Sam Taylor-Johnson

Michael De Luca is producing

Sam Taylor-Johnson, the British helmer of “Nowhere Boy” who is married to “Kick-Ass” star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, has been tapped to direct the Universal and Focus adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the studio announced Wednesday.

Michael De Luca is producing and Kelly Marcel penned the script.

“Sam’s unique ability to gracefully showcase complex relationships dealing with love, emotion and sexual chemistry make her the ideal director to bring Christian and Anastasia’s relationship to life,” said De Luca. “E. L. James’ characters and vivid storytelling require a director who is willing to take risks and push the envelope where needed and Sam is a natural fit.”

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E.L James’ book has been on the bestseller list for more than a year, but adapting the story of the steamy love affair between 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and virginal college student Anastasia Steele will be a challenge for the studio, which will likely need to balance on the tightrope between depicting explicit NC-17 scenes and a more marketable, but less faithful to the book, R rating. The second challenge is making sure viewers remain interested in the controversial material by the time the film finally is released.

Several directors had been in the mix including Joe Wright and Gus Van Sant, and though many observers felt a female helmer would be a better choice, the choice of 46-year old Taylor-Johnson is still surprising, given the high profile of the project and her limited number of credits. Formerly Sam Taylor-Wood, the helmer was a photographer and video artist before turning to directing.

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The next question is whether her husband is in line for the role of Christian Grey. Casting meetings haven’t even begun yet for the Grey role and Johnson is a little young for the part (he’s 23) but sources say he may have been part of the meetings Sam Taylor-Johnson was having with Universal and Focus execs.

Aaron will star next in Universal’s “Kick-Ass 2″ and was at one point considered for the lead role in another high priority project at Universal, “Unbroken,” that Angelina Jolie is directing.

Taylor-Johnson is repped by WME and Brillstein Entertainment.

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