STORY BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
From her turn as Anastasia Steele in “Fifty Shades of Grey” to her latest performance as a spirited paralegal in “How To Be Single,” Dakota Johnson is the rare actress who is not afraid to get physical.
Let other performers be coy about what happens between the sheets; Johnson is interested in portraying modern relationships with full-on authenticity.
“Do I only like to do movies about sex? Am I a raging pervert? Yes, I am. If it doesn’t have a sex scene in it, I won’t do it,” Johnson, 26, says with a laugh.
“Actually, on ‘How To Be Single,’ I was attracted to the film’s positive outlook on women exploring relationships with different people and being confident and comfortable and strong.
“That appealed to me. The movie is real and honest [about modern relationships] and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. [Having sex] is what single women do.”
Written by rom com veterans Abby Kohn (“Never Been Kissed”), Dana Fox (“What Happens In Vegas”) and Marc Silverstein (“Valentine’s Day”) from a book by “Sex and the City” scribe Liz Tuccillo, “How To Be Single” centers on Alice (Johnson), who, after deciding to take a break from her boyfriend, moves to New York and instantly finds the dating whirl tough to navigate.
Helping Alice get her bearings are Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) as Alice’s party-hearty pal, and Leslie Mann as Alice’s sister, an obstetrician who has been on the career track and forgotten to have a personal life. The cast also includes Damon Wayans Jr., Anders Holm, Alison Brie, Nicholas Braun and Jake Lacy.
Among its other attributes, “How To Be Single” is the rare romance which reminds women how much fun it can be to fly solo.
“I think there’s something to be said about how society has put pressure on women to find their male counterpart and couple up with someone for the rest of their lives,” says Johnson. “It’s been [given more prominence] than [worrying about] your emotional or intellectual development, which is important to me.
“I think women should be traveling and learning and doing anything they want to do instead of searching for a man…I also think that you can find beautiful relationships with people, and you can have incredible loves, make children with someone, and also still have a full life and experience all of it.”
In the early going, Alice is doe-eyed and innocent. But as the movie goes on, she spreads her wings, and finally learns to exist outside her comfort zone.
Johnson says Alice reminds her of scores of young women she’s known throughout her life.
“I appreciated this depiction of a girl who has depended on a lot of people to make her feel better and help her out with a lot of things, and hold her hand and guide her through certain situations that are scary or difficult,” says the actress.
“She had a boyfriend or she had [her sister]. She’s never needed to step-up and do things for herself. She would always op-out and I think that’s a real thing. I know a lot of people like that.”
Does Johnson see any of herself in Alice?
“There are moments where you see Alice being frustrated with herself and that’s something that I can definitely relate to,” says Johnson. “But I’m a pretty quiet person. I like to stay home. I don’t think you’d ever see me in a club environment, going out and just raging. I mostly just do that on the couch.”
In real life, Johnson is unattached, a situation she finds, by turns, liberating and exasperating.
“Yeah, I love that I’m alone all the time. I love sleeping next to no one. I really don’t want to be cuddled. I love to have dinner by myself,” she says, laughing.
“No, that’s not true … But I actually kind of cherish my time alone. I like solitude. It can be nice. But then being single also [stinks] sometimes because, well, you’re single.”
One of the reasons Johnson isn’t in a relationship at the moment is because she’s barely in one place long enough to meet anyone. Ever since “Fifty Shades” grossed more than $570 million at the box office, she’s landed one big movie role after another.
She recently played the female lead in “Black Mass” opposite Johnny Depp and has, in the offing, “A Bigger Splash” with Ralph Fiennes, “The Sound of Metal” with Matthias Schoenaerts, and a remake of Dario Argento’s “Suspira” with Tilda Swinton.
“Things have really changed a lot in my life since ‘Fifty Shades,’ “says the actress with typical understatement.
The daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, Dakota grew up around show business. But it wasn’t until her stepdad Antonio Banderas gave her a small role in his directorial debut “Crazy In Alabama” that she was bit by the acting bug.
“I was nine and I played my mother’s daughter,” recalls Johnson. “I had a dialect coach because I was supposed to have a Southern accent. And it turned out that I was like really good at it. Then, afterwards, I became obsessed with working, and they wouldn’t let me.”
Indeed, both of Johnson’s parents insisted that she finish high school before she began accepting acting roles.
“[People were interested in me for movies] and I couldn’t do them,” says Johnson. “Then I would see [the movie] come out, and it’s, like, so [disappointing.] But now I’m grateful that they made me stay in school.”
No sooner did Johnson graduate from high school than she signed with the William Morris Agency and began landing small roles in big movies like “The Social Network,” “The Five Year Engagement” and “21 Jump Street.”
After a stint on TV’s “Ben and Kate,” she won the highly sought after role of Anastasia Steele in “Fifty Shades,” beating out such performers as Shailene Woodley, Danielle Panabaker, Felicity Jones and Elizabeth Olsen.
Johnson will soon begin filming the second and third chapters in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. First up is “Fifty Shades Darker” which is due Feb. 10, 2017 and then “Fifty Shades Freed,” opening Feb. 8, 2018.
Beginning with last year’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” and including “How To Be Single” and the “Fifty” sequels, Johnson seems to own the Feb. 14 weekend.
“I should start getting paid for Valentine’s Day,” says the actress with a laugh. “Who do I talk to about that? Hallmark?”