What are friends for? Eloise Mumford on `Fifty Shades of Grey’

Eloise Mumford bought her parents a television a few years back, when the young actress landed a regular role on the series “Lone Star” (2010). So what did she buy her parents after nabbing the much-sought-after role of Kate Kavanagh, best friend to Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), in the hotly anticipated big-screen adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey?”

Well, I got them the TV so they could watch ‘Lone Star,” Mumford said, laughing loudly. “I grew up without a television. We just never had a TV in our house. Because I come from a family of intellectuals, they didn’t want one. But I finally convinced them, and that’s why I bought it for them.

Now that they have one, I’m not going to buy them a movie theater this time.

That family of intellectuals, Mumford hastened to add, has been fully supportive of her acting career.

They’re incredibly proud of me,” she said. “I think any good parents just want their kids to be happy. I know they’re very proud and happy that I’m doing what I love.

Fifty Shades of Grey” is many things – erotic, provocative, pure entertainment – but no one would go so far as to call it intellectual. Like the 2011 E.L. James best seller on which it’s based, the film follows Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), a virgin and a fledgling journalist, as she falls under the spell of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a handsome, wealthy entrepreneur who is into bondage and discipline. Mumford co-stars in the Feb. 13 release as Kate, Anastasia’s best friend and roommate, who encourages Anastasia’s relationship with Christian.

Speaking by telephone from her Los Angeles home, Mumford said that she was aware of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its two sequels well before she was approached about the film. So were her friends, including one in particular.

I think everybody was aware of the books,” she said. “They’re kind of hard to escape. I didn’t read it at the same time that everybody else did, at the very beginning, but one of my dear friends read it, and this was before it had been optioned. I remember this moment distinctly: I was over at her house, and she said, ‘Oh, if they ever make a movie of this book, you have play Kate. You have to play her. It’s the perfect part for you.

That was a few years ago, when the book first came out,” the actress said. “Then cut to years later and they’re actually casting the film. I went in for it and I actually got it. So that was kind of a crazy foreshadowing. Or maybe it’s just the sort of thing that’s meant to be, and it happened.

Mumford describes Kate as the yin to Anastasia’s yang, opposites who are friends precisely because they’re so different. Kate is the one who’s supposed to interview Christian, but she falls ill and sends Anastasia in her place. And it’s Kate who convinces Anastasia to be open to Christian’s sexual games.

I think that Kate has always wanted to be a little more adventurous when it comes to guys,” Mumford said, “and Ana has always shied away from that. Obviously, in the first book, Kate doesn’t know anything about the contract or any of the juicier details of what actually is going on. All she sees and knows is that Ana is suddenly coming out of her shell a little bit and going on all these adventurous dates.

So I think Kate is very encouraging of that,” she said. “And I think she’s living vicariously through it, until she meets her own hot Grey brother, and gets to live a little bit alongside and parallel to Ana’s relationship.

Many eyes are on “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Vintage Books/Random House sold more than 100 million copies of the three “Fifty Shades” books, and many of those readers closely followed the casting details as the Universal Studios production fell into place. Mumford admits that she felt some pressure to live up to the expectations of the books’ many fans.

The whole movie was a challenge because of that,” Mumford said, “because they’re such well-known and beloved characters and there are so many fans across the globe. I don’t want to speak for Dakota and Jamie, but I felt that pressure to live up to everyone’s view of what these characters would be.

I don’t have to do very much sexually in the film,” she continued, “and so that part wasn’t very hard. But the part of making sure that I was properly embodying Kate to the fullest, so that the fans would be pleased and so that I would be pleased … That was on my mind. I want people to feel who she is, truly, to the core. And I’m incredibly in awe of the passion with which Jamie and Dakota took on their characters. They really threw themselves into it and were very dedicated to getting the characters right and doing justice to the emotional struggles that both the characters are going through.

I feel very confident that we’ve delivered the goods,” Mumford added. “Sam Taylor-Johnson is a really tremendous director. The cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey, is incredible. Erica, the writer, is incredible.

We have all the odds stacked in our favor, so I’m very hopeful the fans will like it.

The 28-year-old Mumford is about seven years into her career. She grew up in Olympia, Wash., and acted in school plays there before attending New York University. Her film and television credits include “Crash” (2008), the aforementioned “Lone Star,” “The River” (2013),Not Safe for Work” (2014) and “In the Blood” (2014).

I feel very lucky that I’ve gotten so much work so quickly,” Mumford said. “But, at the same time, seven years feels like forever to me. The fact that I’ve been so lucky is not lost on me. I know there are lots and lots and lots of people struggling in this business, and so to get any work in this business – especially work you feel passionate about and inspired by – is a real blessing.

In recent days Johnson has been discussing fame and its potential impact on her. She is from a famous family, of course, being the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, but she has expressed concern about the price she’ll have to pay for “Fifty Shades of Grey” in terms of a loss of anonymity and intrusions on her privacy.

Mumford admitted that, if she experiences a similar fate now or in the near future – perhaps with her next film, the comedy “The Night Is Young” – she won’t be ready for it.

I’m not really prepared at all, honestly,” the actress said, laughing nervously. “Somebody said to me a long time ago, when I did my very first pilot, which turned into a show, that ‘You just have to ride the wave and enjoy the ride.’ That’s my mentality going into this.

There are always ups and down in a career,” Mumford concluded, “so I’m very grateful to be riding a wave right now, and I’ll just see where it takes me.