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We Read It: Picking A Director & Cast For The 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Movie

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 9, 2012 at 3:12PM

"Fifty Shades Of Grey," along with sequels "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" is a publishing phenomenon the likes of which haven't been seen since "Twilight." The book, by EL James (a pseudonym for British TV executive Erika Leonard), actually started as fan-fiction for characters from Stephenie Meyer's books, entitled "Master Of The Universe," later reworked, extended and republished as a stand-alone piece, and released as an e-book over three volumes between May 2011 and January 2012.
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50 Shades Of Grey
"Fifty Shades Of Grey," along with sequels "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" is a publishing phenomenon the likes of which haven't been seen since "Twilight." The book, by EL James (a pseudonym for British TV executive Erika Leonard), actually started as fan-fiction for characters from Stephenie Meyer's books, entitled "Master Of The Universe," later reworked, extended and republished as a stand-alone piece, and released as an e-book over three volumes between May 2011 and January 2012. It became a word-of-mouth hit, picked up by Vintage Books for a wider commercial release this April, and has, in a little over a year, sold 20 million copies across the three books -- accounting for one in every five hardback fiction novels sold, with Leonard said to be earning $1 million a week for her troubles. It's all the more impressive considering that the story is unashamed, and reasonably explicit, erotica, not a genre that's led to blockbuster sales figures.

And inevitably, despite the dangers involved, film rights were swiftly snapped up, with Universal's indie arm Focus Features winning the bidding war, ahead of the likes of Warners, Sony and Paramount, with the prestige of James Schamus' company, behind films like "Brokeback Mountain" and "Moonrise Kingdom," apparently swinging it, although James apparently retains virtually unheard-of creative control over the adaptation. The film(s) isn't being fast-tracked, but Variety reported this morning that producers have spent the last week pitching to be put in charge of the project, so clearly movement is happening.

And as such, we thought it might a good opportunity to do what your mom's been doing for weeks, and what you've been thinking about getting up the courage to do, and actually reading the thing, thinking about who might be decent candidates to direct and star in the eventual film (Angelina Jolie was mentioned at one point as director, but it seemed to have been nothing more rumors). It's clear from Leonard's demands that we're looking at something that will at least have the veneer of prestige; indeed Focus head James Schamus has suggested that he might write the screenplay himself, as he did for "The Ice Storm," "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and "Lust, Caution," among others.

As for the book itself, it's safe to say it's not going to be in consideration for the Pulitzer or anything. There's only really about one-and-a-half book's worth of story across the three novels (an adaptation would be wise to make one or two films, rather than three, but that would pretty much be a case of throwing money away, so it's unlikely to happen), and the prose is mostly of about the level you'd expect for something that started as fan fiction (for a fun way to put yourself into a coma, drink a shot every time the words "inner goddess" appear) and things slow to a boring, boring crawl every time the central couple aren't fucking.

There is however, plenty of fucking (spiced up with a dash of S&M) and this is obviously the stuff that's made the book sell into the millions. There's undoubtedly sexier, better-written erotica out there, but as a sort of gateway, a not-too-threatening, not-too-chaste "Twilight" with nipple clamps, we can probably see the appeal. What's interesting is how it makes it to the screen; even done without "Shortbus"-style real sex, the book as written is pretty much a guaranteed NC-17, and yet to tone it down would be to risk losing what everyone liked about it in the first place.

And it'll also affect the kind of filmmakers and actors it can attract. Stars resistant to nudity or sex scenes can pretty much be counted out of the running, and ideally you'd need a filmmaker with some experience in that field too -- the risk is that the visual isn't always going to live up to what the reader imagines (something which Leonard herself seems to be worried about) and could be a little prosaic on screen. We'd also argue that being told through a woman's point of view is a fairly crucial part of the book's success (anecdotally, several friends have told us that's part of what hooked them), and perhaps having a female director might be a way of retaining that perspective and sensitivity on the big screen, as well as hopefully ironing out some of the more questionable gender issues.

But preamble aside, below you'll find our view on who would be sensible hires for Focus not only to direct the film, but also star as the two leads, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey (we're leaving the supporting cast alone for now, mainly because it's pretty much a two-hander, in the first book at least). Obviously, there's a certain amount of projection going on with fan-casting of this kind, so you're likely to disagree; feel free to weigh in with your own picks in the comments section below.

This article is related to: Fifty Shades of Grey, Features, We Read It


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