Laguna Beach plays a role in ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel


His penthouse received a luxurious makeover, largely thanks to local artists.

Christian Grey, the fictional character in the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, based on E.L. James’ best-selling books, is a 29-year-old billionaire living in a sumptuous pad overlooking the Seattle skyline.

His home, “Escala,” plays a key role in the second movie in the series, “Fifty Shades Darker,” and the new decor and artwork helping to update the living quarters has a clear connection to Laguna Beach.


The film’s creative team recruited set decorator Carolyn Loucks and production designer Nelson Coates to conceptualize a new look in the erotic romantic sequel to the 2015 film “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which starred Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson.

Coates, an Emmy-nominated set designer, currently serves on the board of trustees of the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, and he has a practice of working with local artists to include their paintings and sculptures in projects. Coates has been a friend of the college since 2007 and has served on the board since 2010.

In September 2015, Coates sent a message to LCAD students and faculty asking that interested artists submit work that could appear in an unnamed box-office film.

He then sifted through digital images and selected pieces he deemed suitable for the film’s scenic design.

Six months later, three LCAD artists learned that their paintings would be in the Universal Pictures film, either in the apartment or elsewhere, and they would be given a stipend to send their artwork to Vancouver, Canada, where the movie was being filmed. It has since grossed $356 million worldwide.

MFA painting candidate Stephanie Leonard submitted four images, three of which are spotlighted in the movie. Leonard, a San Clemente resident who emigrated from Peru when she was 13, said her artwork is about fear, loss and salvation.

Her 3-foot-5 oil painting “The Passage” hangs in Grey’s home office and is frequently seen in main scenes. The piece is reminiscent of an old hospital, where pools of water and beds transform into church pews that lead to a hallway where a game of hopscotch is being played.

Another of her pieces, “With This Sacrifice,” illustrates surgical scissors dangling from a cardboard box, and the last selection, “The Curtain of Imprinted Memories,” contains variations of the color gray.

“They tug at you in a poignant way, and my wish is that people feel intrigued by something that’s familiar,” she said of her work.

Leonard said her daughter being diagnosed with cancer motivated the mother to draw and paint, the process of recording memories serving as a catharsis.

She saw the film with her husband when it was released to theaters Feb. 10, but they would not allow the 13-year-old to see it.

“It’s pretty surreal to see my paintings on a large screen,” said Leonard, noting that they were returned to her studio at the end of filming last year.

LCAD President Jonathan Burke had his five submitted pieces approved but said he wasn’t sure which of the paintings made the film — since he hadn’t yet seen “Fifty Shades Darker” and knows that anything can happen in the editing process.

Burke, who described his work as highly realistic and representative art, submitted food paintings he was invited to draw for an exhibit held years ago at the Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach.

His still-life entries were a chocolate doughnut, a piece of layer cake, a red-glazed doughnut, a slice of pepperoni pizza with green peppers and mushrooms, and a pink cake decorated with whipped cream, mint leaves and blueberries.

“I will see the film, but I’ll be focused on the walls, waiting for that moment to see my paintings,” Burke said. “My works are probably cameo roles, and I think the characters are a bit more important.”

The work of Betty Shelton, LCAD’s chairwoman of the post-baccalaureate program, is in the film. “Survivor Suite” features an unclothed woman mostly in profile, looking wistfully out a window in an apartment building. The painting is distinctive for its interesting patterns of light and shadow, Burke said.

Burke said until there’s a phone application that freezes a painting on a movie screen and identifies its cost and owner, he doesn’t expect viewers to inquire about a purchase.

“I don’t think so,” Burke said with a laugh. “I’m just a prop.”

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi