Greater exposure ... Jamie Dornan from <i>Once Upon A Time</i> is set to star in <i>Fifty Shades of Grey</i> films.

Greater exposure ... Jamie Dornan from Once Upon A Time is set to star in Fifty Shades of Grey films.

The Fifty Shades of Grey movie developers have found themselves a spanking new Christian Grey, as actor Jamie Dornan has been selected to replace Charlie Hunnam as the erotically adventurous billionaire.

Dornan will now star opposite Dakota Johnson, who will play Anastasia Steele in the adaptation of EL James' novel.

The film will be directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson who reportedly screen tested Dornan, as well as actors Billy Magnussen and Francois Arnaud for the role last week, before making the decision in conjunction with James and the film's producers.

Dakota Johnson

Dakota Johnson will play Anastasia Steele Photo: Supplied

Producer Michael De Luca acknowledged that losing their original Grey was a blow, but now insists production is ‘‘on track’’ after their lead actress, who is also the daughter of Hollywood veteran actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, has helped in the search for Hunnam's replacement.  

‘‘She’s the best partner a producer could have,’’ he told Eonline.com. ‘‘She’s helping us look through the candidates to see which chemistry kind of captures our attention.’’

Universal Studios and Focus Features, who are backing the film, are said by Variety to have wanted to go for a “discovery” – read: relatively unknown – actor for the role after Sons of Anarchy star Hunnam withdrew from the project less than a month after the public announcement of his casting inspired significant public backlash.

Dornan, 31, whose resume features more big name designer labels that he has modelled for than big acting roles, will be best known to Australian audiences as The Huntsman, a regular character in the first half of season one of Seven's Once Upon A Time and as Axel von Fersen in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

From Northern Ireland, Dornan has also modelled for Calvin Klein, Dior and Armani among others and performed in the folk band Sons of Jim.

Variety has spuriously suggested Dornan's modelling experience will assist him prepare for the role “as the part will require him to act in explicitly sexual scenes” while EW put it more bluntly, offering imagery of him “looking lovely and brooding and rich, attributes that will come in handy for the franchise that now rests largely on the appeal of his ripped back.”

If his acting or aesthetic qualities are sufficient to make the first Fifty Shades of Grey film a success, Dornan's deal will see him kept on for a total of three or four films to complete the series.

Australian Foxtel subscribers can presently see Dornan as the killer Paul Spector in the BBC drama The Fall that is airing on UKTV, the second series of which has been commissioned to be shot in January. It should fit in with the filming of Fifty Shades of Grey, which was slated to go into production mid-November.

Fifty Shades of Grey is still expected to hit cinemas in August next year.

Twitter: @gileshardie