Director Sam Taylor-Johnson says it’s the love story at the center of Fifty Shades of Grey that drew her to the project. But for readers familiar with the sexually elicit trilogy, which begins filming in Vancouver next week, Fifty Shades of Grey is no traditional love story.
As it turns out Taylor-Johnson is no traditional director. For those of you unfamiliar with Taylor-Johnson, the 46-year-old mother of four daughters is a British visual artist and photographer who once posed with her ex-boyfriend, artist Henry Bond, in a re-creation of the famous naked John Lennon-Yoko Ono photograph. She won acclaim for her 2009 series of photos of famous Hollywood men crying. (The series, which featured portraits of Paul Newman, Robert Downey Jr., Ryan Gosling, and many others, can be seen here.) She’s also well-known for marrying Kick-Ass lead Aaron Taylor, who is 20 years her junior.
Taylor-Johnson spent years making music videos (R.E.M.) and short films, including one called Death Valley that featured a man masturbating in the desert. But it was the short film Love You More, which author E L James called “sweet and sexy and fun,” that became her calling card for landing the Fifty Shades job.
Written by the playwright and screenwriter Patrick Marber (Closer), who also worked on a rewrite of the Fifty Shades script, the film is an adaptation of his short story Peter Shelley and tells the story of two teenagers in 1970s London who connect over the release of the Buzzcocks single Love You More. The 15-minute film features their sexually graphic rendezvous, but there is also a sweetness and authenticity to the two students and their first sexual encounter. (The film, which was produced by the late Anthony Minghella, can be watched here but includes R-rated content that is not safe for work.)
Taylor-Johnson intends to use some of the tricks she used filming Love You More for her work on Fifty Shades, especially the sex scenes. “When you see Love You More, there is a real sense that you’ve seen everything, but when you watch it again, you realize that you’ve seen nothing,” she says. “One of the things that’s difficult to achieve is to have that sense that you’re in there erotically — that you are seeing and feeling everything that’s going on — but you’re not being gratuitous or exploitative at the same time. It’s a fine balance.”
Taylor-Johnson has been prepping the film for the last two months in Vancouver, both scouting locations and fine-tuning her storyboards for the scenes that will require the intricate choreography. (“They’re some of the sexiest storyboards I’ve ever seen,” quips producer Mike DeLuca.)
But it’s nothing Taylor-Johnson seems all that concerned about. “It’s challenging in new ways but not necessarily in ways that I feel uncomfortable,” she says. “I get excited about challenges — I mean, I have four kids.”