any passionate readership, there have been detractors weighing in on the news of Johnson’s selection, including online petitions bashing the choice.
Despite her celebrity pedigree — she’s the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and the stepdaughter of Griffith’s third husband, Antonio Banderas — Johnson’s only appeared in a string of small roles to date. (Her big-screen debut, alongside half-sister Stella, was in 1999′s “Crazy in Alabama,” which starred her mom and was directed by her stepdad.)
If you remember Johnson from anything, it might be her lone scene in “The Social Network” as the college girl who hooks up with Justin Timberlake’s character and finds out he’s the Napster founder the next morning (“I just slept with Sean Parker?”).
Or her small role in last year’s “The Five-Year Engagement,” which sees her having comically athletic sex with Jason Segel, to the point that it wears him out.
But “Fifty Shades” is a whole new level for the fledgling actress. The part of Anastasia — or “Ana,” as she’s nicknamed in the book — calls for an actress who can believably play the naive, clumsy, virginal college grad who becomes intrigued by, then falls under the sway of, a wealthy and handsome entrepreneur, the titular Christian Grey, whose sexual tastes run to the sadomasochistic.
One Hollywood casting director, who asked to remain anonymous, says she was “definitely a little surprised” by the decision to cast Johnson. “It’ll be challenging to make Dakota believable as an innocent when it comes to sex and men. All of Dakota’s prominent roles to date have been extremely sexual. She’s even played the mom of a 6-year-old! So I’m a bit dubious as to whether she’s really right for this role,” says the casting director.
“But,” she continues, “I also think she’s been surprising everyone with her work so far. There’s always a great amount of skepticism about a model-turned-actor — especially one with famous parents — but I think she’s proven herself to have more skill and depth than was expected of her, and she’s definitely been choosing smart projects to build a possibly long-lasting career.”
Early support for Johnson came from her leading man: British actor Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” will play Christian, and he recently spoke about the audition process and working with Johnson.
“As soon as we got in the room and started reading with Dakota, I knew that I definitely wanted to do it, because there was a tangible chemistry between us. It felt kind of exciting and fun and weird and compelling, and so that was it,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
Presumbly, the attraction was merely acting, as Johnson is romantically attached: Her boyfriend is actor and Scientologist Jordan Masterson, known for roles in the ABC series “Greek” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Besides, Johnson’s appeal transcends just sex, says Daniel Barnz, who directed her in his 2011 film “Beastly”: “She has this combination of natural intelligence and this sort of appealingly unconscious sexuality which make her an inspired choice for the part,” Barnz tells The Post.
Barnz, who cast her as a teenage mean girl in his high-school-set fairy tale, says he wanted her for the role precisely because it went against type for her. “She makes very unexpected [acting] choices,” he says, “in that I think there’s something unpredictable about her onscreen. That makes her characters really come alive. She’s going to blow everyone away.”
Johnson’s performance has the potential to elevate the film adaptation of a torrid, oft-ridiculed novel into something people actually care about, say her supporters. “If you’re going to do this kind of thing, you have to make people care about the emotion of the character. Otherwise, it’ll just be sort of . . . porny,” says Fox. “If anyone can pull that off, it’s her.”
Source: NY Post