Dakota Johnson is reading with up-and-coming heartthrobs after Charlie Hunnam dropped out last week
Irish heartthrob Jamie Dornan (BBC's “The Fall,” above left) and Tony-nominated actor Billy Magnussen (“Damsels in Distress,” above right) are the first two actors to test for the role of Christian Grey with Dakota Johnson, TheWrap has learned.
Australian actor Luke Bracey (above, center), who recently wrapped Max Landis’ directorial debut “Me Him Her,” is also a contender.
Universal and Focus are in a hurry to replace Charlie Hunnam, who dropped out of the project last week, citing a lack of preparation time due to his TV schedule for “Sons of Anarchy.” The FX series wraps production on Oct. 21, while “Fifty Shades” doesn't head into production until Nov. 1, though it's unclear whether Christian Grey will be needed on set at the beginning of the shoot. With Jennifer Ehle cast as Anastasia Steele's mother, it's possible those mother-daughter scenes could be filmed first.
In the week since Hunnam's departure, multiple individuals close to “Fifty Shades” told TheWrap that Hunnam was never really gung-ho about the project and that his manager, Cynthia Pett, ushered him into the risky role, which had less upside for an established star. Not only does Hunnam lead a hit cable series, but “Pacific Rim” grossed $407 million worldwide. Universal had initially chased Pett's other client, Garrett Hedlund, and when that choice didn't pan out, she began pushing Hunnam on the studio.
Hunnam is also a writer whose vampire movie “Vlad” is in development at Summit and Plan B Entertainment, the production company owned by Pett-repped Brad Pitt. Insiders say Hunnam approached the studio with notes on Kelly Marcel's screenplay, which she adapted from EL James’ bestselling novel. It's unclear whether Universal ordered a draft that addressed Hunnam's now-irrelevant concerns, though Patrick Marber was recently hired to polish the screenplay.
Both Dornan and Magnussen are relative unknowns, which may work in their favor, as the public may be more willing to accept them in the role of the kinky billionaire, who millions of readers all imagine differently. The imagination is a powerful thing, and an audience with no pre-conceived notions of the actor playing Grey could tailor their own fantasizes to his relatively mysterious cinematic identity.
The 31 year-old Dornan, whose sole major movie credit is Sofia Coppola's divisive 2006 drama “Marie Antoinette,” can play both sides of good and evil. He played Sheriff Graham (aka the Huntsman) on ABC's fairy tale series “Once Upon a Time,” as well as a twisted serial killer in the acclaimed BBC series “The Fall,” which is currently available to watch on Netflix.
At 28 years old, Magnussen is the same age as Christian Grey. He recently replaced Jake Gyllenhaal as Rapunzel's Prince in Disney's “Into the Woods,” and will soon begin filming a lead role in the HBO series “The Money.”
Sam Taylor-Johnson is directing “Fifty Shades of Grey” for Universal and Focus. Mike De Luca and Dana Brunetti are producing the movie, which is scheduled to hit theaters on Aug. 1, 2014 … for now.