Just a few weeks out from the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, in which he plays the screen version of E.L. James’ studly sadomasochist, Jamie Dornan is on the verge of notoriety. He’s not quite a household name, but that will likely change after Feb. 13. How crazy will his life get? “I don’t really know yet, to be honest,” he says. “So far this year feels pretty normal.” Just wait.

Meanwhile, the Belfast-born actor, whose credits include Marie Antoinette and ABC’s Once Upon a Time, is visible in the second season of the drama series The Fall, now streaming on Netflix. He plays Paul Spector, a grief counselor who is secretly the psychopath dubbed The Belfast Strangler.

It’s the kind of role that could mess with a guy’s head, as Dornan explains in this exclusive Q&A.

“If I’m doing something particularly heinous to an actress, I will apologize in advance and say: ‘I’m probably not going to derive a huge amount of pleasure out of this. I want you to know that.’ ”

How do you prepare to play a serial killer?
You have to delve into and do all the research. There’s so much available online. I watched endless interviews with guys like Ted Bundy and tried to get inside the minds of these guys. I read a few books, like Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer. I tried to work out what it is that makes them the way they are and what leads them to do such heinous things. But you have to find something likable in him. There are qualities to him that  make him somewhat normal and that we can all sort of understand, like being a relatively good professional and being somewhat of a good father and husband. I think he’s all too aware of the damage he’s doing and that makes him all the more sinister. He has an understanding of grief and how people deal with it and how to get people out of it, and that makes it all the more sickening.

Was filming the more graphic scenes challenging?
Yeah. If I’m doing something particularly heinous to an actress, I will apologize in advance and say: ‘I’m probably not going to derive a huge amount of pleasure out of this. I want you to know that.’ I hope it all works on screen and it makes sense and it’s all there, but it doesn’t come easy to me.

Spector and Christian Grey are pretty complex characters. Do you seek that out?
You want roles that challenge you and that scare you a little and that make you discover something, even about yourself, that maybe you didn’t understand. And I’ve been lucky recently to have roles like that. With Spector, I’d never even had an opportunity before to be considered to play someone like him.

You’ve worked in the U.S. and Great Britain. How does it compare?
I’m privileged to be able to do both, and to work at all. I’ve had great experiences doing both and if I can I’d like to continue doing both. I feel very tied to Ireland and the U.K. and that side of the world. So I want to keep doing stuff there, but also it’s fun to work in America.

You have a few other films coming up besides Fifty Shades.
Yeah, in December I finished this film called The 9th Life of Louis Drax, directed by Alex Aja. It’s me and Aaron Paul, and it’s a totally different departure. It’s suspense, an almost supernatural thriller. And I have a very small part in a John Wells film with Bradley Cooper.

How do you feel about being labeled a sex symbol?
It’s not something I think about. You know, it’s written in.

You do spend a lot of time with your shirt off.
Yes, but a lot of actors do. Daniel Craig has his top off consistently as James Bond.

Is that the kind of role you aspire to?
What kid doesn’t grow up sort of pretending they’re James Bond? But it’s certainly something I have no control over.

Photo courtesy of Netflix