The movie producer Michael De Luca was at Monday's Hollywood Film Awards to accept a filmmaking prize, but he didn't spend the early part of the evening celebrating. Instead, the veteran found himself being grilled about "Fifty Shades of Grey," the E.L. James adaptation he's producing, and how the project was faring after losing leading man Charlie Hunnam.
De Luca -- who joked he'd been asked about "Fifty Shades" roughly "247 times" on the red carpet -- wouldn't comment on reports that actors Billy Magnussen and Jamie Dornan are the top contenders to step into the Christian Grey role. He did say, however, that he was adamant a newcomer would be best to star opposite Dakota Johnson, who has already been cast as Anastasia Steele.
"I feel like everyone has an idea of what these characters look like and sound like, so to present the world with fresh faces -- where no pre-conceived notions or baggage come with it -- is best," he said. "It's like casting Superman or James Bond. A fresh face is appropriate."
Hunnam, best known for his role on FX's "Sons of Anarchy," was set to play the kinky billionaire until he abruptly quit on Oct. 12, just a few weeks before production was to start. Though many have speculated that Hunnam had second thoughts about acting in the film's explicit sex scenes, in his first interview since departing the movie -- given Wednesday to E! News --the actor was vague about his reasons for bowing out.
"I have had some family stuff going on so just trying to stay focused and stay positive," said the actor. (Hunnam's father died in May.)
Johnson, 24, remains on board. As for how the actress, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, is handling the casting shake-up, De Luca said she remained eager to get on set, and he expressed confidence in her ability to play the sexually awakened Steele.
"I happen to think Dakota could have chemistry with a mailbox," the producer said, adding that filming was still slated to begin Nov. 13. "But we're going to help her out and hook her up with the right person."
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