Speculation around casting for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie may not have been as heated around here as it was for Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars: Episode VII, but even the haters have to admit that this is the kind of movie that can change lives. Just ask Robert Pattinson. He was a relatively unknown actor most famous for dying at Lord Voldemort's hands at the end of the fourth Harry Potter film, but landing the lead role in Twilight changed his life forever. Even if those four films weren't all that great, they made Pattinson extremely famous and able to get all kinds of work he wouldn't have otherwise-- including in some movies that even vampire-haters might see.

Fifty Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan fiction, and though the movie adaptation may skew a lot older thanks to its famous sex scenes, it will be trying to capitalize on the similarly huge audience that devoured the books. So even if you won't see Fifty Shades of Grey, a ton of people probably will-- and that will be more than enough to transform the lives of the newly announced leads, Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam. But how much? Let's look at them one by one before they become famous forever as a pair.

Dakota Johnson
Born to the Hollywood royalty of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith, Johnson may now be set up to eclipse both of her parents, at all of 23 years old. She's been earning an outsize amount of attention ever since her first grown-up screen role, which was essentially a cameo as the cute girl in Justin Timberlake's bed early on in The Social Network. Not to be shallow about it, because she handled the fast-paced Sorkin dialogue pretty well, but if you remember her, it's for the Stanford underwear she was wearing:



That led her to slightly larger but still supporting roles in 21 Jump Street-- as one of the other undercover cops-- and The Five Year Engagement--as Jason Segel's energetic young girlfriend-- and then what should have been a huge breakout on Ben & Kate, the beloved but short-lived Fox sitcom in which she played a single mom. Who knows if it was the relatively high profile of Ben & Kate or just those Stanford underwear that got her the Fifty Shades audition, but according to The Wrap it all came down to the chemistry between her and Hunnam.

Johnson, unlike her co-star who we'll get to below, pretty much has everything to gain from the role. Anastasia is very much a surrogate for the author and therefore the reader, a naive and likable girl who is brought into the seamy world of S&M and learns the ropes right alongside us. And as fans of the book have described it, Anastasia has almost no sense of humor and very little of a defined personality-- which gives Johnson a lot of room to make the character her own and get audiences on her side even more. If Fifty Shades is a hit, she'll be as famous as Kristen Stewart-- and probably also subject to the same intense hate that Stewart gets, especially if she doesn't manage to work a sense of humor in there. If it's a flop, she may have to deal with embarrassing scenes on YouTube for a few years. But for a girl who became famous by showing her butt, that might not be the worst thing after all.

(Dakota Johnson image via Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com)

Charlie Hunnam
Unless you were a fan of Sons of Anarchy, or Britain's Queer as Folk before that, you probably hadn't seen Hunnam until he stepped in to pilot a Jaeger in this summer's Pacific Rim. It was intended as a breakout role, but Hunnam was often singled out as the weakest performer in the film, and the movie's sluggish performance overall didn't help matters. And for the primarily female audience that will turn out for Fifty Shades of Grey, Hunnam will still be a completely new face-- which could help or hurt him.



As in everything, romance movies work differently for women and for men, especially in terms of what the audience wants to see from them. Kristen Stewart's job in Twilight was to be the relatable every-girl, while Robert Pattinson's was to be the brooding, emotionally unavailable hunk-- pretty identical to the role that Hunnam has taken as Christian Grey. At the very least Hunnam gets to actually be sexy as opposed to militantly abstinent, and director Sam Taylor-Wood's previous work suggests that she knows how to depict men as sexy on screen (you'd be amazed how few films actually pull this off). But anyone who's been to an all-male strip club know how ridiculous you can look when trying to be sexy and failing, and as the dominant force in the BDSM relationship at the heart of Fifty Shades, Hunnam will be walking that tightrope for the entire film-- and maybe even two more after that.

With a Pacific Rim sequel looking likely, Hunnam can always have that to fall back on, and he's burnished his macho reputation on Sons of Anarchy enough that Fifty Shades wouldn't single-handedly make him a beefcake laughingstock. And if it's a hit, he has the chance to show an entire new side of himself, possibly positioning himself as an alternative to Channing Tatum in "hunky guys who can do either action or romance." That's possibly a stretch-- Fifty Shades will be very different from the soft-focus romances Tatum has done-- but don't count it out. A movie based on a global publishing phenomenon will earn eyeballs, no matter how X-rated its content.

(Charlie Hunnam image via s_bukley / Shutterstock.com)
In Conclusion
Fifty Shades of Grey is a high-risk, high-reward project for pretty much everyone involved except for author E.L. James, who has long since made her fortune off the franchise. The buzz surrounding the books has lessened considerably since last summer, and by the time the first movie arrives next summer it may be hard to get anyone to admit they were ever into the "mommy porn." Johnson and Hunnam, and the many agents and managers who surround them, definitely know this, but they're also at points in their careers where the potential rewards are worth the enormous risk. Looking at it optimistically, Fifty Shades is a chance for Twilight-level fame without the boring abstinence, the bad CGI or the screaming teenage fan base. Worst case scenario, it's an embarrassing flop and Johnson and Hunnam aren't allowed to go near a sex scene for a few years.

But even then, it'll be the Fifty Shades brand name that gets the blame-- not those two, who aren't nearly as famous as that knotted tie on the cover. To get the blame for a flop based on an established property, you've either got to be a star who should be capable of selling the film-- i.e. Ryan Reynolds in Green Lantern, Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger-- or so remarkably awful that there's no avoiding it-- Taylor Kitsch's double-dose of John Carter and Battleship was enough to halt his career. Unless Fifty Shades features some The Room-level bad sex, Hunnam and Johnson would be at worst considered victims of a book that was never all that great to begin with. And hey, once again, there's always the possibility that it somehow works-- and those two, with everything to gain, will work their asses off to make it happen. When you're on the up-and-up, the attention-getting risk is almost always the one worth taking.

Will Fifty Shades of Grey hurt or help their careers?
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