Dakota Johnson on ‘The Lost Daughter,’ ‘Persuasion,’ and Fangirling Over Paul Mescal

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Dakota Johnson is instantly recognizable on screen. With her knowing smile and perfect bangs, the 32-year-old has enthralled Jamie Dornan’s Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades franchise, charmed critics in A Bigger Splash, proved to be a magnetic everywoman in How To Be Single, and won hearts in The Peanut Butter Falcon. But, in *The Lost Daughter—*Maggie Gyllenhaal’s ravishing feature directorial debut, adapted from Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name—it may take you a moment to identify Johnson when she first saunters into view.

The actor plays Nina, a young mother with long, jet-black hair, kohl-lined eyes, copious tattoos, and a wardrobe of denim cut-offs, skimpy swimwear, and chunky gold hoops. She’s holidaying in Greece with her daughter, Elena (Athena Martin), and the rest of her loud, dubiously wealthy family from Queens. As they run riot, she is watchful and seemingly uneasy. Watching her in turn is Leda (Olivia Colman), a languages professor on a solitary trip. Also in their orbit are two well-meaning men: the grizzled caretaker of the house Leda is renting (Ed Harris) and a student (Paul Mescal) who spends his summers working on the beach. Their lives are disrupted when Elena suddenly disappears, leaving Nina distraught and Leda reminiscing about her own tumultuous past with her two daughters. The final product is a sensitive study of disappointment, ambition, and maternal ambivalence, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off both the impulsive Colman and the enigmatic Johnson.

As we look ahead to the film’s release in theaters and on Netflix, Johnson discusses shooting on the picturesque island of Spetses during the pandemic, sending Gyllenhaal pictures of Megan Fox as references, and bribing the young actor who played her daughter.

Vogue: The Lost Daughter is such a beautiful adaptation. Was it the script that attracted you?

It was an insanely beautiful script to read and then Maggie [Gyllenhaal] and I had a meeting. It was really honest and soulful. We talked a couple more times, and then she gave me the part. It was during the pandemic, so Maggie and I spent a lot of time on Zoom, talking and sending each other music, photographs, and film recommendations. Maggie has such an incredible way of working with actors because she is one. She made us feel so safe. I felt like I could go to extremes in any direction and I’d be taken care of. So much of this was just about wanting to be around her [laughs].

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