Dakota Johnson’s First Leading Role Fell In Her Lap At The Last Minute


20th Century Fox

Years after the film franchise wrapped, most people still associate Dakota Johnson with her leading role as Anastasia Steele in “Fifty Shades of Grey.”. But like many actors, she didn’t just suddenly spring up on the scene with this career-defining moment. She worked her way up through a slew of supporting roles prior to landing that plum part.

Johnson’s path to leading lady success seemed guaranteed as a third-generation Hollywood actor (her grandmother is “The Birds” star Tippi Hedren). In fact, her first role was handed down by her actor parents. Johnson’s film career started in 1999 when she was just a child, with her debut role being in “Crazy in Alabama.” Starring her mother, Melanie Griffith, and directed by then-stepfather, Antonio Banderas, Johnson had steady guidance during her first experience onscreen. It would be nearly ten years before she returned to the big screen with her brief appearance in David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” Subsequent roles in “Beastly,” “21 Jump Street,” and more followed.  
Noticeably absent from her filmography are television roles. Typically, you’d find a mixture of commercial work or television work in an actor’s resume as they try to break their way into the industry and build a career for themselves. In Johnson’s case, she has just three television credits to her name, with one of them being a stint on “Saturday Night Live.” As it turns out, though, it would be a sitcom role that ushered her into her leading lady period, and it would be one that came in at the eleventh hour. 

Enter Ben and Kate

20th Century Fox

We’ve heard the stories of people who have had opportunities given to them because of things like people dropping out, change in direction, etc. Sometimes these decisions also get made last minute and an actor has to hit the ground running. This was the case with Dakota Johnson when she got the role of Kate in the Fox sitcom series “Ben and Kate.”  

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Johnson explained the circumstances as to how she came to star in the series:

“They had cast somebody else. They had the entire cast, and she fell out at the last minute. My agent called me in the morning and was like, ‘Can you be at Fox in forty-five minutes?’ So I went in and met with all of these people at this conference table. It was so crazy, and they told me about the show that they were basically going to start making in an hour. So I chose to go work on it, and I spent a few hours just running lines like crazy, and then I went back and I got the part.”

After being cast, she explained that they started shooting almost immediately, but she wouldn’t have traded it for the world. And while “Ben and Kate” didn’t last long, Johnson more than proved herself to be leading lady material, which served as a stepping stone for her future roles as Anastasia Steele, and most recently Anne Elliott in Netflix’s “Persuasion”.

Leading lady success


Since “Ben and Kate,” Dakota Johnson has continued to carve her path as a leading lady. Arguably, her most famous role to date is still Anastasia Steele, but the need to explore and try something new has been the driving force behind a few of Johnson’s parts since “Fifty Shades of Grey.” In Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter,” Johnson plays Nina, a young mother struggling to deal with her controlling husband and raising her daughter. The role had a lot of meaning to her, and marked a welcome transition for the actor to separate herself from Steele and to let go of the power she had given others in how they perceived her. 

Johnson has a slew of projects releasing this year, and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Now on Netflix, viewers can see Johnson take on the leading role of Anne Elliott in “Persuasion.” Showcasing a version of the actor we haven’t seen before as she embraces the “Fleabag”-style comedy laced within the film’s script. For those who have been missing her underutilized comedic chops, this film might be for you. While busily promoting “Persuasion”, she shared with Vanity Fair that she is also currently putting on muscle for Marvel’s “Madame Web,” which starts filming this month. 

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