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[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Fifty Shades of Grey.]
Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James will have the last word. Literally.
When fans finally get to see the first installment of a hoped-for Fifty Shades trilogy — tracking to open on Valentine’s Day weekend at $60 million or more — they will be treated to the ending favored by James, who wrote the steamy books, rather than the version favored by director Sam Taylor-Johnson as well as some others involved with the project, according to sources with ties to the film.
James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, was granted exceptional control by Universal after the studio bought the rights to the material for a reported $5 million in a frenzied auction in March 2012.
As anyone who’s read the books knows, the first volume ends after Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) asks her wealthy lover, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), to give her a good shellacking. When he obliges, she recoils and leaves him.
In the ending favored by James, who wrote the original film script with Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks), the final word in the film is “stop.” But in the ending favored by the director, which apparently came from a rewrite by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal, Closer), the last word in the movie was “red,” which is used in the trilogy as a “safe word.”
The difference might seem small, but some sources with knowledge of the situation favor the Marber version of the ending. “It ended on a really smart note and Erika wouldn’t allow it,” says one insider. “It’s just a bummer.”
Taylor-Johnson has been vocal in interviews about her fraught dealings with James. “It was difficult, I’m not going to lie,” the director told Porter magazine of her frustration with James being so deeply involved. “We definitely fought, but they were creative fights, and we would resolve them. We would have proper on-set ‘barneys,’ and I’m not confrontational, but it was about finding a way between the two of us, satisfying her vision of what she’d written as well as my need to visualize this person onscreen, but, you know, we got there.”
Another person with ties to the project confirms that James “was given a lot of power and has used every opportunity to flex that power,” including determining the ending of the film. While this person agrees that the “red” version came across “smarter and cooler,” he adds that ultimately this was “the most petty and ridiculous argument in the world” and the culmination of a lot of tension between the author and the director.
No doubt many fans would support James in defending her vision, but Hollywood insiders say films are different from books and setting the right tone in the ending could be the key to luring audiences back for two sequels. “You can’t just put the book on the screen,” says one insider.
Universal did not respond to a request for comment.
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