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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dakota Johnson: Nude Debut in a Short Film?

So Just Who Is Dakota Johnson? One of Her Directors Explains

Currently filming in Vancouver, the Fifty Shades of Grey film adaptation is set to be Dakota Johnson's breakout role. But while we have an array of shirtless photos that tell us everything we need to know about Jamie Dornan's suitability for the role of Christian Grey, Dakota's currently a bit more of a mystery. Her casting didn't get Fifty Shades fans too riled up, which is a good start, but what is she going to bring to the plastic sheet-covered table in the red room of pain? In terms of her acting that is, not in the sense of like, sex toys.

To find out, I spoke with Sarah Mintz, a friend of Dakota's and also the director of Transit, a short film starring Johnson shot only a few months before she landed the Fifty Shades gig. 

Cosmopolitan: So, Transit. How did it all come about?
Sarah Mintz: Transit is my second film, my first was a short called Curtain Call — which was about a drag queen retiring. That was far smaller in scale, though, so this does feel like my first film. I made both of the films while at school in New York, I studied at Tisch [at New York University], and Transit was the film I worked on in my senior year.

Without spoiling too much, how would you describe the plot?
It's about this girl who is abandoned by her father, and she travels to this youth hostel, just in search of a place to stay. But she ends up having to face up to a lot, to deal with her demons. Through the characters she meets [in the hostel], she learns about herself. By the end of the film I think — and I hope — she really has transformed into a new person.
How did Dakota Johnson, who plays the film's lead, Elizabeth, come on board?
Oh Dakota, I love her! She really is just a beautiful person. We have actually known each other for a while. We met peripherally through friends and then through school — we went to high school together for a few years too. We were close but we weren't like tight-knit friends. And I just knew she was the kind of person that I wanted for the film. She was in New York and I reached out to her. I remember thinking, "OK, what can I do to woo her?" I took her to the Greenwich Hotel; I took her on a date! Not really, but I felt like I had to impress her. I sat there with her and explained why i thought it was an important movie to make, why I wanted her to be a part of it and how I just knew she could be the character I wanted. And she said yes on the spot!
We really hustled to get this done. We shot primarily at this renovated motel in Malibu. The crew and I were there for just under two weeks and we shot for about seven days. I'm so happy with the entire cast and crew, but Dakota [in particular] definitely gave her all. She was also working on [the FOX sitcom] Ben and Kate when we filmed, so she was pulling some very long work days.

Did you know about her auditioning for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie beforehand?
I had no idea! When we shot the movie and Dakota had not worked that much. She'd been in The Social Network, The Five-Year Engagement, and obviously Ben and Kate; some great movies, but she hadn't broken out. I respect her utterly, and I knew she was going to get work. I was pretty sure something big was going to happen for her — and soon. So this was my time to work with her, or to start to work with her. I knew she was a talent and I'm incredibly happy for her. I think she's going to bring something to the Fifty Shades movie that no-one else can bring. I'm in full support of her.
How would you describe her as an actress — what's her process like?
I don't know if i would put labels on her — like any good actress I'm sure she's different with every director. Between us, [the dynamic] was easy. We spent a lot of time just talking about life. I will say, there's a scene in the film where she's looking at a family, and she's longing for their togetherness, and that scene was by far the most enjoyable one on which I worked with Dakota. She just transformed for me — she understood it, we held hands for a second and I was like "you've got this." 

And how about when the cameras are turned off?
Oh, she's funny. She's very self-deprecating, hilarious, even. There's no pretension there. Funny and genuine and easy to talk to. I could go on [complimenting her] forever. She's one of those people that when you're talking to her — and as a director you definitely need this —  you feel that she's all there and she's definitely listening. 

There's a brief love scene and some nudity in Transit, but presumably nothing like what's coming up in the Fifty Shades movie. Is Dakota a natural when it comes to nude scenes?
[Laughs.] We were traditional — for any nudity during the shower scenes or the love scenes, it was a closed set. Just me and the director of photography, basically. And I made sure that Dakota had full approval over anyone who was going to be there. I had never directed anything even close to [Transit's love scene] before, and she was great. There's definitely nudity cut from the film that we could have gone further with, and she was fine with that — no qualms. Obviously she would have had a problem if it wasn't tasteful. I'm sure we all would. I think Dakota is very particular about the parts she takes, and with that I think [she's also particular with] the moments she would choose to be naked.
So what's next for the film — is there a release date lined up?
We finally finished post-production on the film around September and I'm currently in the process of submitting it to film festivals. We did have one screening already though, at the Jane Hotel [in New York]. It was a small, intimate screening with Dakota and some other people from the film just to show ourselves what we'd worked on. 

Watch the trailer for Transit below:


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