Let’s leave out, for the purposes of this post, whether Charlie Hunnam should have dropped out of “Fifty Shades of Grey” for reasons that very likely had to do with public pressure. There’s an argument to be made that he shouldn’t have: Just because a hard-core group doesn’t like you before production starts -- and it didn’t -- doesn’t mean it won’t like you after production ends. (See under: Lawrence, Jennifer and “Hunger Games”)
The big question is where Universal/Focus goes from here. The studio needs to get someone on board as Christian Grey immediately if it hopes to begin production in a few weeks and make an August release date.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” is superhero fare for the erotic-fiction set, and the wish list for lead actors is long. Well, at least long enough to include Matt Bomer, the fan favorite, who by the way is entirely not available as he shoots his cable series “White Collar.”
In fact, there’s no magic bullet for whom to cast, and offering a litany of names is unlikely to have any effect, no matter how many fan sites try to do it; it just can’t take into account the myriad, legal, scheduling and plain human-relationship factors that go into a casting decision.
But there’s one bit of counsel that does make sense. At this point, filmmakers would be best-served going with a total unknown. It’s been a bit mystifying why E.L. James, director Sam Taylor-Johnson and the producers (which include the veteran team behind “The Social Network”) didn’t do that in the first place. Once the likes of Ryan Gosling aren't signing up and you’re working your way down the list, the name of the actor isn’t likely to make a big difference at the box office anyway.
And in terms of talent, well, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t a stage actor or a British actor or a recently graduated acting-school actor who doesn’t match the skill set of Hunnam or have the chops to pull off what the, um, not-exactly-OrsonWelles-like role of Christian Grey calls for.
Choosing a solid cable-TV star, as Hunnam is with his turn as Jax on "Sons of Anarchy," could work out fine, of course. But it also could be problematic. Fans already have preconceptions, which leaves the fallout to deal with. And there’s the possibility of cold feet, after a budding star realizes he doesn’t want his career to bud in that direction.
A total unknown, on the other hand, won’t be weighing career options, because this is far and away the best one he's got. And, paradoxically, he probably won't give fans fits, because they won't have a body of work to judge him by.
The studio and James already took that route with the female lead in Dakota Johnson, a young woman who is an acting newbie for all intents and purposes, having had bit movie parts and a run on a quickly canceled network sitcom. Before the million-channel universe, Hollywood in fact did this with some regularity: look at how Edward Norton, to take one example, came out of nowhere in “Primal Fear” to make that a movie hit.
“Fifty Shades” is in an even better spot. The title is already a star unto itself. Putting an unknown in the movie won’t diminish that. And the actor will be more likely to embrace the role instead of wondering what he got himself into.
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