The British actor who was to play Christian Grey in the forthcoming big-screen version of Fifty Shades of Grey has dropped out, citing his busy schedule only weeks before filming was due to start.
According to the film’s producers, Hunnam had decided to withdraw because of his busy schedule. Hunnam stars in the hit TV series Sons of Anarchy and his preparation time for the role was limited.
“The filmmakers of Fifty Shades of Grey and Charlie Hunnam have agreed to find another male lead given Hunnam’s immersive TV schedule which is not allowing him time to adequately prepare for the role of Christian Grey,” Universal Pictures said in a statement.
The 33-year-old actor was the second casting announcement for the steamy film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic trilogy, after James took to Twitter revealing that Dakota Johnson would play Anastasia Steele on September 2.
Two sources close to the project told The Hollywood Reporter that the 33-year-old, originally from Newcastle, was overwhelmed with the attention when he was cast, and got cold feet about the project.
Hunnam faced widespread on-line backlash when he was officially cast as the male lead in Fifty Shades of Grey, beating out fan favorites such as Matt Bomer and Ian Somerhalder.
Some superfans even went as far as creating and signing a petition to have Hunnam and Johnson ousted — as seen in a Change.org effort that amassed over 80,000 signatures, says the NY Daily News.
“There are so many fans of that book and I know that on the surface, I’m probably not what everybody imagined,” Hunnam told Entertainment Weekly just days ago. “Because reading is so personal, and people bring a character to life in their imagination, they feel ownership over that character,” Hunnam said.
“That’s daunting if I allowed myself to think about it too much. I’m taking it very seriously and intend to explore the nature of who this character is, what motivates him – and also dress up nice and look good in those suits.”
Producers Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca took to Twitter to defend the choice at the time, maintaining their two leads had good chemistry together.
One person who will be pleased with Hunnam’s decision is his girlfriend. Last month he revealed that she wasn’t particularly excited about him filming explicit love scenes with Johnson.
“Of course, it’s difficult being with an actor, you know? She is required to share certain parts of me with the world that she wouldn’t necessarily choose to do, but we have a great relationship and she loves me and wants to be with me and we’ve been together a long time now, and I think she understands and has come to terms with the fact that there are certain elements of me that she is going to have to share. This is an extreme example of that.”
The film, from “Nowhere Boy” director Sam Taylor-Johnson, was slated for an August 2014 release. It is unclear whether or not the search for a new Christian Grey will push back the release date. Dakota Johnson remains in the co-starring role of Anastasia Steele. Hunnam’s replacement is being sought.