Landed the coveted role of Anastasia Steele in the film adaptation of the best-selling erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" by reading a long, sexually-explicit monologue from the Ingmar Bergman film Persona (1966). It was an unconventional choice for an audition piece, but Johnson felt that the filmmakers were looking for a leading lady who would address the sexy material in a mature, direct manner. When she advanced to screen testing she re-enacted the first and last chapters of the book with co-star Jamie Dornan.
She had to apply body make-up to cover her tattoos for Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). Her tattoos are visible in every other project and photo shoot she has done.
Director Sean Baker considered casting Dakota and her real-life grandmother Tippi Hedren together in his film Starlet (2012) before deciding on Besedka Johnson and Dree Hemingway.
Prior to landing the role of Anastasia Steele, Johnson's most recognized roles included being Sean Parker's one night stand in The Social Network (2010), an undercover cop in 21 Jump Street (2012), and a neurotic ex-girlfriend in The Five-Year Engagement (2012). All three roles are considered by many to be scene stealing, but they totaled less screen time than the average music video.
She is close friends with Nashville-based decorator Emily Ward, who happens to be the wife of The Black Keys drummer Patrick J. Carney.