'Fifty Shades of Grey' Director Fuels Casting, Premium VOD Release Rumors

Sam Taylor- Johnson, left, and E.L. James

Tongues were wagging after Universal announced the choice of director Sam Taylor-Johnson, as attention turned to her own spicy backstory -- and whether the steamy movie could arrive in premium VOD.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When THR reported June 19 that director Sam Taylor-Johnson had been handed the reins to Fifty Shades of Grey, speculation swirled about what the move meant for the project. After all, the big-screen adaptation of E.L. James' erotic best-seller might be the most scrutinized film in recent memory that hasn't even been greenlighted.

First, Taylor-Johnson's husband -- 23-year-old British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whom she met when she cast him in 2009's Nowhere Boy, her only directorial feature to date -- became the odds-on favorite to play the S&M-loving billionaire Christian Grey. But project insiders quickly squashed those rumors as "ridiculous" (the Kick-Ass star's publicist even issued a statement to drive the point home). Furthermore, Universal and Focus Features will likely first cast Anastasia Steele (with names like Felicity Jones and A Royal Affair's Alicia Vikander bandied about to play the innocent college student) before turning their attention to the male lead.

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Another tantalizing rumor also has surfaced. Given the visual artist-turned-filmmaker's body of cinematic work, which includes the short Death Valley and its now-infamous masturbating man in the desert, one rival executive suggests Universal will make good on its promise to release a major film on VOD concurrent with its theatrical premiere. The studio attempted the move with Brett Ratner's Tower Heist in 2011 but abandoned it after criticism from theater owners. Still, with the kinky source material and its no-holds-barred director, Fifty Shades seems well suited for a premium VOD release. For all the women who were too embarrassed to read a hard copy of the book and opted for the e-book edition instead, a premium VOD offering could provide the ultimate private viewing experience -- for a premium price.

But a Universal studio insider downplays that potential, insisting "there have been absolutely no talks at this point about the possibility of VOD."

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Either way, the studio will be able to market at least one spicy angle with its director, whose own backstory is worthy of a James novel. The 46-year-old Taylor-Johnson is exactly twice her husband's age. And, in this particular female fantasy, he will stay home and watch their two daughters while Mom is out shooting the film.

E-mail: Tatiana.Siegel@THR.com
Twitter: @TatianaSiegel27