Gus Van Sant asked to direct 50 Shades of Grey movie without knowing what it was

Milk director heard it was a 'blockbuster book' off Matt Damon

Christopher Hooton
Tuesday 25 February 2014 12:53 GMT
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Gus Van Sant previously directed Milk and Good Will Hunting
Gus Van Sant previously directed Milk and Good Will Hunting (Getty)

Bret Easton Ellis's podcast has so far been full of fascinating vignettes regarding the making and breaking of Hollywood deals, and in his latest conversation with director Gus Van Sant the pair talk candidly about the motives behind their involvement in the oft-mocked 50 Shades of Grey film adaptation.

Ellis admitted that he had come in for a lot of flak for taking a keen interest in the erotic novel, but was certain that while it might not be the best book he believed it could make a great film.

"It was one of the few novels I've read recently where I've though automatically 'Oh, this is a movie'," he said, before asking Van Sant, who filmed an unsolicited test reel for the film: "What's your interest in it? Or was it, like many people think, purely financial?"

"The financial side was very interesting, because it could be a very big movie," the Milk director replied, before explaining how he had first heard about the novel during a meeting with Matt Damon and Focus Features CEO James Schamus about the film Promised Land.

"So we had some small talk before this screening happened and we asked James 'what did you do today?' And he was like 'Well all day it's been 50 Shade of Grey, but we got it.'

Fifty Shades of Grey's Mad Men-esque official poster (Picture: Universal)

"I had no idea what that was, except Matt (Damon) said: 'So do you just have to go shoot it and you'll make a billion dollars?' And I was like 'Oh so it's a blockbuster book that I don't know about', which was interesting, and that night even though I had never read it and didn't know the story I told James that I was interested in directing it at dinner."

Ultimately the film, which wrapped this week, was directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, having previously been dogged by casting problems after lead actor Charlie Hunnam dropped out.

Though an Ellis-written and Van Sant-directed adaptation of the book will never see the light of day, Van Sant did discuss the angle to the film that interested him.

"My interest was just purely the sex," he said. "That it had this possibility that there's this barrier that our audience has a problem going past and being part of a real world because it's too X-rated."

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Van Sant's next project will be Sea of Trees, a movie about a Japanese suicide forest starring Matthew McConaughey.

Fifty Shade of Grey is set for a Valentine's Day 2015 release date.

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