Fifty Shades’s Dakota Johnson on Sex, Fame, and Building a Career on Her Own Terms
As the iron gates of her mother’s Hollywood Hills house creep open, the auburn-haired actress is half-revealed on the stone steps beneath a dense tangle of helium-filled Mylar. She is wearing black Gucci boots and high-water vintage boys’ Levi’s in the ideal normcore wash. “Is this an appropriate outfit for meeting your landscape architect?” she asks, pulling on a crimson mohair sweater by The Elder Statesman (its designer, Greg Chait, is a pal). “Do I look like an adult who can convincingly use words like night-blooming?”
Of course she did not get me balloons. These are the detritus of the twenty-seventh-birthday party that her mother, Melanie Griffith, threw her a few nights before. The festivities culminated at Jumbo’s Clown Room, a strip club in Thai Town where Johnson watched what she describes as the saddest pole dance in the history of pole dances. We are now snaking through the hills in a soccer-mom SUV that has to suffice until the arrival of the forest-green 1995 Ford F150 that her grandfather has promised to send up from his house in Missouri. Our destination: the mid-century bungalow that Dakota, then living in downtown Manhattan, bought last winter in a clear concession to the fact that she was, is, and very likely will always be a creature of Hollywood. It was only the second house she saw, but she fell hard for its modernist pedigree; the architect Carl Maston built it for his own family in 1947.
“I used to spend hours and hours Googling mid-century houses,” she explains. “I get obsessed.” It is undergoing a renovation, and a thousand grown-up decisions must be faced. Has she settled on wood or poured concrete for the master bath? the contractor asks. “High-class problems, y’all,” she says, shaking her head. Outside, a cobweb-covered urinal that belonged to the TV producer Ryan Murphy, a previous owner, leans on a wall under an enormous jacaranda tree. “Get that thing out of here!” she declares, though her smile seems to ask, What if I were the kind of person who made demands? The landscaper suggests replacing the grass between the flagstones with thyme. Dakota calls for a wall of white blooms to conceal her skinny-dipping habit.