Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele
In light of the ceaseless waterfall of late night jokes made about the content of the books, it's almost possible to forget that the Fifty Shades of Grey book trilogy sold stunningly well, becoming the fastest-selling series of all-time in Britain and the U.S. Whether or not these readers publicly cop to having read E.L. James' books-whose origins were as Twilight fan-fiction, of course-is no guarantee, but there is undoubtedly a built-in fan base here the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Harry Potter movies came out.
On Monday, James tweeted that the two leading roles in the film, 21-year-old college student Anastasia Steele and 27-year-old entrepreneur Christian Grey, had been cast: Dakota Johnson-daughter of Melanie and Don, formerly the Kate of the short-lived Fox series Ben & Kate-and Charlie Hunnam-best known for his roles in Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim-have landed the parts. For a few reasons, this trade news-which theoretically should have been the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade of casting announcements-felt more like a scarcely-attended high school band concert. Here are some of the reasons why:
See more: Introducing Christian Grey
Timing. Of course, we get that you can't just snap your fingers and turn a book into a movie. But the lag time between the announcement of the movie adaptation in the beginning of 2012 and the announcement of the leads about eighteen months later felt like a long time. The buzz, as it were, seemed to dissipate week by week, as a new casting rumor seemed to crop up each day (more on that in a second). After all of this time, yesterday's casting news seemed to be met with more of a "Finally! That's over with!" than a "Eeeee! Exciting!"
The rumor mill. Seemingly every twentysomething actress in Hollywood was at one point rumored for the Anastasia role-Emma Watson (who snarkily refuted the stories with a tweet), Mila Kunis, and Amanda Seyfried, among others. And, for Christian, names like Armie Hammer, Ian Somerhalder, Matt Bomer, Chris Pine and Henry Cavill gained traction at various points. Of course, given the extremely risqué nature of the material, these bigger names may have been wise not to take the parts, but all the speculation only left the actual casting of two non-household names feeling like a letdown. (It also didn't help that whenever these famous actors were asked about the movie, they would give quotes, like Hammer did, in which they dismissed the film as "mommy porn.")
See more: Dakota Johnson on "Ben and Kate"
Star power (or lack thereof). When it comes to these highly-anticipated franchise films, swinging for the fences with casting and picking a star (see: Ben Affleck as Batman) is of course one common approach to build buzz and create a feeling of legitimacy about the enterprise. On the other end of the spectrum, casting unknowns (it can be hard to remember now, but Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart were relative unknowns when they were cast for Twilight) is a frequent strategy, so that the audience is not hampered by any pre-existing associations the actors may have. In this case, though, Hunnam and Johnson-while both quite likable actors-have been milling about the doors of Hollywood for a while. Hunnam has been on the scene for some time, never quite breaking out onto the A-List over his several years on Sons of Anarchy, a popular FX show. Meanwhile, Johnson has been popping up in small roles since The Social Network, and was just on a cancelled (though well-reviewed!) television show. Rather than going with fresh unknowns or mega stars, we're given. . . something murky and in-between.
The producers of the film are clearly feeling some of the disinterest and dissatisfaction among the rabid fan-base already, as producer Dana Brunetti tweeted last night, quite defensively, "There is a lot that goes into casting that isn't just looks. Talent, availability, their desire to do it, chemistry with other actor, etc. . . So if your favourite wasn't cast, then it is most likely due to something on that list. Keep that in mind while hating and keep perspective." Well, a producer engaging haters on Twitter mere hours after the film's major casting announcement at least promises for a riveting run up to release!
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