To an actor, a franchise is an attractive thing: it could mean years (maybe even decades) of solid, dependable work, with each subsequent installment usually incentivized to some degree and with the sense of community and family growing with each outing (many of the “Harry Potter” actors, both young and old, equated the experience to going back to school). In the mad scramble for big studio parts, a franchise is a sturdily proven gig. Which makes actors who pass on potential franchises somewhat baffling (remember when Josh Hartnett was repeatedly courted for Superman?)… Yet pass they do. While Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson ended up scoring the pivotal leads in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a number of Hollywood’s elite passed on the project. Franchise schmanchise.
According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, Ryan Gosling was initially courted for the role of billionaire S&M enthusiast Christian Grey, but passed. Garrett Hedlund was also “courted” by Universal but “couldn’t connect with the character.” Matt Bomer, who appeared on a Change.org petition alongside Alexis Bledel, in a fruitless effort to have executives and filmmakers recast the movie, was apparently never in the running.
On the lady side of things, supposedly Felicity Jones was in the mix, but the 30-year-old actress seemed too seasoned to play 21-year-old college student Ana Steele, who engages in a dom/sub relationship with Grey. Shailene Woodley was interested, but her press commitments to “Divergent,” which could become one of those fabled Next Big Franchises, got in the way. Interestingly, like Johnson, Woodley would have been the only Yank in a cast and crew dominated by Brits. Alicia Vikander, Imogen Poots and Elizabeth Olsen only got as far as being “considered,” according to the report.
Amazingly, the movie’s explicit sexual content seems not to have swayed any actor one way or the other (Woodley apparently was nonplussed), although this could be because nobody’s read the script yet and it could be really, really tame. “Saving Mr. Banks” scribe Kelly Marcel‘s screenplay has been under lock and key, with only a handful of people even allowed to read (including Focus Features head James Schamus, producers Mike De Luca and Dana Brunetti, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and author EL James), so maybe it’s just really mild and easy to manage.
If “Fifty Shades of Grey” takes off, of course, it could be a huge franchise and something that catapults Hunnam and Johnson, already on the cusp of stardom, into the next stratosphere. Of course, as the Hollywood Reporter points out, if it fizzles, its raw mixture of kink and camp could result in the next “Showgirls,” something that star Elizabeth Berkley never recovered from, despite minor roles in the years that followed. But hey, who’s to look a gifted franchise in the mouth?