Fan-Girls Get Their Way As 'Fifty Shades' Leading Man Quits

A couple years ago, the book Fifty Shades of Grey took the world by storm, making it an obvious adaptation choice for Hollywood. But just a few weeks from production, leading man Charlie Hunnam quit the project, citing scheduling conflicts. But there's been wide speculation that opinionated fans who thought Hunnam was the wrong choice to play the titular Vincent Grey may have pushed him to walk away. Audie Cornish speaks with Tatiana Siegel of the Hollywood Reporter about the dustup, and which actors are being talked about as possible replacements.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A couple of years ago, the literary world was aflutter - flushed, you might say, with excitement over the book "Fifty Shades of Grey." Now, a movie based on the book is getting fans hot and bothered, but not for the same reasons that launched the erotic novel onto the best-seller lists. With just a few weeks to go before starting production, the leading man, Charlie Hunnam, quit, citing scheduling conflicts. But there is wide speculation that Hunnam left under criticism from the extremely opinionated fans who felt movie producers cast the wrong man.

Universal Studios and Focus Features had big plans for the "Fifty Shades" franchise. And joining us to talk about the story is Tatiana Siegel, of The Hollywood Reporter. Hey there, Tatiana.

TATIANA SIEGEL: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So give us some context here. I know Universal Studios and Focus Features - they paid upwards of 4 million last year in a bidding war - right? - to get this film. How did this become such a hot property?

SIEGEL: I think that probably every woman over the age of 30 worldwide has seemed to have read it, from just - at least - casual watching what's being read on a train or a plane. So I think it's a very popular book for women.

CORNISH: So the issue of the leading man is a pretty big deal. And the actor who had been cast, Charlie Hunnam, he is on the FX cable show "Sons of Anarchy." He cited scheduling conflicts as the reason he left. But what do people think is actually going on here?

SIEGEL: I think it definitely was not scheduling conflicts. He had at least nine days in between finishing up "Sons of Anarchy" and going to start filming this production, which was not something that would require a whole lot of preparation. It's not like he's doing Shakespeare for this. It's a movie that he can kind of show up.

In any case, I think that what was more distracting and disturbing for him is all of the hoopla that went along with it. He was forced to have a bodyguard present at a recent "Sons of Anarchy" premiere. And I think to go from sort of being a - already famous actor to something that is like so scrutinized and, you know, by social media, that it was just unnerving for him.

CORNISH: Now we see these kinds of controversies with genre movies like Batman, right? There was the uproar over Ben Affleck's casting for the next version of that film. I mean, what does that tell us about the fan base for this book, or what's going on with this film?

SIEGEL: I think that the studios don't really listen to the fan base with who they want to be cast. Otherwise, you would have, like, Justin Bieber playing Batman if they really listened to what social media was saying. So, while it's, you know, fun to track what social media wants and doesn't want and, you know, how they get upset and how they get happy by certain castings, I don't think it really, at the end of the day, is that important to the studios.

CORNISH: And the studio had already planned an Aug. 1st, 2014, release date for this film; trying to get it into production as soon as possible, to make that date. Release dates are such a big deal. How does this news of needing a new leading man - how does this impact those plans?

SIEGEL: I think at the end of the day, this is the biggest problem with Charlie Hunnam dropping out. It's not that Charlie Hunnam can't be replaced. It's that they have this looming release date and in order to make that release date, they need to be into production at least a week, if not - I think the most they could push would be two weeks after the production start date of Nov. 1st in order to meet that goal. 'Cause we're talking 10 months away - it's not like there's a lot of breathing room.

CORNISH: But you hear about movies getting pushed all the time. What's the big deal?

SIEGEL: I think the big deal is that 2015 already is horribly crowded with tent poles.

CORNISH: Tent poles being big, big films that the production companies are pouring their money into.

SIEGEL: Exactly, the $200 million movies. So Universal carved out like, a nice little piece of landscape with August 2014; where they, you know, at least they see it as not a very competitive frame where they could put this movie in and hopefully, get some traction with it.

I think if they push it to 2015, there's two problems with that. It's already a very crowded summer in 2015. And the second problem is, this property is not going - every year and every day, it gets a little bit less hot. Pretty much everyone has read the book ,at this point. It's not like still the, you know, talk of the town. And that just becomes a little bit problematic with its sort of freshness and its hotness.

CORNISH: Tatiana Siegel, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SIEGEL: You bet. Thank you.

CORNISH: Tatiana Siegel, of The Hollywood Reporter; she spoke to us about the latest casting news on the upcoming movie adaptation of the book "Fifty Shades of Grey."

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