It seems most improbable in this day and age that the daughter of two of the most charismatic stars of their generation—and the star herself in one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time—should be a mystery to us. But such is the elusive figure cut by Dakota Johnson that she manages to somehow remain unshredded and undissected by the tabloids and social media.
It’s not as if Dakota’s parents, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, are such white-hot supernovas that she gets lost in the glare of their fame, but nor has she been raised in anonymity: Dakota was Miss Golden Globe in 2006 (one hell of a debutante party for the then 16-year-old), and two of her closest friends are descended from rock-star royalty. Her casting as Anastasia Steele, too, in 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey—after perhaps the most celebrated and scrutinized casting call in the past ten years—should have made her an overnight celebrity, or at least the regular fodder for gossip columns. But, not so much.
What we do know for sure is the work, including her terrific turn as a Boston gangster moll to Johnny Depp’s Whitey Bulger in last year’s Black Mass. In Luca Guadagnino’s sun-soaked A Bigger Splash, out this month, Johnson plays a Lolita-ish foil to an ailing rock-star goddess played by actual goddess Tilda Swinton. It’s a sensational performance in a sensational movie about allure and attraction among a group of lost souls. It probably doesn’t bring us any closer to figuring out Johnson herself—but it may have helped her to do so. As the actress tells real-life rock star Chrissie Hynde, playing a character in dire existential distress helped her sort out a little of her own. But just a little.