1 jul 2022

Dakota Johnson’s unlikely journey in 5 roles: from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Lost Daughter

While she will soon be starring in Persuasion, the long-awaited romcom of the year based on Jane Austen’s Victorian novel, and while American director Cooper Raiff’s second film Cha Cha Real Smooth has just been released on Apple TV+, Dakota Johnson keeps taking on ambitious projects. Revealed at the age of 20 in The Social Network (2010), David Fincher’s drama about Mark Zuckerberg’s debut, the actress has distinguished herself with a variety of heterogenous roles. From the prudish young woman who discovers the pleasures of the flesh in Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) to the dancer under the influence in the remake of Dario Argento’s cult horror film Suspiria, throwback to five outstanding roles of this chameleon-like actress with a magical beauty and real talent. 

Only a few actors have cinema running through their veins. Dakota Johnson is one of those who proudly carry the DNA of the seventh art. Granddaughter of the American actress and Alfred Hitchcock’s muse Tippi Hedren, who played the diaphanous blonde heroine of The Birds (1963), Dakota Johnson is the only child of two famous actors in the 1990s, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson. Antonio Banderas was her stepfather for ten years and was the one who introduced her to cinema in giving her her first small role in one of his films Crazy in Alabama. The 32-year-old actress has now proved that her talent is no match for her parents’. With her angelic face and candid air, Dakota Johnson can play anything. She is a young ingenue who discovers life through her lover (the Fifty Shades trilogy) or through her group of girlfriends (The Bachelorette), but also through more tormented characters in Suspiria or in The Lost Daughter. She even stars in the next Marvel film, Madame Web, coming out in July 2023.


But the former dancer and model excels in romcoms too. Her mischievous look and charming smile due to her gap teeth – which she has lost since then – make her the perfect charming and in love heroine to whom nobody can resist. In Persuasion, the most-anticipated love story and comedy of the year with a Bridgerton vibe, the American star plays Anne Elliot, a modern, non-conformist young woman who refuses the rules of Victorian society and meets her bothered first love again. However, it is in the offbeat romcom Cha Cha Real Smooth that Dakota Johnson displays all her acting talents. She embodies a distressed mother who, between an absent fiancé and an autistic pre-teen, struggles to find reasons to smile. Her meeting with Andrew, a lost boy who becomes her daughter’s babysitter, will change her situation. Oscillating between romance and initiation story, the 25-year- old prodigy director Cooper Raiff’s feature film doesn’t fit into any box. He lets his characters rub shoulders with real life, made up of joy but mostly disappointment. If the fates of Anne Elliot and Domino, the heroine of Cha Cha Real Smooth, seem uncertain, Dakota Johnson’s one is assured. Throwback to five outstanding roles played by the actress with an unlikely career and undeniable talent.

1. A terrified ballerina in the horror film Suspiria (2018)


At the crossroads of the terrifying atmosphere in Black Swan and the horrific reverie in The Shining, Suspiria by Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) reinterprets the 1977 masterpiece by the Italian horror master Dario Argento, with a soundtrack entirely composed by Thom Y orke. Including dance, curse and disappearance, the remake offers a new version of the cult witch story that terrorized audiences more than 30 years ago. Inspired by Thomas de Quincey’s Suspiria de Profundis (1845) and by the world of tales (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), Dario Argento’s Suspiria has risen to the top of the horror movie charts. Taking place in a dance company, the evil and dark forces torment the lives of both the company’s artistic director, an ambitious young dancer incarnated with passion and subtlety by Dakota Johnson, and the psychotherapist grieving the death of one of her classmates. Alongside the sublime Mia Goth – the revelation of this film – the American actress, a former dancer herself, displays all her talent in a troubled character she inhabits with verve.


Suspiria (2018) by Luca Guadagnino, available on Prime Video.

2. A desperate mother in The Lost Daughter (2021)


The Lost Daughter, the first film directed by the American actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, is based on the novel of the same name by the mysterious Italian author Elena Ferrante. This novel was far less successful than My Brilliant Friend. Introduced to the audience at the Venice Film Festival, The Lost Daughter is one of these sensitive and discreet films, in contrast with the simplistic plots and polished aesthetics of Hollywood blockbusters in which nothing oversteps the original framework. The taboo surrounding motherhood is shattered, and the hardship felt by any woman who has ever given birth is highlighted without frill or distortion of reality. It takes us into the intimate world of Leda (Olivia Coleman), a British academic on vacation in Greece. Every day, she sits down on the beach to watch other vacationers. A noisy and intrusive American family will eventually disrupt her daily routine. As Leda observes the family, she uncovers their flaws and witnesses a tragedy. When Nina’s little daughter (Dakota Johnson) disappears after a split second of attention lapse, Leda’s memories resurface… Dakota Johnson plays a mother who struggles to reconcile all aspects of her life and oftentimes gets overwhelmed at the cost of her own existence. This committed film allows the American actress to show us more about the subtle nuances of her acting.


The Lost Daughter (2021) by Maggie Gyllenhaal, available on Netflix.

3. An ingenue discovering the pleasures of the flesh in the Fifty Shades trilogy


One cannot forget to mention this trilogy when talking about Dakota Johnson’s career. The success of this adaptation based on British novelist E. L. James’ erotic novel was significant, and propelled Dakota Johnson to the level of international star. In this film, she plays the role of Ana, a young woman who discovers the pleasures of BDSM in a quite ridiculous relationship with the businessman Christian Grey, played by the actor and model Jamie Dornan. This tryptic, which is a blow to feminism and to the concept of consent, was no pleasure cruise for the actress on set. The fame that the saga brought her had been hard on her. Even before the release of the first film in February 2015, Dakota Johnson had been hounded by the paparazzi in search of every single detail about this still discreet actress. She also revealed, as did her partner on screen, that the sex scenes and all the hysteria surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey have always made her uncomfortable. Fortunately, Dakota Johnson has been able to break free from her character Ana, and this role is not what she is known for now.


Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades Darker (2017) by James Foley, Fifty Shades Freed (2018) by James Foley.

4. A proud single woman in How to Be Single (2016)


This is one of those films that are both thrilling and liberating, like a heartfelt and therapeutic plea. In New York, the amount of single people looking for their soul mate is constantly increasing. Each one of them has developed their own techniques to meet the one with whom to share their night or perhaps their life. But between dating apps and boozy nights out, the disappointment is real. Alongside the authentic and extravagant Rebel Wilson, Dakota Johnson plays the role of Alice, a freshly single woman struggling to come to terms with her new status. Far from the stereotypes of romcoms, this energetic film allows Dakota Johnson to experiment with the benefits of a solitary life and tones down singlehood. She focuses on herself and rediscovers her true self, which she had forgotten when she was in a relationship. This funny and original film is not a quest for true love but a series of adventures – failed dates, sexy text messages, one-night stands and fits of laughter with friends. We laugh, we identify with the characters, and we can only salute Dakota Johnson’s comical performance.


How to Be Single (2016) by Christian Ditter.



5. A Stanford student falling for Sean Parker in The Social Network (2010)


In this fascinating film that traces back the rise of Facebook, a sprawling social media and allegory of our society of immediacy, David Fincher gave one of his first chances to Dakota Johnson. She was only 20 when she landed a small role in this 2010 gem. She embodies Amelia Ritter, a student who spends an evening with Sean Parker, one of Facebook co-founders. While her role may not be as memorable as those of Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield, Dakota Johnson has kept lasting memories of the shooting of the film that launched her career. In 2021, she told Vanity Fair that she found it difficult to be considered by Jesse Eisenberg, the main star of the film. The two actors did not work together that much on set, since Dakota Johnson had very few scenes. However, the actress explained to Vanity Fair that she was present on set as an observer for several days and even had lunch with Jesse Eisenberg… during which the latter ignored her all along. An experience that has not traumatized the actress, who now has the successful career she is known for.


The Social Network (2010) by David Fincher.