Dakota Johnson: 'There is something very scary about thinking everyone in the world will know who I am'
More than 100 million copies of the book have been sold. It was the most-watched trailer of 2014, with 93 million YouTube views.
Now, with the film version of EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey about to open, the young actress in the lead role is understandably nervous.
"There is something very scary about thinking everyone in the world [will] know who I am," says Dakota Johnson (25) who, until now, has remained relatively anonymous, despite boasting not one but two film stars as parents - Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson - as well as a grandmother, Tippi Hedren, who was Hitchcock's muse.
In the trailer we see Johnson as the innocent virgin Anastasia Steele tied up on a bed, blindfolded, surrounded by straps and whips, while Christian Grey, the billionaire with a penchant for sadomasochism, exercises his "singular tastes" upon her. "It was like watching someone who looked a lot like me doing really bizarre things. I was completely detached," Johnson says. (She has seen the film in its entirety - unusually there have been no advance screenings at the time of writing.)
The book itself was lambasted by critics, and many column inches have been devoted to the question of whether Sam Taylor-Johnson, the Turner-nominated artist turned Bafta-nominated director, can pull off the challenge of making something that will satisfy both its fans and critics, and how she will portray the explicit sex scenes.
Anastasia is a daring role and you can see why some actresses would not even consider it. When it was rumoured that Emma Watson might star, she quickly tweeted: "Who here actually thinks I would do Fifty Shades of Grey as a movie? Like really. For real. In real life."
When I ask Johnson if she had any doubts about taking it on, she replies without hesitation. "Yes. Of course. Absolutely. The whole time. Even now there are moments when I think, 'What the f**k have I done?' But most of the time I feel pretty solid about it."
The film opens just before Valentine's Day - which, insists Johnson, is appropriate. "I think it's actually an incredible fairytale love story." Perhaps it helps that Johnson has had an unconventional background.
Her parents famously married, divorced, married again and had Dakota, their only child. They separated when she was four, reunited, then divorced for good when she was seven.
Her upbringing was, she says, "bizarre", shuttling around different film sets, watching each of her parents start new relationships: Griffith with Antonio Banderas (from whom she separated last year after 18 years of marriage) and Johnson first with Barbra Streisand, then with Kelley Phleger, a teacher.
She has six half-siblings and, unlike many Hollywood actors, doesn't even try to pretend that she is down-to-earth and normal. "I grew up around really not normal people," she says with a laugh. I ask if she is referring to her family or Hollywood in general. "My family is general Hollywood. They're all artists: creative people who are advocates for expressing themselves. But I also have to say I'm not impressed by Hollywood."
We meet at the Chateau Marmont hotel, near Johnson's home. Wearing a black Chloe trouser suit, Alexander Wang heels and little make-up, she looks professional and natural, and is considerably prettier than in some of the photographs I have seen of her. Kicking off her heels, she tucks her legs beneath her on the chair. She seems grounded and comfortable, with none of the monosyllabic insecurity that sometimes characterises up-and-coming actresses.
Quirky and fun, she laughs merrily and often and doesn't seem to filter what she says, coming out with random statements such as "Milking a cow is funny as f***" when discussing her desire to own a ranch one day and "I'm not going to poo in the street".
The last is a reference to her recent statement that she has no shame, widely interpreted to mean she has no shame about anything. "What a monster I would be! I absolutely have shame and I do have guilt. I am a human. It's true that I'm not ashamed of my body. I'm comfortable and I think more women should be more confident. I think nudity and sexual scenes in movies are beautiful when they're tastefully done."
Johnson said that she never felt uncomfortable shooting the explicit sex scenes in Fifty Shades. "I definitely did trust Sam completely: she created a very safe, protected environment."
Besides, she adds, it was all very technical. "Sam and I would watch playback and really figure out: 'Do we need to put a camera here? Should I take a breath at this moment?' It was really important to us to convey the underlying intense emotion throughout all of these sex scenes."
Unlike her Irish co-star Jamie Dornan, she did not visit BDSM clubs (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) but took advice from a "consulting dominant" who was on the film set. "We needed to do it the right way and also pay respect to the BDSM community. It is quite beautiful and very intricate: the way the knots are tied and the variety of knots and tools and rope. The details matter so much and there are rules and manners, an etiquette that goes with the whole world of it."
Despite her unusual childhood, Johnson says that her early years were especially happy, particularly the time she spent on her father's Colorado ranch.
But her teenage years were more unsettled. After her peripatetic childhood, her parents sent her to a strict Catholic all-girls boarding-school at the age of 15.
"It was a nightmare, like oil and water. I'm surprised I made it a whole year there." Miserable, she persuaded her father to move her to an arty private school in west Los Angeles, where she wasn't much happier: "I went through a lot of very intense phases. I think that led to me being an actor. I feel like I've lived a lot of lives."
Johnson landed her first proper role in the 2010 film The Social Network as the one-night stand to Justin Timberlake's character. Two years later she played Jason Segel's hyper girlfriend in The Five-Year Engagement, whose director, Nick Stoller, described Johnson as naturally funny and very gifted. Afterwards she won a lead in the American sitcom Ben and Kate, about a brother and sister raising her daughter together, but, despite receiving positive reviews, the show only ran for one series.
When she heard that Fifty Shades was being made into a film Johnson says she was intrigued and read the trilogy. She was finally selected after a long auditioning process, partly based on her on-screen chemistry with the British actor Charlie Hunnam, who was originally cast as Christian. Her reaction when she got the part was relief. "I was relieved that there was no more not knowing." But the uncertainty continued when Hunnam suddenly pulled out of the project after a few weeks. "It was like, 'Argh!' Half of my mindset was based around him. But Sam and I still had each other, and then Jamie came in and saved the day."
Although there have been reports that Johnson's father and her grandmother were not entirely happy that Dakota was starring in such a risqué project, Johnson says today: "None of my family members were concerned. They were all like, 'Go, do it, cool, call me later'." But she does admit that she banned her parents from watching the film. "I don't want them to see it," she states adamantly. "I wouldn't want to see them doing it." She grimaces. "At all!"
The next two instalments of the trilogy (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) have not yet begun shooting and it is thought that the studio is waiting to see if the first is a hit. Johnson says that she is more than happy to do the sequels. "Which is lucky," she adds, "as I also have to…"
Fifty Shades of Grey is released on Friday