Fifty Shades Darker: Starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Jackson

While Fifty Shades of Grey introduced movie audiences to billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele, the next episode, Fifty Shades Darker aims to challenge everything audiences expected of the couple who had ended their relationship at the end of the first film.

While the first chapter was an awakening, the next delves deep into the characters’ motivations and world: “Dakota’s character in Darker has to evaluate what is it that makes her desire Christian, not just because he’s a good-looking man.  But she actually begins to want to be in the Red Room with him, to experience the sexuality she was unsure of in the first movie.  Now, she has to figure out what’s inside her that’s driving her, where she wants to participate in the same way that Christian wants her to participate.”

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson set to work on the Darker set, ready for the unique set of challenges that lie ahead.  “The evolution that we have seen in Jamie and Dakota has been nothing short of astonishing,” raves producer Michael De Luca.  “They were dropped into this rarified on-screen space of iconic coupledom and asked to establish immediate intimacy…all while the world looked on and analyzed every movement in their nonverbal language with one another.  The Herculean task of embodying the characters of Christian and Anastasia would have made many a performer crumble.  But they rose to every challenge.  As actors, they continue to impress me to the lengths they’ve gone and the depths of their ability to discover nuance and emote passion.”

Like his producers, Dornan was pleased to find that director James Foley was their captain.  The performer lauds: “It is tough to come into a machine that’s already rolling, try and honor what’s been done, and then attempt to man the ship and put your own stamp on it.”

Dornan appreciated his director’s frankness.  “The first time I met Foley on Skype, he was very clear about what he wanted: to get to the core aspects of the characters.  He wanted to bring them to the fore and not have it just be ‘about sex’—which he knew it wasn’t, but that’s what some might think.  He wanted to bring out their characters.  It’s tricky as an actor, to play a character that’s described as ‘impenetrable’ in books.  To show the depth of his character, Foley wanted to try to bring out Christian, the man, and why he is the way he is.”

Deeper Exploration

That maxim also proved true for Johnson, who prepared for her time on set by rereading both the second and third books before production began.  “Darker is a deeper exploration into these two people,” the actress reveals.  “It feels like they are on this tumultuous, twisted path, and they’re not simple characters.  It’s not lovey-dovey, easy-breezy bullshit.  It’s darker.  We are not sugarcoating any of the real, raw and difficult things in this relationship.  No matter what kind of relationship is going on between two people, there’s a universality in the difficult things, all of the particulars of Ana and Christian notwithstanding.”

For Johnson, the chance to not only return to a character that she’s worked on provided cause for both excitement and trepidation.  She says: “I’ve never been on a project this long, and I’ve never been such a large part of a project.  I feel this great honor to be able to tell this young woman’s story.  It’s all been quite an experience—at times, it’s been insightful, emotional, heavy, dark and difficult.  But it’s also been so joyous, and filled with laughter and love.  It’s been all-encompassing.  It’s made me grow as a person so much that no matter how difficult shooting these films may have been, I would never take it back and I would never change anything about the experience.”

Having the series creator on set helped with ensuring all knew which beat of which film they were shooting.  Johnson admits she was rarely thrown during the long production schedule, when it came time to remember where exactly her character “is” at any stage or scene.  She credits E L James for doing “such an incredible job of charting Anastasia’s evolution and displaying all of it in the books.  It made it easier for me to compartmentalize which film we were in.”

Johnson gives additional credit at being able to cover such rough terrain to the only other person on Earth who could know what she’s gone through.  “I literally trust Jamie with my life,” she reflects.  “He’s such an honorable, wonderful, hilarious and talented human.  We’ve built our friendship around trusting each other.  We got to know each other based around the fact that I needed him to be protective of me.  I needed him to be able to tell when I was uncomfortable and would need to step in.  Or when things were too heightened, too emotional and I couldn’t deal anymore, I needed him to be able to see that in my face and protect me in that way.  We learned so much about each other, and I do trust him implicitly.”

Dornan returns the compliment, explaining that they are bonded for life: “We have a very natural, easy way with each other now, having been through the first movie and all the pressures and expectations associated with it.  A great thing about Dakota is only she knows what I’m going through, and only I know what she’s going through.  We both really needed each other through this process.  There are days when it wasn’t easy, when a lot has been asked of us— particularly a lot has been asked of her, in terms of the physical stuff, and she was usually wearing less than I was.  You need to have that person who understands and has been with it since day one with you.”

It was quite enjoyable for the two performers to expand the reach of what others believed the series was about.  Discussing the advancing storylines in Darker, Dornan says, “a lot of people are basing an idea—that these books are purely about sex—on not really knowing the books, or just taking the buzz around the first book and going with it.  Even acknowledging that sex is a major part of it, Darker takes on a whole different track—and that’s pleasing, as an actor.  It’s nice knowing we’ve got two more films to develop the other aspects of the story and bring in what we didn’t have time to accomplish in the first.  A lot more is asked of us, to be sure, but that’s been a fun aspect of it.”

As Christian opens up to Ana, we see he is carrying the traumas of his early childhood, which lends itself to why he struggles to relate to many people.  He isn’t the most approachable of men, and he doesn’t know how to have a “normal” relationship, as much as he wants to.  Still, he agrees to change for Ana’s sake.  He wants to be the man she knows him to be, which is incredibly difficult for him, because of the horrors he endured in his childhood.  As E L James reveals with the introduction of the dark Elena, all is not as it seems.

Dark Secrets and Psychological Scars

Christian’s biggest secret, with regard to his need to dominate and control his romantic partners, is that it stems from psychological scars that left him with a stigmatizing label:  “It was suggested early on that he’s maybe a sadist,” explains Dornan.  “There’s a scene in the Red Room where he says he isn’t—perhaps it was him being in total denial.  But by this stage, I think he’s admitting there’s something wrong with him and that it’s beyond the boundaries.  Being a dominant is one thing, but being a sadist is something that Ana is not okay with.  Now, he needs to find that out about himself in order for him to change.”

For the director, it was a welcome experience on set to be surrounded by actors who deeply cared about each other as much as they did their performances.  “I’m the luckiest director on Earth,” states Foley, “because from the very first day we shot to the last day we shot in Paris, Jamie and Dakota never had an ounce of friction between them.  That’s unusual for any two actors who are in almost every scene together in the entire movie.  There’s always moments when somebody’s in a bad mood or they don’t like what the other actor’s doing.  There was none of that, zero.  They just had this very comfortable, very humorous relationship where they laughed constantly.”

E L James is matter-of-fact: “Young people in love do quite a bit of experimenting. Lots of people have been navel-gazing about these things for so long; I just wrote a story.  Ana feels that she’s not good enough for Christian.  Christian certainly feels he’s not good enough for Ana.  But that’s not obvious to anybody.  It’s only obvious to Christian, and it’s only he that feels that way.  For me, the beauty of it is watching the character of Ana grow, because she’s a shy college graduate in the beginning.  In Darker, we get to watch her experience life with Christian, and really start to come into herself.”

“There is an ebb and flow of control between these two people,” Dakota Johnson adds.  “In the first movie, Anastasia is quite innocent, virginal and soft.  Through this exploration of her love for this man and of herself, also her becoming a figure of authority in her workplace and becoming more comfortable with her sexuality, she discovers this strength within her that is as extreme as it is powerful.”

An area where Ana begins to exercise more control is, in fact, in the Red Room.  Dornan offers: “In the Red Room, there’s less onus on everything being exactly how he wants it.  There are trips to the Room that are not his idea, where Ana asks to be brought there, which is something that obviously doesn’t happen in the first movie.  So now, it’s not all on his terms.”