Growing up with celebrities as parents has not given Dakota Johnson an access card to Hollyw ood, but she is making it on her own regardless
We’re not sure what to expect when meeting Dakota Johnson, but visions of a Lohan-esque starlet, decked out in glamazon fashion and carrying a lap dog inside her lambskin Prada tote do float into the mind. Maybe it’s the legacy of her mother Melanie Griffith and her seemingly tireless red-carpet work ethic…but the place Johnson has asked to meet offers the first clue that we are about to be proved wrong. It’s a Hollywood tea café in a shabby part of town in comparison to Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. Sure enough, the idle presumptions are blasted away by the appearance of a make-up-free waif in scuffed ballet-style shoes and faded skinny black jeans, who purchases a big jug of iced tea. “This is my favourite place,” she says of the teahouse, a few minutes drive from the apartment she shares with her musician boyfriend who she met in high school and has been with for more than four years.
During her extravagantly itinerant childhood, Johnson split time between LA and Aspen, Colorado, living mostly with her mother and stepfather Antonio Banderas [her own father is Don Johnson] and travelling the globe on film sets and press trips. After signing with William Morris and IMG, Johnson launched herself as a model (appearing in campaigns for Mango jeans and Wish) and now as an actress, shooting four films in the past year: For Ellen opposite Paul Dano, Theo, a global-warming fable in which she plays a psychotic homeless girl, Beastly, a modern spin on Beauty And The Beast, and The Social Network, David Fincher’s Facebook film.
Is it a recent decision to become an actress or something you’ve been wanting to do for a while?
It was neither of those things. I just finally figured out what this fire was inside me. I was never good at anything – I was never good at sports, I was never great in school. But before I graduated I kind of figured out this drive I had. I was going to go to Juilliard [performing arts school] – I applied and got an audition but then I realised it was the worst place in the world for me to go.
Why was that?
Because I was waiting to do my audition and I was talking to one of the students who went there and he was like, “It’s great! We’re here every day from nine in the morning till 11 at night, and then on the weekends we have groups and work on our scenes…” I was just like, “Fuck that! When do you get to be a human?”
How did you get involved in The Social Network?
I auditioned and got the part. David Fincher is one of the coolest people I know. It’s kind of daunting working with someone like him. He knows exactly what he wants and exactly how to do it.
Who did you have your scenes with?
I only worked with Justin Timberlake. He plays Sean Parker, the guy who invented Napster, and I played a Stanford student who’s highly intelligent and kind of quirky. She’s amused by the whole concept of going to a party, bringing a guy home, waking up the next day and going, “So… who the fuck are you?” It was a funny scene to do – it introduces Sean Parker into the film in a goofy way.
Your first big film… and your first big sex scene is with Justin Timberlake?
No, we skipped that part! We started it the morning after. But I was working with Justin Timberlake and that’s just funny. He was so sweet and professional.
And what about Beastly?
I’m pretty much just an all-around asshole in Beastly. It was fun to be the mean person – it’s so opposite from who I am. It was mini-skirts and matching outfits and make-up; I looked like such a prissy bitch.
Did you get to be mean to Vanessa Hudgens?
I didn’t have any scenes directly with her but we were all there for the first three weeks of filming. I’ve known Mary-Kate [Olsen] for a long time so we’d all hang out and do stuff together.
You virtually grew up on film sets. How did you find that?
It was just what I knew, but I got to experience a lot of things that most people never get to. It’s different now because I’m there for me, I’m not just there fucking around and hanging out with the PA. It’s a different kind of contentment. I was such a dreamy kid. I didn’t wear clothes until I was eight, I didn’t brush my hair – I had really tangled white-blonde hair and I was just like, “Nope, never gonna wear clothes, not gonna do it.” My mom was like, “All right, do what you gotta do.” Yeah, I’ve had a weird life – a very different upbringing.
Do your parents offer you advice now that you’ve embraced acting as your career?
If I need advice, I can go to them because they’ve both been around the block in this business. But I usually figure things out for myself. It’s funny the generalisations that people have of celebrity children. Because so much of it is so true [laughs]. But not in my life… People are like, “So you live at home?” No, I don’t – I’m 20 years old. “But you have these parents and you have this life…” I’m like, “So what? I’m the same as you.”
Having grown up in a film-star household, you know Hollywood can be a cruel place. Are you better prepared?
I’m not a naïve person anyway but I’m especially not naïve in this business. I know what can happen. But I’m not going to run from who my parents are – they’re my parents, I love them more than anything.
Do you hang out with other famous people’s kids? Aren’t you good pals with Rumer Willis?
We hung out when we were younger sometimes but we were never best friends. The only friend I have like that is Riley Keough [Lisa Marie Presley’s daughter]; she’s one of my best friends. But most of my friends are from high school.