Secretary Screen Facts

Secretary follows a young woman named Lee Holloway who was recently released from a mental health institution. She lands a job as a secretary for a demanding lawyer, Mr. Grey, and their relationship becomes sadomasochistic in nature. Premiered in 2002, Secretary was directed by Steven Shainerg and written by Erin Cressida Wilson. It stars James Spader as Mr. Grey and Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee. Secretary is recognized as a successful erotic black comedy, despite the sensitive topic. Check out various screen facts below. 

Controversy during Creation

Secretary follows a sadomasochist relationship, a tricky subject. Films like these have to find a middle ground between not being too offensive but also not being too unrealistic. It’s easy for viewers to forget that the cast and crew must navigate this challenge together during the creation process. 

For me, it wasn’t difficult to shoot the spanking scene,” James Spader said. “I was hitting a woman, yes. But it’s hitting in the context of these characters and this setting and this story. Of course, it’s not without some difficulty, but it’s just one of the scenes in the film. It was a scene dealt with great care and thoughtfulness, as the rest of the film was as well.” 

As for Maggie Gyllenhaal, she was originally supposed to wear padding during the spanking scene. Producers were concerned about the stunt and pushed to “pretend” instead. However, Gyllenhaal was the one to insist the stunt happen. “My character is supposed to be moved by the tiniest movement of Spader’s,” Maggie said. “So I’ve allowed myself to be totally open to him.” She later confessed if the scene had to be done again she would use padding. Apparently the stunt left a massive bruise which had to be covered with makeup for later shots. 

Poster Model

Considering that Secretary is a racy movie, it also has a racy poster. Two were made at the time; one with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal and another with a woman bending downwards, grabbing her ankles. Gyllenhaal shared that a model was used for the second poster design, not herself. Coincidentally, the model was dating an ex-boyfriend of Maggie’s at the time. 

Trouble with the Law

One scene in the movie follows Lee on a walk home from work through a park. Producers had a permit to film this scene, but for the wrong park. They weren’t aware of this error until the day of. The producer on set had to distract local law enforcement that arrived during filming. Luckily, everything worked out and they didn’t have to reschedule the shoot. 


One of the main characters in Secretary is named Mr. Grey. For this reason, many wonder if the film has a connection to the popular erotic fiction franchise, Fifty Shades of Grey. Both Secretary and Fifty Shades follow a sadomasochistic relationship. However, the story was actually inspired by Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior. Her short story follows Lee Holloway who works for a dominant lawyer, also named Grey. Gaitskill’s collection of short stories came out in 1988, over 20 years before Fifty Shades of Grey was published. 

Sources: IMDb 

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