Culture

From Mary Poppins to BDSM, Kelly Marcel Hired to Adapt Fifty Shades of Grey: The Argument for Casting Against Type

The race to bring pop culture's raciest literary phenomenon to the screen just passed its first milestone now that the producers shepherding Fifty Shades of Grey to the screen have hired screenwriter Kelly Marcel to adapt  E. L. James' dark erotic fantasia. It's taken over two months for producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca to settle on a scribe, after news broke that they were considering a hodgepodge of left-field contenders for the gig, whose credits ranged from the chaste climes of  rom-com-landia ("One True Thing") to the straight-laced cinematic suburbia of family entertainment ("Bolt") to the only slightly more peregrine precincts of crime procedurals (TV's "The Killing"). And then there's Marcel, best known for "Saving Mr. Banks," a Disney biopic of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers (which made the cut for the "Black List" of Hollywood's best unproduced spec scripts) starring Emma Thompson in the title role and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.

But a closer look at the project reveals that perhaps leap from Disney to debauchery isn't as wide as one might suspect. There's certainly no shortage of weird sexual subtext in all those stories of scantily clad vulnerable princesses getting kissed while asleep when they're not under siege by fire-breathing beasts. And by all accounts, "Saving Mr. Banks" is not your daughter's Disney movie. The film tracks Travers' contentious relationships with the men in her life, intercutting her tense dealings with Walt Disney during the making of "Mary Poppins" and her similarly tumultuous upbringing with her father while growing up in Australia. Marcel clearly has a handle on dominance-submission dynamic, minus the cuffs and chains.

And while this unexpected hiring choice is certain to unleash a storm of blowback from Fifty Shades purists, there is an argument to be made that the decision to cast against type is more in keeping with the book's subversive spirit than going with one of the usual suspects known for a facility with saucy material. In today's risk-averse climate, it's become increasingly rare for a studio to sign off on any hiring decision that veers from a very literal and limited interpretation of an artist's capacity for invention and reinvention -- most calls are made based on a proven track record of success in whatever narrow milieu the project in question happens to fall. In other words, the obvious choice is often the only choice.

Brunetti and De Luca (with a major assist from Focus Features) should be commended for their boldness if nothing else. But now that they've put a screenwriter on the case, they've undoubtedly already turned their attentions to nailing down a director and two lead actors. It's hard to imagine three more closely watched and hotly contended hiring decisions than these. But if Marcel is any indication, it might be wise to trash those widely circulated fan-favorite wish lists of actors and filmmakers destined for the project. Sorry, Team Ryan Gosling and Mila Kunis. Condolences to Adrian Lyne admirers. This may not be the project upon which to stake your cinematic hopes and dreams.

In the spirit of exorcising expectations, here is our anti-type casting short list of director picks: Andrea Arnold, Sarah Polley, Lisa Cholodenko. We encourage you to weigh in with your out-of-the-box choices for key roles behind and in front of the camera.