Dakota Johnson stars alongside Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts in the upcoming thriller, A Bigger Splash. Filmed on a remote Sicilian island of Pantelleria, this unusual story is about a rock star (Swinton) who has lost her voice and seeks respite on an island with her current boyfriend (Schoenaerts) until all hell breaks loose with her former partner, a flamboyant record company executive (Fiennes) shows up with his sexually provocative and dangerous daughter (Johnson).
Johnson, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson was at the eye of her own controversial storm when she starred in the role of Fifty Shades of Grey last year. She has also appeared in Black Mass and will star in the upcoming comedy, How to Be Single.
Meeting Johnson at the Venice Film Festival was the perfect location to talk about this film, set in Italy. Johnson looks glamorous this afternoon in an all-white ensemble as we chat on the island of Lido and watch the water taxis and speed boats carrying the actors to and from mainland Venice.
How did you get into the psyche of your character?
She’s quite a dark little girl isn’t she? I think she sort of is testing out her emotional and sexual boundaries. She is manipulative and likes starting fires and being provocative. I think she grew up in an environment where she is exposed to a pseudo-rock and roll lifestyle and that can sometimes force someone to grow up quicker than others. And I think she always wants more. She is a hedonist and doesn’t realise the damage she’s doing and she has this false sense of self-assuredness and she is quite naïve.
How do you play a character who is the total opposite from you?
That’s the fun part. (laughs) At the time I wasn’t looking for work and I needed to get my life together and I had just moved into a new house in Los Angeles and I wasn’t ready at all; I wasn’t ready to abandon ship and go to an island. I also felt that this character was so awesome and insane that I didn’t want to mess it up and I felt that I didn’t have adequate time to really figure her out but then I talked to Tilda and Tilda really just instilled so much hope in me that I went to the island and I did the movie.
There is so much more going on in your life now, is it actually a bigger challenge getting your life together these days?
I kind of just resigned myself to the fact that my life will probably not be together for awhile. My life is in a suitcase on a plane somewhere at all times.
Do you mean that you don’t have a base at the moment?
Well I do actually. I moved from LA, I moved to New York, I live there, and it’s easy to get everywhere from there. So I go where the wind blows.
Did your parents ever try to talk to you about not becoming an actress?
Yeah of course they did because there are a lot of scary things that come with this industry and it can be very brutal and it can be completely critical and deeply upsetting and I think any parent would want to protect their child from that. But then they have a child like me, (laughs) I guess it just doesn’t work out that way.
The other actors, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts said everybody had nightmares. Did you?
Yes. The energy that the island carries is something that is so bizarre and it’s very intense and then you also, Pantelleria also means “Daughter of the Wind,” and so the wind will blow and you will get hot wind from Africa, and everybody’s mood shifts and it changes and people become frantic and it can be chaotic. You absorb it and it kind of blasts through you and then all of a sudden the wind changes and it’s like when you let puppets go, people would just kind of like fall away and the energy levels were in constant flux. And the dreams were crazy.
Can you recall any actually?
No. I wouldn’t tell you even if I could. (laughs)
What was it like being on that island for two months? Beautiful I am sure, but being anywhere two months is a lot.
It was a long time and because of the emotional intensity of the film towards the end I kind of turned into a total basket case. I think everybody was like a little bit insane.
So what helps you to gain stability in your life? Not just with this particular movie but in general. How do you ground yourself?
I have my family and I have incredible friends. I do things that make me feel good, I spend time at home and read.
And would you like to have lions and leopards like your grandmother (Tippi Hedren) or is that not you?
No, we only need one of those in the family (laughs)
Do you get to see your family much? You are all a family of working actors.
Yeah, we see each other and we make the effort. Family is important.
You didn’t listen to the advice of your parents not choosing this career, so was there any other career advice they gave you that was really important?
All the time, mostly just normal advice. Regular human stuff.
Like take care of yourself?
Yeah, eat vegetables. Drink water (laughs)
And career wise?
Lots of things. It’s always hard for me to answer that question because we keep it pretty separate.
You talked about Tilda Swinton and that she instilled you with a lot of confidence. What did she say that changed things for you?
She said that I wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t supposed to be and it all happened so quickly that it must have been supposed to happen. It felt good and it felt right and I felt self-deprecating about my performance and at the read through and she said it was better than they thought it should be. She made me be not so nervous and she made me think more about the opportunity that I was given. She said it can all be worked out, my personal things, my house, it can all be worked out and it will only work out if I want it to. And that sort of put it all in perspective.
And what gave you the confidence to take part in this well known franchise, the 50 Shades trilogy?
How did I get the confidence for that? It was definitely scary at times and it was exhilarating when things are different and they spark controversy. Conversations are started. It’s interesting.
What kind of reactions did you get?
Good and bad. Per usual. (laughter)
How does the reality of being an actress compare to what you thought it would be like when you imagined it?
I never imagined all this stuff and I never imagined I would be in Venice with two films that I am proud of. And I never imagined that I would be surrounded by people that I admire so it’s pretty extraordinary and I guess I never thought about the jetlag aspect. I am constantly jetlagged, constantly, and never is there a moment where I am like, I feel totally great! (laughs)
A Bigger Splash is in cinemas 24 March