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Dakota Johnson, her fight against depression and the challenge of producing authentic stories: “I intend to make films that do not respond to an algorithm”

From her role as an actress, dakota johnson she began to become an observer of the creative process and the texture of the stories that were given the green light. That sharp look led to a discovery: the films in which she was a part (and others that were a guarantee of success) distanced the viewer and herself. “For a long time, when she was filming, sometimes she gave my opinion but then the result was something totally different. As an artist, she was like, ‘What the fuck? I want my art and my ideas to be respected and taken into account. I want to be part of the process”, came to declare Johnson who, to his 32 yearsintegrated productions of the most diverse, among them: Social network by David Fincher, the saga Fifty Shades of Grey, the films of Italian Luca Guadagnino Bigger Splash Y Suspiriaand Maggie Gyllenhaal’s adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel, The dark daughter

For his ideas to be respected, Johnson saw no other way than to create his own production company and so, with Ro Donnelly by his side, he was born two years ago. Tea Time Pictures. “I remember the first time I saw anything by Cooper, it was his first film, shithouse, and I liked her voice, that’s why we decided to produce her second movie,” Dakota said at a press conference via Zoom in which she participated. THE NATION. Cooper is Cooper Raiff, who made his directorial debut in 2020 with that film. coming of age and his second movie is Cha Cha Real Smooth, the first feature film that Dakota not only produces and co-stars in but also the first in which she was able to polish the script together with her director. The next project you have in the pipeline is Am I Ok?, the drama directed by Tig Notaro and Stephanie Allynne.

Cha Cha Real Smooth, which opens tomorrow by the streaming platform, Apple TV +, marks a perfect transition in Raiff’s cinema. As well as shit house showed life at the university and the loneliness that invaded Alex, in his second film the focus is on what happens when one receives the degree and must respond to certain socio-cultural mandates: look for a job, settle down, start a family. Those pressures overwhelm Andrew (Raiff), who at 22 years old, and after graduating, goes to live again with his family in New Jersey without a goal in mind. Due to his natural charisma, the mothers of the school that his brother attends begin to call him to officiate as an entertainer for parties in bars and bat mitzvahs.

In this context, he meets Domino (Johnson) and Lola, his daughter with autism (played by Vanessa Burghardt), who unintentionally lead Andrew to his true interests. The three forge a family in which labels do not matter and that, from the first moment, we know will not be eternal. For Raiff, who was also present at the press conference alongside Burghardt, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the memory of that bond forged.

“Collaborating with Cooper was a really wonderful experience. It is very good to work with new filmmakers; I really appreciate the authenticity and freshness of his point of view. I like to defend emerging artists and it is very pleasant to work with him”, expressed Dakota regarding the creative bond that she established with Raiff, with whom she was able to develop the guidelines of the script without running into a wall on the other side. On the contrary, there was a mutual respect.

For the director, Johnson’s support made him feel safe, as he explained in dialogue with THE NATION. “I made my first film with only six people on set, there were many more on set. Cha Cha Real Smooth, the learning curve was huge. However, the main difference between the two is that people care about the outcome of the movie. shit house It felt like a very lonely process, those who were filming felt that we weren’t even going to finish it, it was like a miracle. Instead, with cha cha I felt that there were people who were helping me to carry it out, who put their DNA in it, and Dakota was always firm, that was the big change, ” the director pointed out.

Dakota Johnson in Cooper Raiff's Cha Cha Real Smooth, which premiered in competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute via AP)
Dakota Johnson in Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, which premiered in competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. (Sundance Institute via AP)

Cha Cha Real Smooth It has very successful intimate moments, such as the talks between Andrew and his mother (played by an infallible Leslie Mann) and between the young man and Lola, an intuitive teenager who recognizes in him a genuine person with whom she can be herself. “This was my first movie and the atmosphere was comfortable,” Burghardt said. “I feel like I’m similar to Lola in some ways, in my autistic tendencies and traits, in that I tend to take time to sympathize with people and really care about them, although I express it differently and I’m a little more socially mature. than my character, ”said the actress. Burghardt also alluded to the importance of representation, a key point that Cha Cha Real Smooth not overlooked. “I never had a role model, a person with autism that I admired, I mean on the screen, not in everyday life. That led me to think that the problem was me, but it wasn’t like that, I just hadn’t seen anyone like me in a movie”, added the young woman, who provides an extremely sensitive performance in the feature film.

When Dakota was asked if she spoke to mothers of teens with autism about her preparation, the actress and producer said she preferred to focus on Vanessa. “I always looked at the behavior of mothers in general, and when we were developing the script there were many opportunities to imagine what this woman wanted, I wanted to show that reality, her struggle, the difficult moments of pain and darkness. And then, when Vanessa and I met, it was kind of an organic relationship that was built and I think that’s what you see on screen, I always appreciated her point of view, she is a radiant young woman, there is no pretense in herJohnson remarked.

Likewise, Raiff said that the original objective of Cha Cha Real Smooth It was not to “teach about autism” or “give a message”, but to show a specific relationship between people who accompany each other in a complex stage. “As a writer, I didn’t set out to teach a lesson on autism, not at all. The core of the film is that particular and intimate relationship, showing how eternal it can be. When I started writing the character of Lola, it became more and more clear, but then we met Vanessa and it changed a lot. It became even clearer. I wanted to tell the story of that ‘marriage’ between Lola and Vanessa, if that makes sense, I wanted people to know about it, I think that’s important. But I don’t know if I meant to send a message about autism,” Raiff said. “I don’t want to teach people anything either,” Burghardt seconded. “I think with this film we show that people with autism have feelings and can form relationships, they have empathy.”

Vanessa Burghardt and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth
Vanessa Burghardt and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real SmoothAppleTV+

As for Domino, she is a woman who finds it difficult to express what is happening to her, an introspective person who only talks about her battle with depression when she finds the ideal situation to remember something so painful. Johnson herself once recounted how she dealt with a depressive picture and episodes of anxiety. “I have struggled with depression since I was very young, since I was 15 or 14 years old. That’s when, with the help of professionals, I thought: ‘Oh, this is something that really happens’”, shared the actress and producer, who connected with those daily “fights” that Domino engages.

-Dakota, you once mentioned that this movie really touched your soul and that you felt very identified with what you read in the script. In what aspects?

-I think because it’s authentic and it feels like we really wanted this movie to feel really specific and we protected the truth all the time so that anyone who saw it could see themselves or someone they know in their lives, instead of seeing characters that they are totally unattainable. I think that’s why I still love it.

Actress Dakota Johnson decided to become a producer when she felt her creative opinions were being disregarded.
Actress Dakota Johnson decided to become a producer when she felt her creative opinions were being disregarded.Evan Agostini – Agencies

I’m in a special moment”, says Dakota in a section of the interview, and smiles. She is talking about how rewarding it is to produce feature films that put authenticity at the forefront. “I made a lot of movies where the producers didn’t care (laughs), they didn’t protect the work. Many want to make as much money as possible or try to cater to the masses, they don’t protect their directors, they don’t protect their artists, and I did want to do that. cha cha it was the perfect opportunity. As an actress, to agree to be in a movie the script has to be excellent and the people involved have to be kind and good; As a producer, I want to focus on stories of inclusion and diversityJohnson stressed.

With the learning of various shoots in tow, Dakota is clear about her path as an artist. “There are so many movies that I’ve never heard of that are brilliant, but it’s a matter of luck to reach the public,” she reflects. “If you’re lucky, your movie goes to Sundance or is acquired by Apple and you can talk about it. The biggest productions are the ones that everyone knows, and usually those are stories that are created because they worked before or because they were made by an algorithm (…) I intend to focus on authentic stories.”

When and where to see it: Cha Cha Real Smooth premieres Friday the 17th on Apple TV+.

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