“No. Probably not,” she says. “But what’s wrong with them? It’s about a specific sexual dynamic that’s really real to a lot of people.”
That Fifty shades The trilogy took Johnson down an unexpected path as an entrepreneur with Maude, the sexual wellness brand. She later takes me to a dinner for the company, where she speaks to investors, Sephora execs, private equity suits, a dozen beauty editors, and Katie Couric, among others. Maude’s founder, Éva Goicochea, stands next to her, crying. The news of the Supreme Court’s intent to overthrow Roe v. calf feels insurmountable – and inseparable from a brand dedicated to sex education and women’s representation.
“It’s really so lucky to have that dinner this week,” Johnson tells the room. “We need to have a lot of conversations about sex education and really scale that up across the country.”
She sits down and stares at me. “How was I? I get such stage fright when I speak in public.” She surveys the room, hands clasped under her chin, and tells me as she investigates fifty shades, She learned that many BDSM clients are high-level CEOs. She has a bald gentleman in particular in mind. “They want to know what to do after a long day at the office. You need clearance.”
Johnson brings now the good, bad, and ugly she’s experienced on film sets comes to fruition at TeaTime Pictures, which she co-founded with Ro Donnelly. Her grandmother, for example, has no doubt that she can handle the industry. “Dakota has a lot of staying power and confidence in himself,” Hedren says via email. “It’s not an easy business. You have to have the will to succeed and she has it in abundance.”
TeaTime’s mission is to help young, surprising voices navigate a daunting city, beginning with 25-year-old Cooper Raiff, the writer, director and star of Cha Cha Real smooth. Raiff’s film is a funny, hopeful, coming-of-age story about a freshman college grad (played by Raiff) who works part-time as a bar mitzvah party starter to make money while collapsing on Mom’s couch. The film delves into the irony of a disoriented young man trying to help boys become men and explores the idea of soulmates through Raiff’s character’s propensity to fall in love with older, unattainable women.
Raiff sold Johnson and Donnelly on a pitch and wrote the role of Domino — a single mom who decides to live her 30s to the fullest and raise her autistic seventh-grade daughter — specifically for Johnson. “She really got the story I wanted to tell, which is probably a bit naïve,” says Raiff. “She loved it for what it was and she was able to mature the script into adulthood.” The film is one of Johnson’s first as a producer, and Raiff adds that she was indispensable. “She’s very knowledgeable about relationships and knows who to be nice to and when to say no.” Johnson and Raiff have both deferred their dues because financiers are facing the costs associated with producing a film during COVID connected could not afford.
At the SXSW festival in Austin she saw Cha Cha Real smooth for the first time in front of an audience and cried. Afterward, autistic viewers waited in line to speak with Johnson, Raiff and the film’s breakout co-star, autistic actress Vanessa Burghardt. “It was a very destabilizing and beautiful moment,” Johnson says. “Then I had to go out for three martinis.”
Johnson looks at her watch. She is expected in Toronto tomorrow, where she is producing a TV show. After that she will show up in New York where she will appear at the Global Citizen NOW Summit and speak on CNN about reproductive rights. In July, she will be on the set of her first action movie, Marvel’s, in an undisclosed location Mrs Net, She’s building muscle so she can do as many stunts as the insurance policy will allow. “I feel like I can probably do some Tom Cruise stuff,” she says excitedly.
Now it’s time for us to go to an event on Park Avenue. She goes upstairs to change and as we exit the hotel, Johnson is immediately flanked by a security guard who warns us of paparazzi outside. She always goes straight.
What should I do? I ask.
She smiles with confidence. Then she says, as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “Just get in the car.”
HAIR, MARK TOWNSEND; MAKEUP, LISA STOREY; MANICURE, HOLLY FALCONE; SCHNEIDER, VITALINA GAVRYLYUK; STAGE DESIGN, JULIEN BORNO. PRODUCED ON LOCATION BY HEN’S TOOTH PRODUCTIONS. FOR DETAILS GO TO VF.COM/CREDITS.