Charlie Hunnam infamously backed out of the project a week and a half ago, setting off a feverish pursuit to find his replacement.
The U.K.-based Dornan was first revealed as a contender for the role of kinky billionaire Grey by THR on Oct. 14. He is the star of the U.K. series The Fall and might be best-known to U.S. audiences for playing the Huntsman in ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Born in Northern Ireland, he’s a former Calvin Klein model and dated Keira Knightley for two years.
Dornan, 31, actually was contacted before Hunnam officially dropped out, and tested Friday opposite female lead Dakota Johnson for director Sam Taylor-Johnson, author EL James and producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti. Tony-nominated actor Billy Magnussen also tested, as did Francois Arnaud from The Borgias, according to sources.
Dornan will now face the blinding spotlight of both fans of the best-selling trilogy and the media. Hunnam and Universal cited a scheduling conflict as the reason for his exit, but THR reported that he was uncomfortable with the frenzy surrounding the project. Universal was forced to hire bodyguards for the Sons of Anarchy actor at a premiere, and two appearances to promote the show were canceled. Hunnam, who also is a writer (he penned the gothic horror screenplay Vlad for Brad Pitt‘s Plan B and Summit Entertainment), is said to have had issues with Kelly Marcel‘s adaptation of the book. The script is getting a polish by Patrick Marber (Notes on a Scandal).
Universal was under pressure to begin production Nov. 1 on the high-profile project in order to meet an Aug. 1, 2014, release date. If Dornan’s deal closes, he will be signed for three and possibly four Fifty Shades movies based on the erotic book, assuming the first film is successful.
THR also has learned that Universal and Focus had approached Juno Temple to play Anastasia Steele’s (Johnson) best friend and Frank Grillo to play Grey’s bodyguard. Both actors passed on the roles, according to sources.
Dornan is repped by UTA.