Inside Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson’s ’50 Shades of Grey’ Casting: Chemistry Tests to the Dotted Line


With production starting this fall, Universal and Focus could have a teaser trailer ready for the Super Bowl

The mystery of who will star in “Fifty Shades of Grey” has finally been solved, so now the biggest question is: how did the red-hot casting search go down at Universal Pictures and Focus Features?

As TheWrap reported on Sunday, Charlie Hunnam, the British actor best known for playing bad-ass biker Jax Teller on “Sons of Anarchy,” will play the kinky billionaire who seduces virginal college graduate Anastasia Steele, who will be played by Dakota Johnson, daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.

Johnson was first linked to Universal’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” by TheWrap.

See photos: 20 of the Internet’s Buzziest ‘Fifty Shades’ Casting Choices

TheWrap has learned that the couple had to do a “chemistry read” — in other words, do a scene on video — to convince producers and Universal executives that they had the right level of heat. An insider on the project confirmed that both had to audition for the role.

Make no mistake, several young actresses turned down the role of Anastasia due to the full frontal nudity it requires, including Felicity Jones. A former model who made a memorable appearance in her underwear in “The Social Network,” Johnson is more than comfortable flaunting her body.

An insider describes Johnson as an “ambitious” actress who yearns to be as famous as her actor parents, Griffith and Johnson. She was willing to do whatever the role required, within reason, of course. Now she’s the poster girl for one of the most highly-anticipated movie adaptations in recent memory.

Also read: Dakota Johnson, Charlie Hunnam Cast as Sexy Leads in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

As for Hunnam, he appears to have been high on Universal’s wish list. On August 20, TwitchFilm broke the news that Hunnam was the filmmakers’ top choice to play Christian.

But it wasn’t an easy path. An insider with ties to Focus Features told TheWrap last week that the role of Grey had been filled by a “cable TV star,” but then changed his mind. At the same time, Johnson emerged as a strong contender to play Anastasia.

But it seems that Hunnam wouldn’t commit without knowing who would be his costar. In addition to the “chemistry read” with Johnson, Hunnam did tests with several actresses, according to knowledgeable insiders.

Essentially, Hunnam was being asked to take a leap of faith. But as Johnson’s fortified her position, Hunnam felt more comfortable stepping into Grey’s shoes.

Also read: Melanie Griffith Says Most Hollywood Screenplays Are ‘Sh–ty and Stupid and Superficial’

A rising movie star thanks to “Pacific Rim,” Hunnam made sense for the studio. He’s a known actor who doesn’t yet command top dollar, though expect that to change if “Fifty Shades” is a hit.

It’s believed that Hunnam and Johnson have signed on to multiple movies. There are three books in the “Fifty Shades” series, and it’s possible that author E L James could always take one more blindfolded trip to the Red Room.

With the two leads cast, all eyes now turn to the calendar, with “Fifty Shades of Grey” scheduled to fog up theaters on Aug. 1, 2014. That means press screenings will likely start in July, if not earlier for long-lead press. Expect a trailer in the spring, possibly during the Super Bowl. “Fifty Shades” may not be a family-friendly tentpole suitable for NFL audiences, but it would be an ideal opportunity to reach millions of women who watch The Big Game alongside their husbands and sons.

For Universal and Focus to stick to their timetable, they’ll have to start production this fall. One of TheWrap’s television reporters confirmed with FX that “Sons of Anarchy” shoots until the middle of October. It’s likely that Hunnam’s reps have already worked out his schedule for the movie with the TV show, though it’s unclear whether Hunnam will be needed at the start of production for “Fifty Shades,” as there are plenty of scenes Johnson could shoot on her own.

Sam Taylor-Johnson is directing “Fifty Shades” from a script by Kelly Marcel, based on the bestselling book by James, who had significant say in the casting process. Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti are producing.

The biggest question left is which accent Hunnam will use to play Christian Grey in the erotic literary adaptation.

  • Jim

    Come on! Let’em have the roles! Give’em a chance!!!!

    Though Lucy Hale in the Anastasia Steele role would have been a box office drawer.

    • DEDE

      I can’t see Lucy Hale in that role…I more she her as Mia Christian’s sister (but that was when i pictured Matt Bomer as Christian)

  • Jim

    The mystery of who will star in “Fifty Shades of Grey” has finally been solved, so now the biggest question is: how did the red-hot casting search go down at Universal Pictures and Focus Features?”


  • ginny

    Johnson is a good choice but Hunnam kills it for me. I would not waste my money on the movie. I have my picture in my head and I don’t want to ruin it by seeing the movie with Hunnam in the role.

    • witchgrl69

      are you kidding me? Hunnam is an excellent choice…… He’s great in sons of anarchy and I did watch Frankie go boom which was hysterical. It will be great to see him stretch his acting skills. Plus, he’s fricken beautiful. I’m not so sure about Johnson, but hopefully she’ll do a great job. Either way, I’m watching.

      • shavinglotion

        I agree with your comment about Hunnam. He would have made a great C,G. Just like I pictured him to look. Sorry that he is not playing the part as so many other people are disappointed also.

  • Greg

    I wonder if it will be full frontal for both leads. Fair is fair after all, if she has to do, old Chuckles should as well, and considering his “Queer as Folk” history, it shouldn’t be a huge deal; but it will go a long way for equal portrayals in movies.

  • Texas Pam

    This move to motion picture is titillating, but will ultimately fail as some sort of break through for mainstream erotica or “acted” masterpieces of sexual “deflowerment” and exploration, It will be a definite NC-17. I didn’t hear about too much “fabulous” acting with Michael Fasbender in “Damage”…just “what a schlong” he had. So porn is porn. The book was well written and titalating The visual simply cannot do the foreplay as well as the written word. So, unless they get Roman Polanski to direct it, expect a huge buildup and a lot of peek a boo. Remember Last Tango in Paris? Remember Showgirls? You can only do orgasm so much and then it’s off to Johnny Rocket or Girls Gone Wild or Debbie Does Dallas. The only one that held the attention was Basic Instinct as that was a murder thriller with Sharon Stone’s muff and Michael Douglas’s bum. Besides, how will they show the “inner goddess” when she goes down on him to its true result? Either you do the implied “camera” shy angle when he cums, or you go for all out result with blood and super glue. It is what it is…graphic will make it porn….implied will make it stupid. People should just read more.

  • shavinglotion

    After I had read all three of these books I feel that Charlie Hunnam would have made a great Christine Gray as he looks just like I would expect him to have looked. Very sorry that he is not playing the part. A lot of people will be very disappointed.