Sources tell Variety that in recent weeks, execs have shown strong interest in four actresses to play Steele: Alicia Vikander, Imogen Poots, Shailene Woodley and Dakota Johnson. Sources say there is no front-runner right now, and more actresses could still be brought in, but these names have consistently been mentioned as favorites of director Sam Taylor-Johnson and studio execs.
Charlie Hunnam -- though his reps and the studio denied the story, saying no offer had been delivered. Variety has since learned that Hunnam actually passed on the role last week, but may now be reconsidering and is expected to meet with execs today.
The studio has met with actors including "Magic City" thesp Christian Cooke and "Divergent" actor Theo James, but has decided to go older, looking for a thesp in his early 30s instead of mid-to-late 20s.
Universal and Focus had no comment. Sources at the studio insist no offers have been made, and it's unlikely a decision would be made on the actress until bizzers return to town after Labor Day Weekend, although an actor could be named sooner.
While there's some feeling that Uni and Focus may be taking too long to make a decision, in reality there's plenty of time to shoot and wrap the film before its Aug. 24, 2014 release date. That's the late-summer slot that's been good to other femme-targeted pics including "The Butler," "The Help" and "Eat Pray Love."
Production is expected to start at the end of October.
Without significant special effects, action or setpieces, a romance doesn't take long to shoot, so it's key to concentrate on making sure the chemistry is right between the leads. Universal romantic drama "Endless Love," for example, finished production at the beginning of July and will be ready for a Valentine's Day release.
Kelly Marcel adapted the "Fifty Shades" script with James, Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti producing.
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