17 October 2013
I’ve been fascinated with the unfolding narrative about casting 50 Shades of Grey and the fallout from Charlie Huunam (pictured) deciding against the role. I find it far more interesting to read the discussions because neither the book holds any interest (especially after reading Jenny Trout’s recaps/teardowns here and especially this link about abusive relationships) nor do either of the lead actors, so I’m able to watch the train wreck without feeling invested in it.
ThinkProgress just posted this article about Huunam’s backing out and objectification vs. admiration. This. So much this. Also, this earlier piece from the same writer about the specific problems of casting 50 Shades.
I’m a pretty solid fan, and I’ve met lots of people through fandom over the years. Thanks to Fairly Legal, I wound up getting close to several people, one of whom I write most most days. Before that, I’ve met a lot of people through science fiction fandom, generally through our mutual love of books.
Some of what I’ve heard out of fans just boggles me. Like, for example, one fan’s confession that she stopped watching White Collar after Matt Bomer came out because she just couldn’t fantasize about the actor or character any more — and, weirder, not realizing that might be a problem in her character.
I’m happy that my favorite actor, Ryan Johnson, is married (cute wedding pic). I like knowing that there’s someone to be there through life’s daily challenges, because auditioning (and job interviewing generally) is stressful, and actors do more of that than most people. I love knowing he’s discovered my favorite coffee gadget or bought an iPhone for his birthday, but not as excited as when he announces a new role. In other words, I root for him. Yeah, he rocks a suit (and a cereal bowl), but what I most like about him is that he’s funny (gag reel clip) and expressive. And nice.
Back when Ryan was doing a live chat during an episode airing of Fairly Legal, one of his fans said that he’d make an awesome Christian Grey and had he considered the film role? My first thought was, “Nooooooooooooo.” His response was, if I recall correctly, that he hadn’t read the book or been approached about the project. Regardless, I remember it being a far better answer than the one I came up with. If he did land the part, I’d be supportive — it’s not about what I want, after all.
I think that’s part of the perspective that some of the people objectifying Huunam have completely forgotten about. There are actual real people involved in the making of this film, and real people have their own career goals in mind, not to mention needing to take into consideration the people around them. No matter how much fans might wish otherwise, a random fan on the internet (or not on the internet) doesn’t count in “the people around them.” We’re just happy when we’re happy and not when we’re not. Even the loyal among us aren’t perfectly so.
Getting back to 50 Shades, the rumors going around are interesting: 1) Huunam was offered $125k for the film (which seems unlikely given a studio of that size and a role of that size); 2) he left due to creative differences, frustrated with the handling of his notes about the script — which, apparently, he wasn’t allowed to see before signing. The official reason for his departure was scheduling differences.
It’s pretty evident from the attention Huunam’s gotten that objectification was part of the problem with keeping the film role, though that damage can’t really be undone. Worse, there’s the argument some are making that he’s inherently asked for this because he’s an actor. Which, frankly, is a variant on saying that a woman’s asked to get catcalls just because she wore a short skirt, and just as ridiculous.
You know what most actors are used to most of the time? Being passed over. Being ignored. Rarely having the right look at the right time. Being too young (or having too little experience). Being too old. Getting close to a part they want and not getting it. Not getting a call at all for the hot audition for the new hot project. Being one in a room of similarly-hot actors. Being called in for second reads with twenty-five other actors, and trying to find the right unique take that will clinch them the part. Having a better read, but not getting the part because the look wasn’t quite right. Maybe, just maybe, they’re lucky like Stephen Furst and manage to fumble an audition in the most perfect way and land the part.
Using an actor is not a part of the job actors signed up for. Do actors want attention? Probably most of them do. (I’d have said “all” at one point, but have you seen the Inside the Actor’s Studio episode with Kim Basinger shaking like a leaf? Talking about how she couldn’t leave the house for months because she is agoraphobic? Now imagine her doing 9-1/2 Weeks being that person. Amazing actor.) But that kind of objectification? I don’t think any of us want that. Wil Wheaton has written about this. More than once.
The one thing that makes me think the 50 Shades film might not be the total nosedive it might otherwise be is Sam Taylor-Johnson. I loved her film Nowhere Boy about the early life of John Lennon. I think it both respected how difficult Lennon was as a person and how charming he could be. No doubt that film is why I eventually wound up finally visiting Liverpool.
Sam had to work with difficult constraints about people both living and dead in order to make the film, and it worked. Do I think she could handle the 50 Shades content sensitively? Yes, if permitted to do so.
There’s also the issue of wanting to cast younger stars for the leads in 50 Shades. Historically, Hollywood will tend to cast people who are age 30 +/- 10% for their first leading role, even if that role is as a teenager, because they have to have a certain amount of fame to be a draw for the film and enough experience to be completion bondable. Example: Eric Christian Olsen in Fired Up!. The younger an actor is when taking on a role like 50 Shades, the more it will tend to typecast them. One of the things that was different about Twilight was that Catherine Hardwicke cast younger actors, but they weren’t expected to do a lot of nudity. It’s also worth remembering that Twilight was an indie film. Summit is no longer an independent studio, and that’s largely because of the success of the series. I believe Hardwicke still holds the title for the highest domestic-grossing film of all time directed by a woman.
Yet, for both of these book series, it was the book fans, not the actor’s fans, who were the initial primary pull for the movie. Sure, more people saw the Twilight films than read the books. That’s to be expected. But the initial pressure came from the book’s fans and what they expected Edward Cullen to look like/be like. Many of them were quite unhappy with Pattinson’s casting, partly because of the “don’t cross the streams” problem with his appearance in the Harry Potter films. After auditioning three hundred actors for the role, Hardwicke got what she was looking for. But: name three other films Pattinson’s been in since the series started without looking at IMDB.
There was a great interview with Daniel Waters, writer/director of Sex & Death 101, about casting sex scenes. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to that audio file. (Here’s another interview.) The short version was that he found it incredibly difficult to cast Americans in the roles, and found it far easier to find Canadian and Australian actresses to be in his film. Also, the lead, Simon Baker, was Australian. (This was Baker’s last role before The Mentalist.) In a threesome scene, the two actresses involved had different body parts they didn’t want shown, and Waters talked about making sure that scenes were shot and edited to comply with the actors’ constraints. This is all difficult stuff, and non-trivial in a movie like 50 Shades where you need more comfort with explicit material from both leads.
On the other hand, the movie can’t actually be very explicit. There’s no way this movie will be PG-13, and it’s hard to get big box office numbers with an R-rated film. Even R won’t permit a lot of explicit content. (See: This Film Is Not Yet Rated) The two movies it’s most likely to be similar to, sex-scene wise, are 9-1/2 Weeks (which actually was remarkably light on sex scenes and had a teeny domestic gross and was also based on a book) and Basic Instinct (which was primarily a thriller).
So I’m perfectly content to let the actors act and the director direct, and see where this thing heads. It’s quite possible the movie will be better than the books. I certainly hope it will at least minimize the abusive relationship aspect.
Since we’re talking movies based on books here….time for a few book plugs.
For reading in the BDSM erotic romance subgenre, Abigail Barnette’s The Boss series, Maya Banks’s Sweet series, and Jayne Rylon’s Men in Blue series are all series written by people who know a lot more about the genre than E.L. James, who admittedly was writing outside her own experience. I’ll add this disclaimer, though: I’m not into BDSM, but I read outside my own preferences all the time, and I enjoyed those three series. So if that is your thing and you don’t like the books because of the way they explore BDSM content, I’d love to hear why.