According to its publisher, at the spike of its popularity, two copies of E.L. James' 50 Shades of Grey trilogy were being sold every second. In accessible terms, that works out to more than one hundred million copies sold, to date.
Let's undertake a thought experiment. Imagine that—rather than paper and ink—each of those books were composed of: a look of unabashed contempt; a single embittered sigh; an explicit request that audiences not see the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey, vocalized by one of the movie's main stars. Imagine one hundred million pained expressions, one hundred million eyes rolled, one hundred million uncomfortable pauses that peter out into one hundred million dead silences.
You have imagined the press tour for the upcoming film 50 Shades of Grey—by now firmly established as among the most disastrous of the past decade, if not so far this century.
The most glaring problem with the press blitz—currently several months underway, though the film will not be released for another two weeks—is also the most damning for the upcoming film: Simply put, romantic leads Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan do not like each other. They dislike other things as well—the press; sex; the film in which they are starring—but it is clear their distaste for each other is the most keenly felt of all.
A routine visit to TODAY takes on the excruciating air of a court-ordered couples therapy session. The experience of filming is recounted Vogue in with a gravity typically reserved for describing a violent, horrific trauma.
It is not difficult to picture Dornan and Johnson luring one another into a "Red Room of Pain." It stretches the capacity of the imagination to think that both would emerge alive.
Perhaps the most concentrated example of their mutual repugnance is seen a recent Q&A video released in tandem with a Glamour cover story, where fans—fans desperate for the Q&A to be a fun activity, and, bless them, unflagging in their portrayal of it as a fun activity—ask the stars questions on iPads:
The casual interview presents a number of apparently baffling questions to the pair of actors: "What's the sexiest weather?" ("...Rain…??"); "What is the sexiest thing about women?" ("...Hair."); "What's the weirdest place you've ever been on a date?" ("I don't know.") ("I've never been on a date."). They struggle to name anything they have in common with their characters. They struggle more to come up with three positive words to describe one another, and they are visibly upset with each other's choices. The Q&A is a capsule representing the entirety of the 50 Shades press tour: awkward, tense, and astoundingly bad at selling the movie, from beginning to listless end.
Gunmetal Grey: "It was difficult, I'm not going to lie. We definitely fought..."
The film's romantic leads weren't the only two people on set who loathed one another. The movie's director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, has been vocal about how she and E. L. James fought endlessly about her cinematic adaptation. Vanity Fair devoted a dual-profile to their in-fighting.
"I kept trying to remind myself that they hired me for a reason. Some people said to me, 'I'm surprised you haven't quit.' I was like, 'Why would you think I'd quit?' I never quit anything. Not without a fight." She admits, of James, "We battled all the way through. She'd say the same. There were tough times and revelatory times. There were sparring contests. It was definitely not an easy process, but that doesn't mean to say that it didn't come out the right way."
"It was difficult, I'm not going to lie. We definitely fought, but they were creative fights and we would resolve them. We would have proper on-set barneys, and I'm not confrontational, but it was about finding a way between the two of us, satisfying her vision of what she'd written as well as my need to visualize this person on screen, but, you know, we got there."
Dishwater Gray: "It's not, like, a romantic situation...It's more like a task."
A recurring motif in 50 Shades' press interviews is the notion that filming the movie's sex scenes was not sexy, but uncomfortable, and choreographed to the point of absolute sterility. Of course this must be true. Few would expect that up-and-coming Hollywood actors having pretend sex in front of a film crew, over and over again, would be anything but mechanical and awkward. But, to rely so heavily (even eagerly) on the unbearable aspects of filming the erotic scenes for the romantic BDSM movie your advertorials are advertising is a curious choice.
"Filming a sex scene is not a sensual or pleasurable environment. It's really hot—not in a steamy, sexual way. It's just sweaty and it's not ver y comfortable. And on top of that, my hands and legs were tied, and I was blindfolded, and I was being hit with this bizarre tool. ... It was emotionally taxing. At first I was like, 'Oh my God, this is the worst thing ever,' and then I was like, 'All right, let's get on with it.'"
"Anyone who thinks actors get turned on doing sex scenes in films is mistaken. There are dozens of hairy men standing around, moving cables and lighting equipment. That's not sexy unless you're into being watched, which I'm not."
"It's not, like, a romantic situation. It's more, um, like, technical and choreographed, and less—it's more like a task."
The reality of it is, like, burly man you don't know very well three feet from your face, which isn't how you usually have sex.
I still can't look at it objectively or wrap my head around it. The parts of the movie that are difficult to watch were even more difficult—and emotionally taxing—to shoot."
"Those days on set were calm, but you could definitely feel tension."
Taupe Gray: "I had to do stuff to her that I'd never choose to do to a woman."
Because 50 Shades of Grey is a sex movie, Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have routinely been asked about sex. Because Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan seem to dislike at least this specific sort of sex (fake sex, with a person they hate, in a movie they made for a job they regret), they routinely display discomfort (ranging from wide-eyed confusion to intense aversion) when talking about sex, in general.
"Some of the Red Room stuff was uncomfortable. There were times when Dakota was not wearing much, and I had to do stuff to her that I'd never choose to do to a woman."
"The first day [of filming] was kind of an out-of-body experience. I got there and they said, "Action!" I'm like, "What the f—k is happening? I'm a dad. What?"
"I grew up in Colorado, and there are manly men there, so manliness is attractive to me. I think it's unsexy when a man chews with his mouth open or when a man is rude or wears fedoras. I hate fedoras. Oh God, I can find more things I hate about men than I like. I think it's just a phase!"
Your dignity is intact as much as it's all tucked away in a little flesh-coloured bag... As a guy you put all your essentials in a little bag and you tie it up like a little bag of grapes and it's tucked away.
"It was an interesting evening. Then go back to my wife and newborn baby afterwards … I had a long shower before touching either of them."
Beryllium Gray: "The chemistry, you'll see, is very much there, and appropriate."
Because Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have appeared in photographs together and because the 50 Shades of Grey trailer includes (perhaps misguidedly) scenes from the actual movie, 50 Shades of Grey's enthusiastic fan base has recently become aware that the pair lack the chemistry necessary to portray two characters who want to be around each other. They and director Sam Taylor-Johnson have been aware of the severe chemistry deficiency for months. They reference it often.
Natalie Morales: What is it like shooting together. I mean, is there that instant chemistry?
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson: [Shake heads no.]
Natalie Morales: No. You hate each other.
Jamie Dornan [Nods head yes.]
Dakota Johnson: [Studies ceiling.]
Natalie Morales: He's hard to work with?
Dakota Johnson: [Loud exhale.]
"The chemistry, you'll see, is very much there, and appropriate."
"I think [the sex scenes] are really sexy. People will be very happy." She pauses. "God, I hope so. Or we have a giant failure on our hands!"
"Yeah, I mean, I presume we [had chemistry], because they made it happen with us."
"No one should question the heat or intensity of our actors."
Sad, Regular Gray Gray: "He has fans, I have no fans."
Neither Dornan nor Johnson received a particularly warm welcome from 50 Shades of Grey fans when the casting for the film adaptation was announced. Indeed, Dornan was not even the studio's first choice for Christian Grey—that was actor Charlie Hunnam, who quit shortly before shooting. If you were aware of these developments, it's probably because you heard about them directly from either Jamie Dornan or Dakota Johnson. They talk about how much they are disliked all the time.
"I am never going to please all 100 million people who read the book. I'll be lucky if half that number are happy with me playing Christian Grey. I know there are campaigns of hate against me already."
"Uh, I mean yeah, a little bit. But. I don't know. We'll see what [the fans] think, I guess."
"The other day, this woman came up and started shouting at me, 'Matt Bomer's the real Christian Grey,' " Dornan says. "And I was like, um, okay."
"He has fans, I have no fans."
Storm Cloud Gray: "...I know that's going to be disappointing to some people."
These same one hundred million super horny die-hard fans, who hate Jamie Dornan and who despise her? Dakota Johnson, are expecting a certain level of sex and sexiness and specific, iconic, tampon scenes from their Valentine's Eve film viewing. This is a level of sex and sexiness that everyone involved understands will not be met.
"[The tampon scene] didn't make it into the movie. It was never even discussed."
"There were contracts in place that said that viewers wouldn't be seeing my, um…"
Todger? He laughs. "Yeah, my todger."
"I didn't want it to be graphically explicit, and I know that's going to be disappointing to some people."
Timberwolf Gray: "Think of Hitler!"
To sum up, in their own words: Jamie Dornan would like to point out that 50 Shades' success is certainly unlike Hitler's success, in many ways. Dakota Johnson would rather you not see this movie.
"Mass appreciation doesn't always equate to something good. Think of Hitler! But I think, in this case, it must. It simply must."
"But I don't want my family to see [the movie], because it's inappropriate. Or my brothers' friends, who I grew up with. I think they'd be like, 'Blegh.' Also there's part of me that's like, I don't want anyone to see this movie. Just kidding."
Author E. L. James, for her part, is pretending everyone will like the movie.
"I'm pretty sure the millions of fans who have the read the trilogy will think there is enough sex."
[Photos via YouTube]