UPDATE: The global release of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” to be directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, will kick off in North America on August 1, 2014, via Focus Features.
EARLIER: Yes, Universal Pictures and Focus Features have chosen a woman director, Brit Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”), to direct the film adaptation of E.L. James’ global bestseller “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti are producing the film which has a green light to start shooting this fall. They have not yet nailed down a location. Sources place the budget in the $40 million range. Taylor-Johnson beat out a bevy of contenders including Gus Van Sant, who lobbied for it, and Darren Aronofsky, who reportedly turned it down; only a few got to meet with author James. The two fellow Brits hit it off at their Tuesday meeting and Taylor-Johnson landed the job. She promises: “For the legions of fans, I want to say that I will honor the power of Erika’s book and the characters of Christian and Anastasia. They are under my skin too.”
The book has sold over 70 million ebooks and printed copies worldwide. The trick with hiring the right director was finding someone who could handle the delicate sexual nuances of a highly erotic story on film without making audiences wriggle with discomfort.
Weinstein Co. picked up photographer-turned-director Taylor-Johnson’s 2009 BAFTA-nominated “Nowhere Boy,” which tells the story of John Lennon (played by the filmmaker’s husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in Liverpool, where he met the teenage Paul McCartney. But the movie did not gain much traction in the U.S. Taylor-Johnson also directed the short “Love You More,” which is about two teens exploring their sexuality, and was nominated for the Palme D’Or in 2008. Her photography has often dealt with adult sexuality. De Luca was in her corner, because she had been developing a film for him at Columbia Pictures, based on the novel by Robert Goorlick, “A Reliable Wife,” which she will now put aside.
According to De Luca, “Sam’s unique ability to gracefully showcase complex relationships dealing with love, emotion and sexual chemistry make her the ideal director to bring Christian and Anastasia’s relationship to life. E L James’ characters and vivid storytelling require a director who is willing to take risks and push the envelope where needed and Sam is a natural fit.”
UPDATE: Casting is the next hurdle. The speculation over who will play these roles has been heated. The inevitable question –whether Taylor-Johnson’s marriage to actor-on-the-rise Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who starred as Vronsky in Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina,” means that the actor will play S & M “master” Christian Grey–has been answered by his WME reps. He is not going to pursue the role. In fact, he is going to be a supportive husband and father by staying home this fall to take care of the couple’s two kids while she shoots “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
On the Anastasia side, Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley (who just got cut out of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) are frequently mentioned; “Lone Ranger” star Armie Hammer is among the guys not comfortable with confronting “Mommy porn.”
In March 2012, Universal and Focus acquired the rights to the three books in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, which follow the tempestuous relationship of virginal college student Anastasia Steele, who falls for 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey, who insists on tutoring his rebellious “slave” in the ways of sex and bondage. She goes along for the ride because she believes they are really in love.
Subsequent novels in the series, “Fifty Shades Darker” (September 2011) and “Fifty Shades Freed” (January 2012) explore the couple’s deepening relationship. Focus Features will market and distribute the first film in partnership with Universal.