EXCLUSIVE: Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose directorial debut was 2009’s Nowhere Boy about the early life of John Lennon, has been secured to direct Fifty Shades Of Grey, the sizzling novel adaptation from Universal Pictures and Focus Features. Fellow Brit Kelly Marcel has written the script for the movie, based on EL James’ bestseller that follows the relationship between 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele. Dana Brunetti and Michael De Luca are producing alongside James. “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. “EL 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.”

This is a hot job, and rumors have been flying about directors like Gus Van Sant, Susanne Bier and Joe Wright in the running, but Taylor-Johnson is a surprise choice. In addition to Nowhere Boy, which garnered her a pair of BAFTA nominations and an eventual husband in that film’s star Aaron Taylor-Johnson (of Kick-Ass fame), she had only directed the short film Love You More which was in Cannes in 2008. She also has ties to De Luca — the pair are in development on a film based on the Robert Goorlick novel A Reliable Wife which De Luca is also producing. Before landing the Nowhere Boy gig, Taylor-Johnson was a well-known photographer and visual artist whose work captured and explored issues of human sexuality.

Universal and Focus acquired rights to James’ trilogy in March 2012 after a heated bidding auction for film rights. Focus will market and distribute the film in partnership with Universal, whose co-chairman Donna Langley heavily pursued the book. The three books have been translated into 45 languages worldwide since its release and has sold over 70 million copies in e-book and print. During the bidding, I’d heard that 10 studio chiefs were involved in one of the wildest book-to-movie auctions in recent and distant memory.

Taylor-Johnson is repped by WME, Brillstein Entertainment and attorney David Weber.