Dakota Johnson Talks the Fifty Shades Films: “It Was Like Mayhem All the Time”

Dakota Johnson in a jumpsuit at the MET Gala
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

These days, Dakota Johnson is known for her no-holds-barred wit, her roles in Oscar-nominated movies like The Lost Daughter, and her relationship with Alessandro Michele and Gucci. But there was a time, at the beginning of the actress’ career, when much of the public recognized her simply as “that girl in the Fifty Shades of Grey movies.” Johnson is aware of what the sexed-up films did for her now flourishing career, a feeling that is clearly at odds with her distaste for much of how the production of the films went down. Now, over four years after the third film was released, Johnson is finally speaking out about her experience working on the erotic novel adaptions.

While chatting with Vanity Fair for the magazine’s July/August cover story, Johnson referred to the trilogy as “those big naked movies.” She admitted that she was initially drawn to the films because she’s a sexual person. “When I’m interested in something, I want to know so much about it,” she said. Although in the end, the film she signed up for was “a very different version” from what Johnson and the rest of the cast and crew “ended up making.”

For that, Johnson blames both the studio and the directors, as well as E.L. James (AKA Erika) who wrote the books and had a big voice on set. “She had a lot of creative control, all day, every day, and she just demanded that certain things happen,” Johnson said. “There were parts of the books that just wouldn’t work in a movie, like the inner monologue, which was at times incredibly cheesy. It wouldn’t work to say out loud.” Johnson said “it was always a battle” to deal with James and fight for what she wanted in the film. “It just became something crazy,” she said. “There were a lot of different disagreements.”

In the end, the cast did multiple different takes, some “of the movie Erika wanted to make” and some of the movie she and the first film’s director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, were interested in creating. Johnson even admitted to rewriting scenes the night before a shoot. “It was like mayhem all the time,” she added.

Despite all that, Johnson doesn’t regret her involvement in the trilogy. “I’m proud of what we made ultimately and everything turns out the way it’s supposed to, but it was tricky,” she said. Still, she says if she’d known “what it was going to be like” she probably wouldn’t have signed on. “It would’ve been like, ‘Oh, this is psychotic.’ But no, I don’t regret it.” Much of that likely comes from the inarguable boost the films gave her, and she recognizes that fact. “Look, it was great for our careers,” she said. “So amazing. So lucky. But it was weird. So, so weird.”