There is a little bit of a Ben Affleck-as-Batman type of backlash happening in response to Monday’s news that Charlie Hunnan and Dakota Johnson had been cast in the lead roles of Christian and Anastasia in the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey. Much as social activist-leaning Batman fans took to Change.org to generate a petition for Warner Bros. to remove Ben Affleck from the role of Batman, 50 Shades of Grey now has a Change.org petition campaigning for the lead roles to be re-cast with Matt Bomer and Alexis Bledel. So far, 5,000 people have signed the petition.
By comparison, that Ben Affleck petition had generated 10,000 signatures in its first 48 hours. For a novel series generally written off as being “mommy porn” and often spoken about in disparaging, joking terms, it turns out 50 Shades of Grey fans are pretty dang passionate. Not Batman-fan passionate, but closer than I certainly expected. As of this writing, that Batman petition is still on-going, and has grown to more than 90,000 signatures. Your move, 50 Shades of Grey petition.
Predictably, there are now industry trade (The Hollywood Reporter) stories reporting that Johnson and Hunnan may not have been the first choices for the roles for the producers either. Heck, Hunnan may not have even been the second choice.
Who were the other candidates for the role of Christian?
Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) is said to have been offered and turned down the role of Christian Grey in July. British actor Christian Cooke (who’s IMDB head shot might as well bear the subtitle “Welcome to the Smolder Show”) was a back-up choice. Cooke has done a crapton of British television (he was the lead in the short-lived supernatural show Demons) and was recently the lead in Ricky Gervais’ Cemetery Junction.
Apparently, it’s not exactly like Hunnan was desperately fighting for the role against the likes of Hedlund and Cooke though. Nope, it turns out he was super reluctant to agree to it. He was convinced to be in the project by a day-long meeting with the producers, and they in turn convinced about him when he read with Johnson and the two apparently made sweet, sweet love on the spot. Or they just had obvious sexual chemistry (and maybe made sweet, sweet love on their own time if they wanted to; we don’t know what they do with their free time).
Who were the other candidates for the role of Anastasia?
Johnson, on the other hand, had a ton of competition, but was the top choice for the role once Samantha Taylor-Johnson was hired as director in June. Other actresses to be considered for the role included Felicity Jones (perfect, but deemed slightly too old at 30 to play the 21-year-old Anastasia), Shailene Woodley (cool with the nudity, but ultimately unavailable due to commitments to the upcoming hopeful film franchise Divergent), Alicia Vikander, Imogent Poots, and Elizabeth Olsen. The Wrap cites insides sources who claim that multiple actresses, including Felicity Jones, actually turned down the role (as opposed to the producers deciding against casting them) due to the nudity required for the role.
It’s to the studio’s benefit at the moment to reveal to the audience that some of the people they desperately wanted to be cast, like Matt Bomer and Alexis Bledel, may not have actually been interested in the role. Fans can’t simply will something like that to happen if the people involved won’t cooperate, a sentiment echoed by producer Dana Brunetti via Twitter yesterday.
Why would anyone turn down a chance to be in the film(s)?
This intended trilogy of films could straight-up kill the careers of most involved parties, especially the main actors [see: Elizabeth Berkely from Showgirls]. There is a reason the novels are called “mommy porn,” and it’s not just to jokingly disparage its merits. Nope, a faithful adaptation of the novel would court an NC-17 rating, which would be the kiss of death.
Let’s look at another highly sexed-up successful novel series that was adapted into a film with eyes on film franchise status: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The American film adaptation had a prestigious director (David Fincher) and James freakin’ Bond (Daniel Craig) as its leading man with a relative unknown as the female lead (Rooney Mara). The sex scenes were unflinching, with a depiction of rape being especially brutal and a consensual love making session between Craig and Mara’s characters being astonishingly Skinemax-y in its full-on nudity. However, it struggled to make over $100 million domestic on a $90 million budget, and that intended trilogy is still a bit up in the air. The only reason a sequel or two are still possible is because the less prudish in terms of nudity foreign market helped turn the film into a relatively minor worldwide hit ($130 million foreign gross for $230 million worldwide total).
The 50 Shades of Grey novels are even more derided than Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With... trilogy, and its film adaptation has cast two even lesser knowns as its stars and will be directed by a woman whose body of work is practically nonexistent in relation to David Fincher’s. Plus, there is very little in 50 Shades of Grey to distract from its sexual content as the story is pretty much exclusively about a sexual awakening. Films of that type haven’t had a hit since Diane Liane stepped out on Richard Gere in the marital infidelity steamy erotic thriller Unfaithful in 2002. Not even the promise of a nude Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried in lesbian scenes in 2010’s Chloe could entice viewers ($11.7 million worldwide gross on a $14 million budget).
So, Hunnan and Johnson aren’t so much the perfect people for the parts as they are the first ones who were willing to risk everything for it. Johnson, in particular, must have a very unique viewpoint on the subject. Her mother, actress Melanie Griffith, took serious risks in the mid-1980s by starring as a porn star in Brian De Palma’s understandably nudity-heavy Body Double (1984) and then as a sexbomb character in the R-rated comedy Something Wild (1986). However, that paid off for her, leading to Working Girl and an Oscar nomination in 1988. So, like mother, like daughter, or so Dakota probably hopes. Plus, the careers of Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara have certainly taken off after they bared all in the Girl WIth films, Swedish and American versions respectively.
50 Shades of Grey will begin filming next month in order to meet their previously announced August 1, 2014 release date. Let us know what you think of this or any of the alternate casting rumors in the comments section.