Dakota Johnson’s Web of Truths

Known for bangs, candor, and work with auteurs like Luca Guadagnino, Dakota Johnson cements her movie stardom in Marvel’s Madame Web.

You may think you have a handle on Dakota Johnson. Perhaps you think of her as the Stanford student who confidently wins a charisma battle with Justin Timberlake in David Fincher’s The Social Network, or as the humble, blunt-banged bookworm Anastasia Steele who discovers BDSM in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. She’s also an indie film powerhouse: muse to director Luca Guadagnino in A Bigger Splash and Suspiria, and unforgettable as an overwhelmed mother in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s acclaimed adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter. More recently, she starred in Gen Z wunderkind Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, which was produced by Johnson and Ro Donnelly’s TeaTime Pictures. TeaTime isn’t Johnson’s only business endeavor: She’s also an investor in and serves as co-creative director for Maude, a sexual wellness brand known for its simply designed, powerful vibrators, which the brand shortens to vibe.

Or maybe you think of Johnson as the Queen of Sarcasm, with her quips about sleeping 14 hours a day, her lies about limes, or her chilling interview with Ellen DeGeneres about an invitation to her birthday party, which set the internet on fire in 2019. Movie stars are rare to come by in Hollywood’s modern age, but Johnson, who comes from a Hollywood family (her mother is Melanie Griffith and her dad is Don Johnson), has the energy, the taste, the versatility, the brutal honesty, and the dry wit of an old Hollywood icon such as Katharine Hepburn.

Marisa Meltzer spoke with Johnson to discuss the upcoming Madame Web, which, for those of you not fully fluent in Marvel, is a standalone superhero origin story. Johnson plays Cassandra Webb, a New York City paramedic who might have clairvoyant abilities and is reckoning with her past. The psychological thriller also features Sydney Sweeney, Mike Epps, Emma Roberts, and Adam Scott.

Read on to hear about Johnson’s inaugural Marvel moment, her personal superpowers, a rant about the cowardly entertainment industry, and her thoughts on the state of sex education in America.

MARISA MELTZER: I’ve heard you like to eat a popsicle while taking a bath.

DAKOTA JOHNSON: Have you done that? It’s a fabulous activity. A popsicle and a hot bath is a sensational experience.

MM: No, but now I need to try it. Let’s talk about Madame Web. How did you end up involved in it? Were you like, I want to be part of a superhero franchise, and now’s the time?

DJ: I’m always open to anything. I don’t discriminate against movie genres when it comes to how I choose things or what I do. I heard that this was going to be made, and it was interesting to me that the main character’s superpower is her mind, and that she is a woman. That is something that I can really get behind. That’s very real to me, and it’s really powerful and sexy.

MM: Wait, can you elaborate on that?

DJ: Well, I think that the minds of women are incredibly powerful, so I think that it’s a more relatable superhero. It is more of a psychological thriller. This film is a really fabulous departure for Marvel, because sometimes it’s amazing to have these other universes and galaxies doing unrealistic things in an unrealistic place. That can be escapism and really entertaining. Before Madame Web becomes Madame Web, she’s a paramedic and she is on the front lines; she is an everyday hero. So I just thought it was different. And I had never done anything like that.

“I’m always open to anything. I don’t discriminate against movie genres.”

MM: How do you decide what parts you’re going to do? Are there directors that you want to work with? Do you think you’ll work with Luca Guadagnino again?

DJ: Absolutely. We’ve talked about a couple of things. But yes, for certain, just the right thing has to come along.

MM: With your production company TeaTime, it seems like you’re taking on really disparate projects. How do you decide who to work with or what you’re working on, and is there a throughline that you see?

DJ: We are starting to see a throughline. We don’t have a mandate or anything. I guess the constant, for me, is that all of our movies and shows have really powerful females at the center. They’re very intricate. They’re very detailed. They’re very nuanced.

MM: Do you have to develop your own projects if you want those kinds of characters? Is there just not enough of them around, or do you just like that side of production?

DJ: I am discovering that it’s really fucking bleak in this industry. It is majorly disheartening. The people who run streaming platforms don’t trust creative people or artists to know what’s going to work, and that is just going to make us implode. It’s really heartbreaking. It’s just fucking so hard. It’s so hard to get anything made. All of the stuff I’m interested in making is really different, and it’s unique and it’s very forward in whatever it is. We made a movie called Daddio that was sold at Telluride to Sony Classics, which was amazing, but it took a lot of fighting to get that made. People are just so afraid, and I’m like, why? What’s going to happen if you do something brave? It just feels like nobody knows what to do and everyone’s afraid. That’s what it feels like. Everyone who makes decisions is afraid. They want to do the safe thing, and the safe thing is really boring.

“I am discovering that it’s really fucking bleak in this industry. It is majorly disheartening.”

MM: What are you working on next?

DJ: I’m going to make a little movie at the top of the year [2024] with TeaTime. It is about grief. It’s a tricky plot to outline, so I won’t even try, but it’s about a woman handling grief and how she does it in a specific way.

MM: How was your strike [SAG-AFTRA strike of July–November 2023]? What did you do?

DJ: Had an existential crisis.

MM: Okay.

DJ: I mean, I didn’t shoot anything, but I was working on production stuff and TeaTime stuff. I was kind of all over the place. I was in Japan. I was in LA. I was in Europe.

MM: You were quoted about sleeping 14 hours. I’m a terrible insomniac, so my dream would be to sleep even seven hours unbroken. Do you want to set the record straight? How much do you sleep?

DJ: I said I could easily sleep 14 hours. I didn’t say that I sleep 14 hours every night. I have a job. There’s no way that I could do my job and do that. So clearly something is amiss with that. I do love sleeping, but I didn’t say that. I think I’m beginning to understand that sarcasm doesn’t translate to journalists these days, or embellishment. I just have to be more literal, I guess.

MM: I also think most actors are not, well… maybe they’re funny privately, but they’re not very funny or dry or sarcastic people for the most part, at least when you’re interviewing them. So maybe you’re–

DJ: Terrified of what happens to me all the time? But they learn and I don’t. [Laughs.]

MM: You just can’t help yourself. Your personality just shines through.

DJ: I’m dramatic. I’m an actress. I don’t know.

MM: There’s a special place in heaven for you being on the Ellen show and talking about your birthday. It was a really winning moment.

DJ: It will haunt me.

MM: You have worked for reproductive rights. Things have gotten dark in our country. Do you see any hope?

DJ: I mean, we have gone completely backwards in terms of reproductive rights, women’s equality, and women’s rights. It is so mind-bending. I think it’s hard to articulate because when Roe v. Wade was overturned, I think everyone thought, okay, well, this is insane, and it’ll be rectified quickly. Of course, we’re not going to be in this position. Of course this is not going to be the reality. But then weeks pass and months pass, and more and more women are denied the healthcare that they need and they deserve. Women deserve the choices that are so basic to being a human being on this planet. I think it’s hard to articulate what I feel and think right now because I am blown away. I’m blown away, and I find it absolutely heartbreaking and terrifying.

MM: You’re also involved with Maude, the sexual wellness company.

DJ: My agency at the time linked me with Éva [Goicochea], who’s the founder of Maude, because I think they thought that we would get along and also that we had similar interests and passions, and it’s been really amazing. I came on as co-creative director, and I’ve learned so much from her. It’s also really cool and really important to be a part of a company for which I not only love the products, and they’re beautiful, but they’re also affordable and they’re quality, and they’re genuinely geared towards wellness. I just love the idea of more people being comfortable with sexual wellness.

MM: How did you get your sexual education? Was it through school?

DJ: We had a sex ed class in school in sixth grade. I went to school all over the place.

MM: Was it weird having to constantly move around and be the new kid?

DJ: I didn’t find it weird because it was what was normal to me, so I didn’t have anything else to compare it to. [If I didn’t move around] I probably would’ve had different, stronger traits like time management or lifelong friendships. I traveled with my brother and it just was what it was. We were on location. If my mom was working somewhere, we were there, and we traveled with a tutor and he and I would do school together.

“I’m dramatic. I’m an actress. I don’t know.”

MM: Do you have a superpower?

DJ: If I had a superpower, it would come up immediately. I’d know exactly what it was.

MM: That’s true. Madame Web doesn’t need to think about it.

DJ: Yeah. I’d be like, “Well, actually, thanks for asking. I can fly.”

MM: Great. I’ll call the Daily Mail.

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