“Who's Your Mr. and Mrs. Grey?”: Unpacking Casting Speculations in Fifty Shades of Grey

Curator's Note

As a scholar whose research focuses on casting processes in television and film I am both intrigued and frustrated by the frequent and insistent casting speculations around the leads in the upcoming adaptation of E.L. James's bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey. Intrigued because the triangulation of industry, fan culture, and entertainment news reporting never seems to tire of making creative labor the equivalent of the People's Choice Awards. Yet, I am equally frustrated because speculation elides all the real world complications and negotiations that are part of the casting process. Casting is not democratic; it is largely based on a committee of a few industry executives who consider factors that the average audience member never would. For example, fans believe the conventional logic that the film needs a star to be successful when in actuality, the star of the film is the Fifty Shades property itself. Connected to that are budget issues (bigger names mean larger paychecks) and even the fact that the screenwriter has not even been selected yet, thus there is no script by which the actors could audition!

What this obssession with casting at the cost of all other production practices suggests is that the script matters less than the consensus of who these fans can believe matches their fantasy ideals. One might attribute the lack of concern for a “good story” to the novels' lack of quality; yet, I'd argue that for these fans, the lead personas ARE the story.

In the end, for as much speculating and creating fan trailers onYoutube as is practiced, it is fascinating how wrong fans and entertainment news usually are when the acutal casting occurs. Past examples of triangulation, namely the recent Amazing Spiderman reboot as well as The Hunger Games, illustrate how most of the actors selected for the roles were not fan frontrunners. I'd wager that the same casting dissonance between producers and fans will occur with Fifty Shades. So then, if the producers of the franchise most likely have no interest in casting fan favorites, why continue to stir this pot of uninformed foolishness? It is more than the desire to create buzz for the franchise (the audience is built-in for this project); no, I believe there is some worldbuilding occuring between the world of James's novel and that of its fandom that will ultimately benefit the franchise.





Thanks for the post, Kristen.  I gotta say, I was impressed by the sophistication of this fake trailer.  And it did help me to envision this character in the role.  You suggest that these sorts of fan activities have only limited effect on the industry, but is the fact that they are part of this conversation itself an expression of power? How many hits did this trailer earn?  Did it break through to a broader set of readers or is it localized in a particular subset of readers who also like this actor? Also, how does this fan production compare to the tumbls advocating for Somerhalder in the role? (Note: I put him in my own post thinking of you).  I ask these questions mostly cause I'm really intrigued by this topic and would love to hear more about the ways this sort of fan activity tries to shape (or limit) the casting options. 

 Karen, yeah, of course, fans building websites and creating fan vids are expressions of power--but to what degree? I agree that it is a form of them visibly campaigning for who they believe best fits the types in the book but again, I think they also believe that this casting process will be like American Idol or the Peoples Choice Awards where they can text their favorite candidate to Universal Studios or where they can vote for their Christian Grey once a day for six months like they do for the Peoples Choice. That kind of naivete/ignorance is where the problems start. 

I also find interesting (and didn't get to discuss up top) who DOESN'T get to be Christian. It's never a person of color; it's rarely a foreign actor. These fans are so literal that if you read the comments in any of the youtube vids, you'll see how particular they are ab HAIR COLOR and how this actor doesn't match the description because doesn' t have red hair. I think that again, this is why the degree of influence is so minimal. They have NO CLUE. 

As to your questions about the videos themselves, I typed in a youtube search for 50 shades trailers and picked the best ones. I don't think they have received enough hits to be outside the subset of 50 Shades fans. 

(And I put a Somerhalder vid link in the note for you.)

I'm not sure I'm convinced that the folks making fanvids/trailers and posts speculating on the casting of 50 Shades (or of any adaptation) are either naive or ignorant.  Given the amount of information now available to the general public about the movie-making business, it's perhaps naive to undersestimate what fans know about the casting process.  It's also useful to consider how these kinds of fanvids are extensions of pre-existing fannish activity in other fandoms.  The vid posted here may very well have been made by a Matt Bomer fan from the White Collar fandom and could have as much to do with fannish interest in seeing him in anything, as it has to do with any real desire to see him in a film version of 50 Shades.

I sincerely doubt that the fans speculating have any real belief that their choices will be cast, but that's hardly the point anyway. I think the impulse here is the same as in fan fiction--an effort to extend the universe, and one's participation in the universe, created by, in this case, E.L. James.

Hi Consuela, I don't think it was apparent that I was accusing fandom of being either of those things. And if not unaware of what casting means, it is highly premature of them to fancast given that the screenplay hadn't and still hasn't been completed yet. I don't have a problem with allowing fans the power to want to see their fantasy on screen; I do, however question how much they believe their input will actually matter in the long run. Fans have agency but how much has always been the question. And when news stories run that are largely shaped by fancasting, we're assuming that they have much more agency than they probably do. As far as your point about Bomer, yes, that could be--but that actually doesn't work against my point. Fandoms have love objects that regardless of if they actually fit or are actually considered or are actually logical choices get deployed because of the functions they serve in their fandoms. As to your last point, it actually seems to be the same as mine. Thanks for responding! Sorry I saw this so late!

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