TIME movies

Vin Diesel Spent His Childhood in an Artists’ Commune

Scott Garfield—Universal

But his old stomping ground of the West Village was a lot grittier back then

For a guy whose career has been built on the impressive circumference of his biceps, speed of his drawl and pack of his punch, Vin Diesel’s childhood was surprisingly artistic. He grew up surrounded by painters, writers and performers in the first ever federally supported housing complex specifically for artists.

Westbeth, located in New York City’s West Village, is a cluster of old industrial buildings that formerly housed Bell Laboratories. The building has a quite a history: it was where the first talking movie, TV broadcast, and binary computer were demonstrated. But Bell Labs moved out and in 1970, was replaced by 383 units of loft-style affordable housing and studio space for artists designed by a young Richard Meier.

To live in one of the apartments, potential residents had to prove they were both poor and working artists. (Their art was judged by a committee.) As a result, the place was crawling with creativity. The dance pioneer Merce Cunningham had studio space there, Miles Davis played at a friend’s apartment at Westbeth, and photographer Diane Arbus lived there—and, alas, died there, when she committed suicide in 1971.

Mark Vincent, as Diesel was then known, grew up there with his twin brother Paul, because his stepfather (he never knew his biological dad) was an avant-garde theater director, who later worked in TV and film education. His mom, Diesel says, was an astrologer. “It was an artist community, everyone was expressing themselves,” says Diesel, who is profiled in TIME this week. “Great painters, poets, sculptors, musicians and thespians all lived in this building. It was kind of a mecca for artists. What a magical place for a young artist to grow up in.”

Other kids who grew up in the building remember Diesel, or Mark Vincent as he was then known, being the kind of brotherly big dog that he plays in the Furious 7, the latest in The Fast and the Furious series. He would scurry around the former industrial complex with a gang of other little kids, getting into mischief. “He was definitely one of the ringleaders or alphas,” says Adam Davidson, a financial journalist who also grew up in the complex “I was younger and Mark would encourage us to go to parts of the building that were a little scary.”

Not surprisingly, the place was fantastically progressive. Davidson remember being shocked when he got to college in the ’80s to discover interracial marriage and homosexuality were frowned on in some circles. Equally unsurprisingly, families who moved into the complex rarely moved out. The once-gritty industrial neighborhood is now one of Manhattan’s swankiest. And yep, Diesel’s parents still live there.

TIME mating

Why Women Like War Heroes More than Any Other Kind of Guy

A stock image of a man in a military uniform lifting up a woman
Getty Images

And why men don't find brave women attractive

In a study that could explain so much about the Brian Williams thing, it has been found that women are more sexually attracted to men who have been deemed heroic during conflict than men who have merely served in the armed forces. And—sorry, humanitarians—men who were deemed heroic during a non-war-related crisis didn’t have nearly the same game.

Meanwhile, women who were considered heroic for any reason were found to be less attractive to men than regular women. (You read that right. Less attractive.)

The findings are the result of three studies done by researchers in England and the Netherlands. First, the researchers established from archives that World War II veterans who were Medal of Honor winners had more kids on average (3.18) than other returned servicemen (2.72).

The number of offspring is not completely correlated with the frequency of springing into bed, however. So the researchers asked 92 female British students to rate how attracted they were to various profiles and the war hero came out as the No. 1 most dateworthy type. Military service was attractive to women generally, but interestingly, if the guy had no war honors, whether he had served overseas or never left home base made no difference to his magnetism. In other words, men who see more action don’t necessarily see more action.

In the third study, 159 women and 181 men studying in Holland were given various profiles to rate and again the decorated war veteran was the female favorite. Soldiers who had been honored for their work in disaster zones or humanitarian crises got no spike in interest. And, depressingly, guys were less interested in women who had done something amazingly brave than women who hadn’t, even though the participants in the study were the supposedly gender equal Dutch.

The researchers were looking at the impact of medals not to enhance the dating resumes of veterans, but to examine the effect of conflict and bravery on evolution. (Those who attract the most mating partners have the highest chance of passing on their genes.)

So why are women drawn to guys who are demonstrably willing to engage in life threatening behavior? Because they’ve proved their genetic hardiness, suggest the researchers.

“Raids, battles, and ambushes in ancestral environments, and wars in modern environments, may provide an arena for men to signal their physical and psychological strengths,” says Joost Leunissen, a psychologist at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study. The thinking is that those who have the clarity of thought to try something life-saving and the physical prowess to pull it off must be built to survive, and are therefore a good evolutionary bet.

Leunissen also seems to offer, perhaps unintentionally, some eggheady advice on whether women should be on the front lines. “In light of the physical dangers and reproductive risks involved,” he says, “participating in intergroup aggression might not generally be a viable reproductive strategy for women.” Translation: not if they want to have kids.

TIME movies

Fifty Shades of Grey Star Jamie Dornan: ‘I Don’t Have a Lot of Body Confidence’

Film Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Chuck Zlotnick—Universal Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

The former underwear model says he's more insecure than you might expect

Before he was the star of the much-anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey, Jamie Dornan was the creepy criminal in the British crime thriller, The Fall. Before that, he was a model — specifically, an underwear model.

But that doesn’t mean the young Irishman has truckloads of swagger when it comes to showing skin. “I don’t have a lot of body confidence,” says Dornan during an interview for TIME’s feature on Fifty Shades of Grey. “I would have the same hang-ups that most people would about their body. Maybe considering you’ll probably find pictures of my body quite easily online, that sounds weird, but those pictures wouldn’t be enjoyed by me, certainly.”

The semi-naked brooding modeling stints weren’t a complete loss, though — they came in handy for his role as hunky-but-damaged millionaire Christian Grey in the new film. “The positive thing to come out of the fact that I’ve had my picture taken a lot is you do attain a level of comfort in front of the camera, I guess,” he says. “There’s obviously a difference between a still camera and a motion camera, but there’s still a black thing with a lens on top of it. When you break it down, the fundamentals of it are pretty similar. So if you’ve been in front of that a lot, it can aid you as an actor.”

Dornan does show a lot less flesh than Dakota Johnson in the movie; reportedly, when the cast reassembled in Vancouver to shoot some additional footage, part of the reason was to show slightly more of Dornan’s physique. If that’s true, Dornan says, it’s news to him. “No one told me that. I don’t remember [what we shot]; it’s all [a] blur.”

And for a guy who’s tackled a number of erotically charged projects, Dornan actually comes off as pretty bashful. When he first saw the movie, he actually found his performance hard to watch, as many actors do. “I felt it was a great film — Sam [Taylor-Johnson, the director] had done a great job and Dakota was great in it,” he says. “But I’m certainly not in a position myself to say if I was any good.”

TIME Books

Then and Now: Two Interviews With Fifty Shades of Grey Author E.L. James

"Fame is not something I sought," she says

When Erika Leonard first came up with the idea that became Fifty Shades of Grey, she called herself Snow Queen Ice Dragon — or SQID, for short — and wrote on a site for Twilight fans. Her erotic tales involving the characters Bella Thorne and Edward Cullen proved so popular she was persuaded to change some names and amass them into an e-book, produced by a teensy publisher in suburban Australia and written under the name E.L. James.

Kindles were a relatively new thing in 2011 and, as Leonard tells it, a group of women in Long Island, New York, found the e-books and began to tell their friends — of which there were many. As the book’s popularity grew, a group invited Leonard to come to a a reading. Photojournalist Gillian Laub was there for the occasion and grabbed an interview with the reclusive author.

Fast forward a few years, and Leonard is now a multimillionaire author and producer of the movie version of Fifty Shades, out Feb. 13. While media reports suggest that she hasn’t let wealth and fame change her too much, she doesn’t really need to give interviews. But she did consent to answer some (not all) of our questions via email.

TIME: What scene in the movie were you most worried about translating to screen and why?
Erika Leonard:
I was most worried about the scenes in the red room. I wanted them to be tasteful and erotic, and that was a journey, but we got there in the end.

Do you have favorite scene?
The glider scene and the post-graduation bar scene. For me those scenes really capture the spirit of the book.

What made you decide to become a producer?
Because I could. (Christian Grey would appreciate that comment.) I didn’t want to take the money and run — I wanted the movie to be one the readership would love.

What have you enjoyed most about the process of filming?
I enjoyed breaking down the book with the screenwriter Kelly Marcel and deciding what should and should not be in the movie. That was fun — hard work, but fun.

Your life must have changed so much in the last three years. Do you have any reflections on fame?
Fame is not something I sought, and happily I’m still not that famous — I can still roam the streets anonymously, at home and in the States, and I love that. But I have had some amazing experiences, and for that I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who bought and loved the books.

Is there anything you would differently if you wrote the books again?
Yes. Quite a few things, in fact — but the books seem to be so well loved by so many I’ve let all that go…

Do you have plans to write more books?
Yes, I do. But like most authors I’d rather do it than talk about it.

These books are an exploration of a fantasy. Have you been surprised by how much they’ve resonated?
Surprised doesn’t quite cover it. I get the most extraordinary, heart wrenching emails from readers who have been deeply touched by the books. I’m honored that so many people have shared their moving stories and their love of the books with me.

TIME movies

Meet the Unusual Director of the Fifty Shades of Grey Movie

Strowger Trust Fundraiser For Teen Cancer America In LA
David M. Benett—Getty Images Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Sam Taylor-Johnson attend the Teen Cancer America Fundraiser on Oct. 28, 2014 in Los Angeles, Calif.

An interview with the woman charged with bringing the season's most-anticipated film to screen

When Universal and Focus Features were looking around for someone to make the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey, they interviewed a lot of candidates, but it didn’t take them long to choose the relatively untested British director Sam Taylor-Johnson. “It was so fast,” says Taylor-Johnson of the hiring process. “I’d put together a whole load of ideas, flew down from Vancouver… Eight o’clock the next morning, my phone was ringing off the hook—‘You’ve got the job. We’re announcing it today.’ Suddenly I was on a bullet train, doors were shut, and off I was going.”

Here are the six most surprising things about the woman charged with bringing the racy book to the big screen. (Some of these might explain why Hollywood jumped at the chance to give her this movie.)

1. She’s a highly respected artist. Taylor-Johnson was part of the Young British Art crowd in the 90s. Her photographic work has been exhibited at the Tate and National Portrait galleries and she’s been nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize. In 1997, she was given the award for Most Promising Young Artist at the Venice Biennale.

2. She’s rich. When she split with her first husband, the art dealer Jay Jopling, they were reportedly worth $154 million. Some of her photographs have sold for upwards of $100,000. (She’s not as rich, however, as Erika Leonard, who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey under the pseudonym E.L. James, and is now reported t0 be worth about $80 million.)

3. At 47, she’s a mother of four. Taylor-Johnson’s oldest child Angelica is 17 and her next three are all under 8. Her 17-year old has already seen the movie. “Watching it through her eyes was really interesting because I could gauge where I felt uncomfortable with her watching it,” she says. “So then I sort of revisited those areas and thought, is it more graphic than I think it is?”

4. The father of her two youngest children is 24 year-old actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has starred in, among other things, Godzilla and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. She got pregnant with their first child together when he was 19, after they worked together the movie she made about John Lennon, Nowhere Boy. And she wants her next movie to be with him as well: “What I’d like to do is something where I’ve developed it, where I’m working with Aaron on something and we’re in control of it,” she says.

5. Like Christian Grey (and Lennon), she was raised in an unconventional home. Her father, who was a biker, left home when she was 9 years old, and her mother Geraldine moved the family to a commune-like situation, until she departed as well (and secretly moved to a house further down the same street). At 15, Taylor Johnson had to more or less look after herself. Her mom now runs a spiritual healing center, GrailHaven, in rural Queensland, Australia, where, under instruction from what Geraldine calls “an angelic vision in the gardens,” she sells flower essences, oracle cards and bottles of sacred water that will “assist the birth of the 5th Ray.”

6. Taylor Johnson is a two time cancer survivor, having beaten both colon and breast cancer. After the breast cancer she did a series of photos in which she was tied up and suspended by a guy called Master Rope Knot, who, says Taylor-Johnson, was a bondage expert by night and I.T. man by day. “I think it was a sort of celebration of my sort of physical self and being under strain,” she says. The bonds were later erased in the photos so it looked like she was floating effortlessly. The experience gave her a taste of the appeal of bondage. “On a very basic level you get fight or flight panic, which releases adrenalin and serotonin. And then you suddenly go into this sort of slightly sort of chemical other world through that sort of giving over to being restrained I guess,” she says. “But it’s not something I took up after this.”

Read next: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Christian Grey?

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TIME movies

How the Notorious Red Room Was Built in the Fifty Shades of Grey Movie

Film Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Universal Pictures Dakota Johnson and Jamie Doran star in Fifty Shades of Grey

They needed a lot of leather

Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, had more influence than most writers over the way her racy book was transformed into a movie. But there was one scene that she was particularly concerned about. “I was most worried about the scenes in the Red Room. I wanted them to be tasteful and erotic,” she says. “That was a journey, but we got there in the end.”

The Red Room, for those novitiates to the cult of Fifty Shades, is the room where the moody millionaire Christian Grey indulges his appetite for less mainstream boudoir behavior. Leonard was worried that it would come off looking like a cheesy dungeon, so she gave quite specific instructions to the production design team.

“She actually had these things drawn up,” says producer Dana Brunetti. “She literally had drawings of them that she gave to our production designers.”

The design team was headed up by husband and wife David and Sandy Wasco, who weren’t inexperienced in this area; they worked on Pulp Fiction, which features a memorable character known as the gimp, who’s into bondage. “Erika was able to do a little doodle on an eight and a half by eleven piece of paper,” says David. “She said, ‘This would be where the spanking bench would be, this would be where the sofa would be.’ And we used that.”

The Wascos knew the Red Room would be the most challenging set to design. “We really anguished over that the most,” says David. “We had to,” adds Sandy. “You could interview everyone that read the book and they’d have a different version of it.” The Wascos met with experts—dominants and dominatrices, who have wealthy clients “just like Christian Grey,” says David. “It was much more sophisticated than anyone going through the internet is led to expect—much more respectful.”

From these consultants, the design team learned such useful tips as using leather on the floor, because people spend a lot of time kneeling. “So we ended up with real leather, and with shoe tacks that were brass every two inches,” says David. They used leather on the bed, with no sheets, because—after all—the bed’s not for sleeping.

If Leonard was in charge of the room’s layout, director Sam Taylor-Johnson had some strong feelings about the finishes. She told the designers she wanted something dumbfounding. “She was always mentioning Kubrick movies. She wanted this room to be something that you’d never forget once you saw it,” says Sandy. “She wanted it to be more related to a high end stable. So [the equipment] was built in brown, with brown leathers, and brown burled woods and other woods, versus the black that you see that’s more common. It was pretty.”

If it sounds odd to call a room where floggings might take place ‘pretty’, then the way the designers talk about the equipment will seem equally unusual. “The items that we ended up making were very bespoke, and very beautiful,” says David. Most of the furniture and implements—the custom-made stirrups, horse saddle chair, and the beds were custom made and shipped from England. Extremely soft ropes had to be ordered and dyed red.

“People [working on the film] couldn’t keep their hands off the stuff,” he adds. “Some of them are tails and fuzzy. They’re really fun.”

Read next: Sex Scenes Make Up One-Fifth of Fifty Shades of Grey

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