Based on the novel of the same name, the Fifty Shades trilogy was written by a woman, E. L. James, and the film is directed by a woman, Sam Taylor-Johnson. And despite the debates as to whether the material is feminist or anti-feminist, the demographic is most certainly female.
Johnson is a third-generation actor. Her mother, Melanie Griffith, was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for Working Girl (1988). Griffith herself is the daughter of Tippi Hedren, a former fashion model, actor and muse of Alfred Hitchcock, for whom she starred in legendary films The Birds and Marnie. Johnson’s father, Don Johnson, is best known for the 1980s TV series Miami Vice, for which he won a Golden Globe.
Johnson shocked Hollywood when she won the role of sexually adventurous Anastasia Steele over more established actors such as Shailene Woodley and Emma Watson. Griffith herself played her share of risqué characters, particularly in the beginning of her career when she appeared naked in Night Moves (1975) and a porn star in Body Double (1984).
The 25-year-old bombshell talks to MiNDFOOD about courage, nudity and what to expect from men.
It must have taken a lot of courage to sign onto this film for many reasons, one being that you’re playing such a beloved character. That must bring a lot of pressure?
Yes, I guess that courage lives somewhere in me and I don’t know where it came from. And to deal with the response, I am just going to take it all in [my] stride. Not everyone loves every movie. There are going to be people who don’t like it, and that’s okay.
How did you protect yourself emotionally when you were doing some of the more difficult scenes?
Well, it’s not me in this movie. It’s not my emotions. But I get to a very vulnerable and raw place in order to access those emotions. And at the end of the day, sometimes it can be exhausting and sometimes it can be emotionally taxing, but it’s also rewarding.
What’s it like for you to watch yourself?
Strange. (Laughs.) I feel very much removed from it.
What surprised you the most about acting in this role?
The idea of doing nude scenes or sex scenes was scary and daunting, but it’s nowhere as scary or daunting as the moment immediately before. Then after a while it gets a lot easier and you can take away all the scary parts and just focus on the work. I was surprised by that. I think there was a part of me that thought I would be totally afraid the whole way through, or I would be too nervous to let go. But that wasn’t the case.
What is your view on the naked female body?
I think the naked female body is the most beautiful thing. I think women should be more comfortable with themselves and not [be] ashamed of their bodies.
I know you shot the more explicit scenes at the end of the shoot. Did that help you and what was it like?
Well, it gave us time to all trust each other and to get to know each other and understand each others’ strengths and where we needed to be supported and protected. With those scenes that were extremely explicit and emotional and just so vulnerable, I had to really understand the character and really get to the baseline of the emotional notes during those scenes.
What’s it like following in the career footsteps of your parents?
I think anyone following in the career of their parents wants to break the mould. I don’t always want to be considered my mother’s daughter or my father’s daughter.
What was their reaction when you told them about the role? Did you ask their opinion before you took it on?
I didn’t. I didn’t talk to them about it before I took the role. But the interesting thing is that both my mother and my grandmother are two women who have had sort of shocking female actress careers and I find that quite interesting that my mum has done similar work; they have made profound statements in film. They just support me completely. They understand it’s a job, they understand it’s acting and they understand I am not going to do this all the time. (Laughs.)
And your dad?
My father is completely 100 per cent supportive. But he’s not going to see it. I mean, none of them are going to see it. I wouldn’t want them to see this movie! (Laughs.)
As a third-generation actor, was there ever any doubt in your mind that you would follow in their footsteps? Or did that decision come later?
I think I always just kind of assumed that I would be an actress because I think there was a part of me that thought I wasn’t actually capable of doing anything else; I didn’t have any other actual skills, (laughs) and then I would also go through the phases of wanting to be a mermaid or a vet. And then I always just thought I would be making movies because I grew up around people always making movies. And I guess it just sort of moulded my mind into thinking creatively.
Which character traits have you inherited your mother and grandmother, and from whom?
I would like to think that I have a bit of my grandmother’s strength and grace. She’s the most graceful woman that I ever met in my life. And my mum is smart and funny and I would like to think I am funny sometimes. (Laughs.) And I don’t know what else. I think I am a bit like both of my parents.
Through this experience of shooting sexually explicit scenes, has it changed your self-image? Are you more comfortable with your body than perhaps before?
I think I have always been fairly comfortable with my body. The scenes are so technical to shoot that I wasn’t ever really focused on my body image.
What was your personal reaction to reading the book?
What’s interesting about it is that it’s not an easy book to go through yet you go through it insanely quickly. I think most women read it that way but the thing I was so enthralled by was this fairytale love story. It’s so epic and it’s coupled with content that is just bizarre and intriguing and interesting. And so, reading the books, there were moments where I was like, ‘Oh geez!’ But mostly the love story aspect took over everything.
Had you read erotic literature before?
I have read a lot of [Charles] Bukowski. (Laughs.) He is one of my favourites.
Are you in a relationship at the moment?
No. I am with no one. (Laughs.)
What did your father teach you about men?
That I should expect respect and that I should always feel honoured and loved.
Your life is going to change dramatically after Valentine’s Day weekend. Are you prepared?
It’s a very bizarre thing to contemplate, to wonder about what my life is going to be like. But I think the way I lead my life and the fact that I do value my privacy and I like to do normal things, is a good way to be. I think it all depends on how the person acts and is in the world.