'Fifty Shades of Grey' Sequel Zeroing In on Director

Courtesy of Universal

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are returning for 'Fifty Shades Darker.'

Universal is close to getting into bed with a new director for the Fifty Shades of Grey sequel.

After Sam Taylor-Johnson chose not to return to helm the sequel, Universal and author EL James began searching for a new director. Sources tell THR that there are three finalists for the gig: Jamey Foley, Mark Pellington and Tanya Wexler.

There's no offer yet, but sources say producers will start the process early next week. Foley looks to be the frontrunner for the gig.

The sequel, which sees the return of stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, centers on Anastasia's relationship with billionaire Christian Grey, who brought her into his world of S&M in the first novel. Ana starts a new job, and at the same time she's faced with dealing with many of Christian's former flames.

There's been quite a bit of controversy surrounding the director gig for this franchise. Before the release of the first movie, Taylor-Johnson was vocal about the struggles she faced when dealing with James, who was very involved and opinionated when it came to the adaptation of her book.

James, Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca are producing the sequel.

The four contenders are a varied mix when it comes to their prior experience.

Foley has directed a dozen episodes of Netflix's hit series House of Cards. His film credits include 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross, the 1996 dark thriller Fear starring Mark Wahlberg and Reese Witherspoon and 2007’s Perfect Stranger with Halle Berry and Bruce Willis. He's repped by UTA.

Pellington director 1999's Arlington Road, starring Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins. He's also worked with a slew of bands on short films, docs and music videos, and directed 2007's U2 3D. He's repped by UTA and 3 Arts Entertainment.

Wexler, the only female director still in the running, directed the 2011 film Hysteria, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy. The film, set in the Victorian era, explored how medical research on hysteria led to vibrator being invented. She's repped by WME and Circle of Confusion.

Also not returning for the sequel is screenwriter Kelly Marcel. Instead, Niall Leonard, who is married to British author James, is writing the screenplay for Fifty Shades Darker, as The Hollywood Reporter exclusively revealed.

Fifty Shades Darker will hit theaters on Feb. 10, 2017, and the third film in the series, Fifty Shades Freed, will debut Feb. 9, 2018.

The first film that adapted James' popular bondage-themed book series was a box office smash after it opened in February. Fifty Shades of Grey has earned $570 million worldwide.