Fifty Shades Director Tells How She Kept The “Flesh And Fingers And Skin…” Rated-R

Fifty Shades of Grey fans who are looking forward to seeing the book’s risqué sex scenes portrayed on the big screen may be disappointed, reports Vanity Fair contributing editor Vanessa Grigoriadis. The film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, tells Grigoriadis the sex is tastefully handled: “It’s details, flesh and fingers and skin and eyes and looks.” She tells Grigoriadis that if you saw the actual sex, “the mystery would be gone. You see a lot, but you don’t have to see anything graphic.

Still, viewers may find the scenes more scintillating with eyes closed: “It was a closed set, and so we couldn’t be there for those very intimate scenes…but so much of the movie turns on those intimate scenes,” one of the film’s producers, Michael De Luca, tells Grigoriadis. “We’d be in our trailers, but [the actors] were miked, and we had cans—you know, headphones—but I actually got shy from listening. There was something about not being there and having the audio that made us feel like peeping listeners, and so we all put them down.

Grigoriadis reports on the infighting that plagued the film’s production, which centered on strong-willed director Sam Taylor-Johnson, and author E.L. James, whose ferocious loyalty to the books’ fans created tension onset. To begin with, their knowledge of film and reference points were completely different. Taylor-Johnson pointed to the sex scenes in Nicolas Roeg’s psychological thriller Don’t Look Now, while James tells Grigoriadis her favorite films are Casablanca, Good Will Hunting, Cabaret, Aliens, The Shawshank Redemption, Finding Nemo, and It’s a Wonderful Life. “I know that’s an odd selection—but like most people, I just love a good story well told,” James says.

(Given its content, the book calls perhaps unexpected references to mind for the film’s team: De Luca tells Grigoriadis that James’s Anastasia is a lot like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, with Christian as Mr. Darcy.)

Grigoriadis finds that what was changed during the transition from book to film—including scenes that were simply cut—caused the most drama, though James tells Grigoriadis she is still happy with the final product: “There’s all sorts of fun you can have in a darkened room … You can eat lots of popcorn, for example … But there’s a special thrill seeing what used to exist only in your head and on the page up there on a screen for an audience to experience together. In a way, your daydreams come to life before your eyes, if not always in exactly the way you imagined.

James also sent to the film’s costume designer, Mark Bridges, what were, in his words, “friendly emails” to explain that readers would expect to see particular clothes from the book, including Anastasia’s gray chiffon graduation dress, and a tightfitting wine-colored dress in another scene. James sent Bridges pictures of the jeans Christian wears in his “playroom,” noting the color of the denim and the way they fit. Grigoriadis also reports on James’s involvement in the infamous fraught casting process (the film’s original Christian, Charlie Hunnam, dropped out just a few weeks before filming began), the set design, the dialogue, the costume, and, of course, the sex. As one friend of James tells Grigoriadis, “She truly believes that she has to control it because of the fans, because she’s the only one they trust.

In fact, the drama began before filming even began, as American Psycho writer Bret Easton Ellis mounted a campaign on Twitter recommending himself as screenwriter. “I realized, Oh, this isn’t well written. It isn’t a good book. But this is a really good story, and it would make a really good movie,” Ellis says. He tells Grigoriadis that he liked the way “each sex scene moved the story forward on an emotional and dramatic level. You just had to rewrite these two characters because they both sound like 50-year-old British people.

Ellis tells Grigoriadis that ultimately, however, “Erika [the author] wanted a woman director and screenwriter from the beginning.” James has denied this.

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