There was an interview in The Guardian the other day about Jamie Dornan, that touched upon some common misconceptions about him. I’d like to share it here along with my own thoughts
(colored type=the interview, black type=my thoughts).
The person writing the article (Hadley Freeman) seems to know Jamie personally and helps puts those misconceptions to rest.
The only thing worse than a model/actress, the old snarky joke goes, is a model/actor.And I might once have snarked along with that joke, until I met Jamie Dornan. Jamie and I became friends exactly a decade ago, when he was 22 and I was 26 and a mutual friend introduced us at a party. Neither of us, to be honest, was in the best of shape at the time. He was heartbroken after the recent end of his long-term relationship with Keira Knightley (it took about a month before I even saw him smile) and I, meanwhile, was deep in my belief that the way to make the most of my 20s was to get as wasted as possible, as often as possible.But somehow through our own personal fogs, we clicked.
I found out rather quickly, when looking into who Jamie was, that he used to date Keira Knightley. I vaguely recall seeing pics of them together at that time and Jamie being referred to as the “model-boyfriend” of the popular movie actress. When Jamie was younger he seemed to still be growing into his bone structure. I would see one picture of him and think he was really attractive and then see another, and pass right by.
Someone whispered to me early on that Jamie was a model, but I didn’t pay much attention to this information. It wasn’t until I went to New York for fashion week a few months after meeting him and saw him nearly naked on a giant billboard advert for Calvin Klein that I began to think my condescension might have been a tad misplaced. In fact, my new sweet and sweary friend from Belfast was one of the most successful male models in the world at the time, working for Dior Homme, Aquascutum, Zara, Armani and dozens of others. But you would never have known it from talking to him: as much as I tried to goad him by quoting Zoolander, he would just shrug and smile and change the subject. He never mentioned that he had spent the day, say, writhing naked with Gisele or Eva Mendes for a shoot, as most young men might reasonably have done, and in 10 years of knowing him I have never once seen him glance at his reflection in a mirror or window. I’ve never even heard him mention going to the gym.
He’s married now, to film composer Amelia Warner, and father to 16-month-old Dulcie. But when he was single, he was neither a shagger nor a flirt. Though some of my female friends made it very clear they would be happy to do either with him, he simply seemed to have no interest in his looks, or the benefits they could bring.
and that is a suspicion of mine that I’m happy to see confirmed. Jamie was a young man when he first became a model and that career seemed to take off rather quickly for him. When you factor in that he did happen to be dating someone in the movie industry, he had his foot in two very enticing worlds. It would be understandable how certain opportunities could go to your head but from what I’ve seen and read myself, he just didn’t seem to be that type. this thought intrigued me: how could one not be a flirt, oozing confidence about yourself and your body, in the situations that Jamie found himself in? I’ve seen him say in other interviews that he was self-conscious about his body, always having been lanky with a baby-faced look about him. So was he honing his acting craft even back then? or was there a certain kind of inherent charisma present instead? (I think it was both)
Today is the first and only time I’ve seen him wear a fashion freebie; we meet for this interview in a west London cafe and he turns up, having come straight from the golf course, wearing a cap with the slogan “Double Bogey” on the rim. “A golfwear company gave it to me; isn’t it cool?” grins the former face of Calvin Klein.
It wasn’t that he was ashamed of being a model, exactly, just that he knew he wanted to be something else, and that something was, of course, an actor. And to be honest, that puzzled me as much as his fondness for golf. I used to assume that when people said they wanted to be an actor, they really meant that they wanted to be famous. But Jamie didn’t show interest in any of that. He is the only celebrity I’ve met who never namedrops, even now when he is working with A-listers. “I just never thought any of that was relevant,” he says, looking surprised that I find this surprising.
He does have a group of acting friends (including Eddie Redmayne, Rafe Spall and Andrew Garfield), but the only people he ever brings up in conversation are his father and two sisters (his mother died from cancer when he was 16) and the tight group of friends from Belfast he has known since childhood. I couldn’t imagine him hanging out with luvvies in the Groucho, competing about who knows Harvey Weinstein the best. Why does he want to be an actor, I’d wonder? Why not just take the modelling money and spend the rest of his life on the golf course? It never occurred to me that it might be because he was good at acting.
In 2013, I eventually learned that I had underestimated him, when he appeared as Paul Spector, the psychopathic murderer in Allan Cubitt’s acclaimed BBC2 series, The Fall. Jamie, who was almost unrecognisable to me in the role, promptly won several awards. “That show has given me ev-er-y-thing,” he says, with rolling Irish emphasis on the last word. “It’s a serious bit of fucking culture and just such a treat to do. I know that every opportunity I get from now on is because of The Fall.”
Jamie’s Irish accent is mentioned here, and this is something I find particularly enjoyable about him. He still has a nice voice when he tries to disguise the accent but a big part of the essence it brings to him is lost. I think this is what people who aren’t familiar with Jamie and are only seeing clips of him in Fifty Shades of Grey, react to. I see again and again the perception that he’s creepy, arrogant, or just a pretty-boy. that’s due in part to the character he is portraying, of course, who is supposed to be all of those things but Jamie has used that faux accent previously in commercial ads as well. this is why I try to direct others to interviews where he’s speaking in his everyday voice.
A third series of the thriller has just been commissioned although the critical consensus turned during the last season, which was widely panned for plot implausibility. “The thing is, the show had to develop and expand. You can’t just regurgitate what you did in the first series. But then, some people’s argument is that you should stop after the first series,” Jamie says. “But I would happily play Paul for ever and one thing I’m learning is: ‘Ah, fuck it, you can’t please everyone.’ Which is hard for you because you’re a people-pleaser, I say. “Yeah, exactly. And now I’ve chosen a job where I see just how much or little I’m pleasing people!”
I’m afraid you set yourself up for that one, Jamie. Agreeing to portray Christian Grey, with not one but two fandoms already attached (the Fifty Shades book fandom and theTwilight fandom that the book grew out of), is a lot of pressure no matter how you look at it. someone, somewhere is going to find fault with you somehow. always.
There is, though, another character that’s as little like Jamie as The Fall’s serial killer; Fifty Shades’s cold, money-obsessed S&M freak Christian Grey. “I know, I know, that’s the thing,” he says. “I consider myself quite light-hearted, pretty easy-going, and I keep playing sick psychopath bastards! It kinda worries me sometimes how comfortable I am in that zone.”
When it was announced that he had the part in Fifty Shades of Grey, I texted him to say it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. “And I still feel that way myself!” he laughs. “There are times when I’ll be like: ‘Huh, someone made a Fifty Shades movie, that’s funny.’ And then I’ll be like: ‘Wait, I’m the guy?!’
It’s not easy to find a tactful way to ask a friend why he is doing something that you find hilarious but, well, why did he take the part?“You know, I’m not naive as to why people would think it was a bad [career] choice, or why there is a snobbery about it. But I’m also not stupid, and I knew with [director] Sam [Taylor-Johnson], and [cinematographer] Seamus McGarvey, the film would be in safe hands. And, you know, it does no harm to be in a film that makes half a billion dollars.”
When it comes to Fifty Shades of Grey, either you see the love story that’s hidden in those pages or you don’t. If you don’t, then it’s really easy to scoff and make fun. Even if you do, it’s still easy to make fun, but you know why an actor would want to tackle that character. it’s a challenge to find that balance between intimidating and intriguing, between creepy and taboo, between meanness and self-loathing.
Aside from the occasional awkward moment, of course: Jamie recently took Dulcie to a playgroup, which was being held in his local cinema. As they walked in, a screening of Fifty Shades was ending. He held his daughter up in front of his face and used her as a mask until he was safely beyond the Christian Grey fans.
The film has, unsurprisingly, been a massive commercial success, but, just as predictably, not a critical one (“The Guardian’s my homepage, but of course it would give it one star!” he laughs). But in its defence, it is a thousand times better than the book; classier and free of EL James’s verbal diarrhoea. The Daily Telegraph, which loved the movie, described Jamie’s performance as “a good kind of absurd … a cold slate with questioning eyes”. (Jamie, however, prefers to quote his bad reviews.) It is a testament to both the film and the actor that Christian Grey feels like a character at all considering that in the books he’s barely a cipher. I didn’t fall off my cinema seat laughing when Jamie/Christian snarls: “I don’t make love, Miss Steele – I fuck. Hard.” Which surely says something, although I did have to cover my eyes during the sex scenes. “So did my sisters,” he says. “But Dad was well into it …”
Since the film’s release, there have been rumours of discord from the set: that James and Taylor- Johnson hate each other; that Jamie and his female co-star Dakota Johnson loathe one another; that both Taylor-Johnson and Jamie are desperate to get out of the next two instalments. Jamie is far too tactful to comment on personal relations, but is he on board for the next two Fifty Shades shag-a-thons?
“That was always the plan,” he replies with careful wording. And Taylor-Johnson? “The plan was always for her to do them, so hopefully that will happen. But I don’t think it’s going to be imminent.”
More imminent are his other projects. As well as the next series of The Fall, he has a slew of films coming up, including two war movies that he’s shooting back-to-back this year, and an untitled project in which he’ll co-star with Bradley Cooper. Pretty validating for that 22-year-old model who so desperately wanted to act, right? “I know, I know,” he smiles, with an embarrassed tug on his Double Bogey cap. But honestly, I still think he’d be just as happy playing golf.
Once Upon a Time the Twilight fan-fiction community was my happy place. Countless big name fics were updating weekly. Internet sites dedicated to Twi fanfic regularly reviewed stories, interviewed authors, held contests, and promoted charity drives. Lively discussions about the stories took place on forums, blogs, and Facebook pages. The community had it’s fair share of drama, don’t get me wrong, but there was an order to things- a balance. And the world kept spinning on, the way it was supposed to.
Every once in awhile someone would come along and try to spoil my happy place by calling out the main fan-fiction hosting site on it’s Terms of Service regarding explicit adult content, causing some of my favorite stories to be yanked from the site. The authors would counteract this by creating their own blogs for the beloved stories and fans would flock there to read them, while waiting for the drama to die down on the main fanfic site and the rules to lax once again. The order and balance of things altered to accommodate- and the world kept spinning on.
There were so many stories to read, that Index sites started popping up to keep track of them all. Review blogs kept up to date on what was happening with the popular fics and their authors, and alternate fanfic hosting sites were created to better meet the needs of the Twilight community; bypassing the content guidelines issues- balance was restored and it was good.
I was a Twilight fanfic devotee, living and breathing the many forms of Edward Cullen. He was one fictional person but many at the same time. He became my ideal and I loved him. I was learning so much about myself from reading the stories he took part in. The pop culture aspects were fun, the social and economic aspects were informative, the psychological aspects were vastly interesting, the intellectual and literary aspects were beneficial, and the sexual aspects were enlightening-especially for a shy yet strong willed “good girl” like me.
Soon a new story started to get a lot of buzz within the community. It was a BDSM fic called “Master of the Universe” (aka Fifty Shades of Grey). I steered clear of it at first because although I had read some BDSM themed stories previously, they weren’t really my thing. Fellow readers assured me that this story didn’t follow the classic “collared submissive” storyline, not really; it was more of a love story. Well, okay. I guess I can give it a go. I found rather quickly that I did indeed like the story. It was more about Edward’s (Christian) tortured past and whether or not love could save him. The Bella (Ana) character was curious about the taboo lifestyle but it was him that she was drawn to, him that she couldn’t resist. How far was she willing to go to win him-how much of herself was she willing to sacrifice to keep him? I was firmly on board and waited impatiently for weekly updates, along with everyone else. But towards the end of the story, suddenly previous chapters started disappearing and the window of time to read current chapters before they were no longer available, was getting smaller and smaller. Oh here we go with the Pull to Publish bullshit again!
Something that had been happening more and more within the fandom at that time was that authors of popular stories were trying to get published out there in the “real world”. At first it was a minor issue that didn’t really touch many but the authors themselves; going through the process of endless edits and revisions just to get a publisher to consider you was time consuming and not something that warranted removing the fic from public view until you were much further along in the process. But then Independent publishing companies, some with ties to the Twi fanfic community, started to appear. Now a fanfic author could get their story into print, with real pages in a book format or downloadable in E-Book form, with much more ease. Several of the older stories started disappearing because even though the authors had to revise and edit for copyright reasons, the stories were still similar enough to the original Twilight that the fanfics had to be removed from public view. What a bummer! On one hand, I was happy for the authors in their achievement, but on the other hand my happy place was getting smaller because of it.
So when Master of the Universe seemed to be on it’s way to a similar fate, it should have just been bunched in with all of the other authors who were doing the same thing; but this time was a little different. This time there was very little revising and editing involved-with no traditional editor to answer to only proper names were switched out, some descriptive adjectives added and a few minor scenarios tweaked. The story itself was a good one but the writing could have benefited from an editor’s expertise. This didn’t matter all that much in it’s amateur fanfic form because the purpose of the fan-fiction world is to provide a safe haven of sorts, an atmosphere of learning and growing, in order to perfect one’s writing voice. But in this case, when a traditional publisher did come along they chose to keep the story in it’s rough form. This added an integrity angle to the ever growing issues surrounding the story’s journey into the real world. And an ethical one as well: because the storyline, no matter how far removed from vampires and werewolves, clearly still followed the plot path of Twilight. Fans started splitting down the middle- those who were loyal to the author and her story and thus willing to follow it where ever it ended up, and those who were loyal to the community and the spirit of what fanfic was supposed to be grounded in.
The Twilight community was dealing with it’s own issues and incidents of drama at the time, so if you happened to be involved in both communities, the burden was becoming a little too heavy to bear. One “Big Name” fanfic author had had enough, all the way around, and wanted out. This author chose to set the record straight on some things, go out in a blaze of glory, before she bowed out for good- and one of those things was sharing who she knew the writer of the Master of the Universe story, aka E.L.James, to really be. Her claims painted Ms. James as someone who didn’t care about the fanfic community where “Fifty” was born, didn’t understand how or why it worked, and had never been all that interested in trying to adapt-someone who had dreams of making it big and was using the fanfic community to get her there. The Big Name author chose to release private conversations between herself and E.L. to illustrate her claims. A shitty thing to do, some might say, but what those conversations showed was the last straw for many in the community. Where had my happy place gone? Was it all about money and fame now? Had it always been and I just didn’t realize it? The readers were sick of getting yo-yo-ed around and a big portion of them threw in the towel. The blogs dedicated to reviewing fanfic were focusing more and more on the flourishing YA genre in traditional publishing instead; it was safer and more readily available. The Index sites couldn’t keep up with the ever changing information that the Pull to Publish trend created: tracking down story locations, knowing which stories you were allowed to feature and which ones you weren’t, what the published stories and authors were now named, etc. etc. And a new normal, a new balance, was struggling to be found. It wasn’t my happy place anymore, and so I left.
I still read Twilight fanfiction from time to time. I enjoy my fanfic Edward too much to give him up completely! but I read completed stories only now, ones that fly under the radar and don’t have huge followings. I play it safe.
So when Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm, I struggled to keep my bitterness at bay. I did still love “Fifty”, even if he’d changed his name to Christian. It was odd seeing so many go ga-ga over him years after I did, to have them implore me to read the book and then watch them fidget as they try to explain it to me while skimming over the fact that it’s actually Erotica…I think a lot of people genuinely didn’t know that it was racy in content, until they read it. The word of mouth and promotion campaigns that I had seen conveniently left the Kink label out- ah, the world of marketing! I moved on to another fandom and my PDF copy of Master of the Universe got shoved into a folder and collected dust. Then “Fifty” signed on to become a movie star, accumulating new drama all his own- the politics of respecting women, misrepresentation of BDSM communities, the popularity of “Mommy Porn” and whether it should be shamed or celebrated, not to mention the general drama that happens behind the scenes on any movie set. But underneath it all, he was still Fifty-the one that had been the topic of many a discussion between my fanfic friends and I as we quoted him, photoshopped him, shared inside jokes about him; it was the same Fifty.
In the end, I’ve had to let all that past history go. Did I really care about all the baggage that went with it anymore? Nah, not really. It was what it was in a time that has since passed for me, in a fandom I’m no longer involved in. The fanfic community didn’t fall apart because E.L.James decided to try and make a name for herself. Just like the Twilight community didn’t fold because “real life” Bella made some not-so-wise choices. Both communities were in the process of dismantling long before those incidents happened. I needed someone to blame though, so E.L.James stepped into that role for me. I’m over it now. It’s not so important to me how she got where she is. I’m finally willing to let the bitterness go and enjoy seeing Fifty have his moment a second time around, on a much larger scale this time. Do I want to see the movie? Hell yeah, that’s my Fifty up there on screen! And better yet, he now looks like Jamie Dornan- win/win!
So why hasn’t my bum been in one of those theater seats yet? Because “good girls” don’t watch skin flicks in public, they do it in the privacy of their own homes when no one is looking. Because just like the story was in it’s fanfic form, it’s dirty and it’s wrong, and it’s “fifty shades of fucked up”…which is what makes it all the more thrilling!
I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold out for the dvd, the anticipation is strong. So I might see it in the theater eventually-preferably alone and sitting towards the back. In the dark…