IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

How Aaron and Sam Taylor-Johnson went from collaborators to husband and wife

The director and artist met her now-husband on the set of "Nowhere Boy."
Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson at the "Bullet Train" premiere on July 18, 2022, in Paris.Stephane Cardinale / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The moment many of us saw up-and-coming British actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who at the time was simply Aaron Johnson, in 2009’s “Nowhere Boy,” he won our hearts. Over the years, the former child actor has sailed through equally memorable parts in films like “Kick-Ass” (2010), “Godzilla” (2014), “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015), “Tenet” (2020) and “Bullet Train” (2022).

But we’re not the only ones who found the 33-year-old charming and worth keeping an eye on in “Nowhere Boy.” The director, Sam Taylor-Johnson, who’s now 56, did, too — and she married him in 2012!

Yes, they recognize that’s a large age difference, but it doesn’t seem to matter. “I don’t really analyze our relationship,” Aaron Taylor-Johnson told the fashion website Mr. Porter in 2017. “I just know that it works. I just feel secure and loved and safe. We have this very deep connection. We’re just in sync.”

So let’s all get in sync with Sam Taylor-Johnson, who has done quite a bit more than marry Aaron Taylor-Johnson and direct films. She’s got a past that might even be more interesting than his — but that’s what happens when you get a 23-year head start. Here’s everything we know about Sam Taylor-Johnson.

As a child, Sam Taylor-Johnson fled the 'strange people' in her house and escaped into art

Born in London in 1967, Samantha Taylor grew up with a younger sister, Ashley, according to a profile in The Guardian in 2001. Her parents, David and Geraldine, split when she was around 9 or 10. They moved to the countryside, which Sam Taylor-Johnson loathed. “I got frightened by trees,” she told the paper.

In both places she was bullied in school, and her mother — a yoga teacher — married a fellow yoga instructor and had a son, Kristian, when she was 11. According to Sam Taylor-Johnson, who also went by Sam Taylor-Wood before adopting her married name, according to her website, their hippie-ish lifestyle led to having lots of “strange people” hanging around.

“For a long time the house became a bit of a commune for weird druggy people,” she said. “It was freaky.”

Sam Taylor-Johnson began painting images of Bob Marley at the time, hanging out in the school art room. After attending a few colleges, she went on to bartend and manage a rock venue, eventually becoming a dresser at the Royal Opera House. But she found her calling in creating fine art photography and multimedia videos.

One of these images was a re-creation of a classic John Lennon and Yoko Ono photo taken by Annie Leibovitz shortly before Lennon was shot and killed in 1980. In the image, called “26 October 1993,” she posed with fellow artist Henry Bond (as Ono and Lennon respectively), and the image created a splash in London’s art world, as Time reported in 2010.

Sam Taylor-Johnson was first married to a celebrity art gallery owner

Jay Jopling, who owns a series of White Cube galleries, met Sam Taylor-Johnson in 1994 at her video installation called “Killing Time,” The Independent reported in 2006. They married in 1997 and had two children: Angelica (born that year) and Jessie Phoenix.

They split in 2008, The Independent reported at the time. A spokesperson for Jopling’s gallery said that the split was amicable and “no other parties” were involved.

She’s faced cancer twice — and bounced back

Colon cancer hit Sam Taylor-Johnson at the end of 1997, right after she’d gotten married and had her first child. At first, her doctor told her that the symptoms she experienced were just a slow recovery from birth, but on Christmas Eve, she went to the hospital and had 1 1/2 feet of her colon removed, The Guardian recalled in the 2001 interview. She wasn’t able to hold her baby for six weeks.

Two years later, she found a lump in her armpit and ignored it for six months. “I just couldn’t face it,” she told The Guardian. Eventually, she went for tests and four lumps were found. She had a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. It was “a blur,” she said. But, she added, “You have to be brave, when you’ve got a kid.”

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s art has won awards and often revolves around the music and entertainment industries

Over the years, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s photography and videos have revolved around several themes: celebrities, musicians and illness. One of her images was blown up large enough to wrap around the Selfridges building in London as it underwent renovations, and featured celebrities like Ray Winstone, Elton John and a member of the band Blur. She created a video portrait commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery of David Beckham sleeping; other portraits show famous men crying, like Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Benicio Del Toro and Paul Newman, as The Independent noted in 2008.

In 1998, she was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize and was the winner of the most promising young artist award at the 1997 Venice Biennale.

Elton John got her back on her feet after her cancer diagnosis

“For a year or so, I wasn’t working towards anything,” Sam Taylor-Johnson told The Guardian in 2001. “I was just plodding along, thinking, ‘When am I going to have ideas again?’ Then … I got this sharp boot up the bum.”

Elton John called and asked her to direct the video for his new single. They hired Robert Downey Jr. to sing John’s words in “I Want Love,” which came out in 2001. Around that time, Sam Taylor-Johnson also created a new art piece, “Pietà,” with Downey Jr.: a nearly two-minute video in which she cradles him on a set of steps. That work of art was also auctioned off.

Sam Taylor-Johnson has also worked with John on his 2005 video for “Turn the Lights Out When You Leave,” which featured actors Thomas Jane, Teri Hatcher and the singer himself.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Sam Taylor-Johnson met when he was still a teenager

With her experience working with actors and love of the music industry, Sam Taylor-Johnson seemed like a natural to make her feature directorial debut in telling the story of Lennon’s youth with “Nowhere Boy.” But she was really nervous about stepping into the director’s seat, as she told WENN (via Contact Music) in 2010.

“I thought, ‘I’m in too deep and if I mess this up I’m just never gonna make a film again,’ and I went into a panic. I got into the car and said, ‘I just have to call these producers and pull out.’ … I put the key into the ignition and Lennon’s voice came straight out of the radio and it was (his song) ‘Starting Over.’ It was one of those moments where I thought it was a sign: ‘OK I’m gonna do it.’”

When “Nowhere Boy” came out, Aaron Taylor-Johnson was about 19, having been born in 1990. Though the two had felt a spark during production, they didn’t act on it until the film wrapped, Sam Taylor-Johnson told Harper’s Bazaar in 2019.

“We were very professional through the entire film,” she told the magazine.

“But everyone on set knew. And as soon as we finished, he told me he was going to marry me. We had never been on a date, or even kissed,” she added.

After having two daughters, Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson married

As Aaron Taylor-Johnson told Harper’s Bazaar in 2019, he waited a full year — and a bit — until asking her to be his wife. “(A) year to the minute after we met, exactly one year to the minute, I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me,” he said.

But it would take until June 21, 2012, for them to wed, The Associated Press reported, according to People, by which time they had two daughters: Wylda Rae (born in 2010, according to People) and Romy Hero (born at the start of 2012, according to E!).

The wedding took place in Somerset, England. Sam Taylor-Johnson’s dress was by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, while her husband’s suit was by Tom Ford, Access reported at the time.

They also agreed to merge their last names, which is why now both are Taylor-Johnson. “I just don’t see why women need to take the man’s name,” Aaron Taylor-Johnson told The Evening Standard that year. “I wanted to be a part of her just as much as she wanted to be part of me.”

Sam Taylor-Johnson directed 'Fifty Shades of Grey' — but walked away from the sequel

Over the years, she’s continued to make music videos (and featured Aaron Taylor-Johnson in R.E.M.’s 2011 video for “Überlin”) and released three songs with Pet Shop Boys between 1999-2008, sometimes under a pseudonym.

She shot the film adaptation of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” in 2015 but reportedly clashed with the author and opted not to direct “Fifty Shades Darker.”

“With the benefit of hindsight would I go through it again? Of course I wouldn’t,” she told The Sunday Times in 2017. “I’d be mad. It was a struggle and there were lots of onset tête-à-têtes, with me trying to bat it into the (right) place. I like everyone -- and I get really confused when they don’t like me. I was so confused by E.L. James. I don’t understand when I can’t navigate a person, when there’s no synergy.”

She added in The Hollywood Reporter that same year: “Two different creative visions. Her vision versus mine, and they were polar opposite. Every scene was fought over. It was tough. It was like wading uphill through sticky tar. Her thing was, ‘This is what the fans expect.’ I’d be like, ‘Well, let’s try and hit those marks but create a new universe at the same time.’”

Sam Taylor-Johnson was awarded an Order of the British Empire honor and her husband attended with her

Then-Prince Charles (now King Charles III) presided over the 2011 ceremony in which Sam Taylor-Johnson received her OBE in honor of her photography and artwork.

According to British Vogue, she wore a blue velvet dress and black jacket and had Aaron Taylor-Johnson by her side (and was pregnant with daughter Romy Hero). 

“It’s such an incredible honor to receive this award — something I would never have dreamt of,” she told the BBC (via Vogue). “It’s very gratifying for an artist to get recognition at this level.”