Jamie Dornan was stuck with his family when he received a fan letter that was more than a little scary. The star of the “Fifty Shades of Gray” films was sent “a collage of photos of a child” with a note about his most famous role.
Someone says it was my child, and my wife should know that I have a 7-year-old child, ”said Dornan, 38, during a Zoom phone call. He squints to absorb the oddity of this allegation. “I think they were trying to say that the child was mine and Dakota Johnson’s, and that we had this baby when we made the first ‘Fifty Shades’ movie,” says Dornan. “It piqued our interest, shall we say. It was a bit freaky. “
Dornan learned all about weird stuff when he dressed as Christian Gray, the sexually adventurous businessman based on the EL James books that became a cultural phenomenon. The first “Fifty Shades of Gray” movie, released in 2015, catapulted Dornan from a character actor (best known for the BBC TV series “The Fall”, in which he played a serial killer) into a movie star. This was followed by two sequels, which ended in 2018 with the cheap “Fifty Shades Freed”, set in the days of the relationship between Christian and Anastasia. The snapping reviews didn’t stop fans from flocking to theaters: In total, the trilogy raised a whopping $ 1.3 billion at the worldwide box office for Universal Pictures.
Ever since, it’s been about Dornan. Other than a supporting turn in 2018’s ‘Robin Hood,’ the Irish actor hasn’t been drawn to studio footage. “I like the energy of independent film,” says Dornan. “I like that kind of kick, playing around, scrambling to the finish every day, and you can take liberties and everyone is in it together.” He especially appreciates the camaraderie with the crew on a small set. “No one is getting paid what they’ve got, and we have to make this work,” he says. “It brings out the best in people.”
Two years ago, Dornan received excellent reviews for “A Private War,” in which he played real-life photographer Paul Conroy against Rosamund Pike’s war correspondent Marie Colvin. His other recent roles have been similarly character-driven: the journalist Danny Tate in the HBO movie ‘My Dinner With Hervé’, a writer in Drake Doremus’ semi-improvisational ‘Endings, Beginnings’ and a paramedic in’ Synchronic ‘, a twisty sci-fi thriller now on VOD.
Dornan seems to have gone down the same path with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who experimented with indies after the massive success of ‘Twilight’ (on which ‘Fifty Shades’ is loosely based) before finally returning to mainstream films. “Rob is a friend of mine, and I have nothing but respect for him in the way he did it, knocking out a David Cronenberg movie and doing all of these really obscure things,” says Dornan, though he is open-minded to return to blockbusters in the future: “If there is a chance to show what I can do in another world, in a franchise that has a different audience than what ‘Fifty Shades’ was, I would be crazy not to think about it. ”
Dornan’s first foray into broad-based comedy, “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” was due to hit theaters last summer, but Lionsgate delayed it until July 2021 due to COVID-19. In the romp, Dornan changes form (think Jon Hamm in “Bridesmaids”) to portray a mysterious hotel guest who becomes involved with the holiday destinations Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. “The two together, they’re just an incredible force,” said Dornan, who shot the film in Cancún, Mexico. “I wanted to do comedy for a while. And then I did ‘The Fall’ and I played a psycho, and you’re not on people’s lists for comedy when you played a character like that. “
For now, Dornan’s lighter side can be seen in the love story “ Wild Mountain Thyme, ” which will hit theaters and on demand on December 11. “It’s like an injection of joy into the veins,” says Dornan. The release of Bleecker Street is based on a play that director John Patrick Shanley wrote about his own Irish family. Dornan’s character, Anthony, is an uncomfortable son who doesn’t want to reciprocate the flirtation of his clearly perfect neighbor, Rosemary (Emily Blunt). Meanwhile, his father, Tony (Christopher Walken), threatens to leave the family farm to an American cousin (Hamm).
Shanley offered the part to Dornan without asking for an audition, after a brief phone call. “I started with the place ‘I want a dark, gloomy romantic lead,’” says Shanley. “When I looked at the landscape of international English-speaking actors, I couldn’t find anyone who suited me as well as Jamie.” Shanley laughs before adding, ‘He’s already been considered linked to romance – maybe mor lurid than I would. “
The film, which cost $ 5.5 million to make, took more than two years to finance. It feels like a return to the airy feel-good indies of the 90s, which sold tickets partly through word of mouth. As for the idea that audiences would now see the film in a theater, Shanley advises caution: “I want everyone to be okay. I think we are about to enter an absolute carnage nightmare at the national level. You shouldn’t look over your shoulder and ask yourself, “Will I have a serious illness to see the movie?” ”
“Wild Mountain Thyme,” he says, would play just as well on a big screen TV. The movie, a love letter to Ireland, was filmed for five weeks in the small western town of Ballina, where locals put up posters to welcome the cast. “What’s interesting about shooting in the Irish countryside, where we were, is like any other time,” says Dornan. “It’s about the simple things and the life of this farm, and that’s the main focus of your day.”
Both Dornan and Blunt worked with dialect coach Brendan Gunn and listened to bands from people from the region. Dornan, who grew up in Belfast, wanted to sound less metropolitan, so he doesn’t speak in his normal voice. While some on Twitter have ridiculed the accents in the trailer, Shanley says if the characters sounded exactly like his relatives spoke, no one would understand them. “You need to make the accent more accessible to a global audience,” he says.
As they prepared during rehearsals, Blunt felt a connection with Dornan’s approach to the character. “There was an essential essence of Jamie and I as kindred spirits,” says Blunt. And I just thought he was so utterly charming in this role and so willing to look and act crazy and be breathtakingly uncomfortable in his own skin. I think all those qualities are so moving in this character of Anthony. “
Anthony allowed Dornan to tap into a part of himself that he hadn’t channeled on screen before. “Let’s face it: Anthony is probably on the spectrum somehow,” said Dornan. “He’s unlike anyone I’ve ever played, but he has insecurities and a quirk and quirks in him that I felt I definitely owned myself. I loved the opportunity to show that and really raise and explore and exploit my own craziness, which I have enough. “
Dornan lives on a farm in the English countryside with his wife, Amelia Warner (who composed the music for ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’), their three young daughters (all under the age of 8) and an assortment of animals: ‘one horse, five chickens, three goats, a dog and a cat ”, he says. ‘When I look at you, I look at two of my goats. And the light fades and they look at me like I’m about to feed them more. But yes, I am a million miles from the Hollywood sign. “
He never really transitioned into the movie star lifestyle, feeling comfortable with the spotlight or trying to chat with strangers at an industry party. “I think a lot of us hide aspects of ourselves, especially in Hollywood, and the more intense those interactions are,” Dornan says. “It’s a show, and everyone is showing up and trying to give their best version of themselves, and you’re trying to give everyone the hits all the time. It’s quite exhausting. “
When he talks about “Fifty Shades of Gray,” Dornan is careful. He respects the franchise that made him a star, but acknowledges that the movies weren’t for everyone. “I want to try to do as much great work as possible, diverse and interesting work,” he says. “What I’m probably best known for is a monstrously successful franchise that didn’t really like. It’s weird going to those movies knowing that you’re going to be in a franchise that is likely to make so much money and be rated negatively because those books have made so much money and have been really rated negatively. “
While Dornan says he doesn’t generally read his own reviews, there was nothing he could do about it in 2015. “I went through a bad phase with ‘Fifty Shades’ from reading some really bad reviews, but just found them funny. And they let me drive,” he says. ”One of them was“ Jamie Dornan has the charisma of oatmeal, “that – some people like oatmeal, so I thought it was kind of harsh. I remember that stuck with me, and I don’t totally disagree.”
By the time he retired from Christian’s famous Red Room, “I was ready to move on with this crazy chapter in my life,” admits Dornan. “Regardless of who I played, I don’t think I would want to play a character for multiple, multiple movies. I think I would just be really bored of that. “
When he talks about meeting his wife, he sounds less Christian and more like Anthony from “Wild Mountain Thyme”. Dornan achieved success in his early twenties as a model and went on to land his first film role in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” which led to him being profiled in The New York Times with the headline “The Golden Torso.” Dornan recalls: “I thought, ‘What the fuck?’ and I still think, ‘What the fuck?’ 14 years later. I never quite understood what it meant. ”
While continuing to pursue an acting career, he lived in Los Angeles, where he auditioned for the pilot season. One night in 2010, he found himself, with his friend Eddie Redmayne, in a karaoke bar in Koreatown, where he heard Amelia’s name – she was an actor he’d met before. “Someone I did karaoke with said she was at a party in the Hollywood Hills and did I want to go? And I dropped the microphone and ran for the hills. “
He knew immediately that he was going to marry her. ‘I was just talking to her and I was like, yeah. This is it. And yes, it was very weird. They found out that they were both on their way to London the next day and – as fate would like – they were booked on the same flight. “We were sitting side by side on the plane,” said Dornan, who attributes his professional success to being in love. “I really started to care by concentrating on my work,” he says. “And within a year of meeting my wife, I got ‘The Fall’ and changed my life forever. I started it a lot. take it more seriously, and it’s all up to her. “
Dornan has been busy during this quarantine time. He wrote his first screenplay with a friend, about which he is careful not to share too many details. “I’m in it,” he says. ‘But I’m not the star of it. I hope we make it. “
He also recently wrapped Kenneth Branagh’s 1960s autobiographical film ‘Belfast’, which was shot in Ireland and England under COVID-19 protocols. “For the first few days I thought, ‘This is crazy. I haven’t seen Kenneth Branagh’s face yet. ‘They’re masks, and it’s strange, but it’s also amazing how quickly you adapt. “In his career, Jamie Dornan shows you how to do that.