“Fifty Shades of Grey” devotees, know this: Whether you end up loving or hating the new movie, author E.L. James had your back.
“I was thinking about the readers,” James says about the sometimes fraught process of adapting her steamy book to the screen — a process that reportedly involved creative differences, to put it gently, with director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Out this Friday for Valentine’s weekend, the R-rated film stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.
“I understand what it’s like to be in fandom,” she says. “I had to fight for a lot of things really hard. And I did.” (As a producer on the film as well as the trilogy’s author, James had an unusual amount of creative clout.)
James, 51, who wrote the erotic trilogy for her own enjoyment and ended up launching a global phenomenon, sat down last weekend with The Associated Press to chat about the new film and the fans whose devotion has brought her such stunning commercial success. (Editor’s note: Director Taylor-Johnson was not made available for this article.)
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Q: What was the hardest thing about adapting your book?
My biggest concern was making sure that the sex was really classy and tasteful. It’s very coyly written in the books. Women don’t like salacious slang. So that was really important to me, to keep it tasteful.
Making the film, were you thinking about your readers, or about a new audience that perhaps hasn’t read the book?
I was thinking about the readers. There are enough of them! (Laughter.) I mean hopefully we’ll bring other people to it as well, of course; there are people who don’t read at all. But my readers are the people I’ve always had in my mind. I understand the disappointment when key scenes are forgotten, or missing, so I was an advocate for them.
Did you have to fight hard for anything?
Oh, I had to fight for a lot of things really hard. And I did. (laughs).
Well, the Red Room (of Pain), for example, wasn’t red at first. But it’s things like this, within any creative process, when you’re the auteur of a whole universe, and then, you’re spreading it out … it’s not always going to be aligned with how you saw it. But beneath it all, I was just hoping that we’d have something that the fans would be happy with.
Who’s your typical fan?
Female. That’s it. All ages — from too young, and into their 90s.
Does that mean that men aren’t really the right audience?
Well, I’ve had some lovely emails from men. Like one saying, “Thank you for reminding me what it’s like to fall in love.”
When shooting started, you said you were terrified.
Yes! Coming from fandom, I know what it’s like when you’re let down by certain things, and I just didn’t want to do that. What I can say is, we got there in the end.
Was it a difficult process for the actors?
I think it was very difficult. But all the really intimate stuff happened at the end of the shoot, which meant that Jamie and Dakota got to know each other, and were far more comfortable with each other. That helped.
This isn’t the first movie to have intimate sex scenes.
Absolutely! But you guys, the media, are all about the sex. The fact is, it’s a love story, and women respond to the love story. The fact that there’s a little bit of kinky sex in there is sort of like an added bonus. It’s just become sensationalized, because it’s like … Oh my God, women like sex. Yes we do, thank you very much!
Have the books had similar success all over the world?
Except in Japan. It’s doing OK in Japan, but women don’t talk to each other there. They’re so private about what goes on in the bedroom. That was interesting.
Are reports true that there was an argument over the final word in the movie?
Um, there was a discussion. But I am very happy with the final scene.
Your main character, Anastasia Steele, certainly takes a journey. What has YOUR personal journey been?
I think I just realized how strong I am, and how resilient. Actually, I wrote the books really just to entertain myself. The fact that they’ve entertained a whole lot of other people is just thrilling. My only ambition when I published this (as a small e-book) was to see it one day in a bookshop. So everything else has been like, “Holy crap!”
(Editor’s note: Actually, though “Holy crap” is a favorite expression of Anastasia Steele, James used a somewhat stronger word.)