The Evolution of Scarlett Johansson
by Paul Fischer
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Alluring and breathtaking, Scarlett Johansson sports a stunning diamond engagement ring on her left hand and looks every part the movie star. The New York resident is in town to promote her starring role in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona, in which she plays a flighty New Yorker attracted to Spanish artist Javier Bardem and his ex-wife, played by Penelope Cruz. It’s a far cry from her next film, Frank Miller’s The Spirit, both of which she discussed with Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: Woody Allen does create these really extraordinary female characters which you’ve played several now. What do you think sets your character in this movie apart from the predecessors?
Scarlett Johansson: Well, I mean, they’re all such different characters, I don’t know it’s a difficult question to answer because I mean everything about her I think other than her blonde hair you know, I’d be hard to find some comparison between her and the character I played in Scoop, you know, I mean it’s such a ridiculous [laughs] character that I played in that film, but I think that it, you know, part of, you know, the best thing about working with Woody other than just getting to spend every day you know, chatting with him and bothering him and poking him and stuff like that. [laughs]
PF: Poking him?
SJ: Sure why not? Got to make sure he’s still like awake. [laughs] But he you know, is, that he writes such fantastic female roles, and reading the script, the most exciting part about reading the script is getting to see you know, what are we all, you know, meaning you know, Penelope or I or whatever other women are in the part in the film, you know, what are we going to be doing next and he has such an appreciation and understanding for the intricacies of the female mind, you know in, I mean such an appreciation, I think he would say that we’re a superior species or something, you know, he really, he loves women the way we think, and it’s always some inspired character.
PF: Do you identify with her?
SJ: I think that I can identify with certain aspects of her philosophy, you know, her sort of Seize The Day attitude and her willingness to let life kind of happen in front of her, and just you know, take a chance and you know, live, live, live, that kind of attitude, I think that’s, I do, I can certainly appreciate that part of her philosophy but you know, we’re different, we have our differences as well.
PF: Do you believe like your character in this movie, that only unfulfilled love is romantic?
SJ: I think the line is ‘Only unfulfilled love can be romantic.’ No, of course, I’ve never strived for something that wasn’t available or full. I think everybody wants to be full of love or full of someone else, being filled with love for them. I think the idea that only romance would come from something that was either unrequited or unavailable is sad. Also, I think the most romantic love is seeing people who have been together for so long or have known each other for so long, like two best friends or a husband and wife who’ve known each other for 40 or 50 years and are still so excited to see that person come home. That might be rare, but that’s the most romantic kind of love, I think.
PF: How much ad-libbing did you do on this, it seems like there was a lot of ad-libbing going on, according to Rebecca and Chris.
SJ: You know, it’s hard to remember, I usually stick to the script but I think probably for Chris and Rebecca, it’s you know, it’s so unusual to work with a writer-director that isn’t completely precious, married to their dialogue, that I remember Rebecca just being like, so Woody would say, I don’t know, just you know, make it your own or whatever and I remember Rebecca just being like, what do you mean, make it our own? [laughs] You know, does he mean that, and every single actor that worked on this, like before our first day, came up to me and they said, how married to the dialogue is he, [laughs] I mean, is he precious about it, and especially you know, Penelope and Javier, I think they were a little worried about it, because it’s so nuanced and I said, no, you’ll see, you know, I felt like the old shoe you know, but it’s you know, he really, of course you keep the idea and it’s not, his writing’s so brilliant, there’s not much that you want to, you know, you want to keep it.
PF: But Woody had even said that he didn’t even know what Javier and Penelope were saying, until it was translated way back when he was like making the movie. So in those scenes where they’re having those arguments, and your character’s there, we’re supposed to really not know what they’re saying, did they ever tell you what they were saying?
SJ: Not really, no, I mean I didn’t really want to know [laughs], I could understand a couple of the words they were saying and I was like, oooo, that sounds bad [laughs] but you know, it was not really that important, I think certainly my character was kind of in a similar situation as I was, which is like, kind of pick up a couple words, but it’s just like, what, you know, that’s part of her, I think part of the problem is she just feels like out of the, she always feels a little bit out of the loop, it’s like one minute she’s really coddled, and then she’s kind of forgotten about, and she can’t figure out how to balance it all I think, it doesn’t feel like harmonious to her, and I think in the end that’s kind of what makes her love the summer, I love you both, and it’s, I don’t know, it doesn’t feel right, like it’s not working for me, you know?
PF: I’m intrigued by your relationship with Woody Allen in the sense of coming in and sort of rescuing him on Match Point, because you know, somebody else dropped out, Kate Winslet. And ever since then, people like us have referred to your relationship, you’re his new muse. Are you comfortable with that idea and how do you perceive your relationship with him that seems to inspire him in a series of films?
SJ: Every single junket that we’ve done so far, we always get the muse thing and when we always say no, it’s not that way, it’s not that way, and I don’t think it is that way, I think I’m fortunate enough to fit in to the young girl part of the story, the young woman you know, just the same as Judy Davis would fit in to a certain part or Dianne Wiest would fit into a certain part, I think, you know, Woody as well as I, you know both of us appreciate how wonderful it is to work with your friends, and it’s fun and we always have a great time when we do it, we entertain each other, and we understand each other and we poke each other [laughs]
PF: So it’s more that now you’re part of his rep company is that how you perceive it?
SJ: I think that might be more accurate, yeah. I think that’s more accurate, I don’t think that Woody sits at home you know, with like a thing of Lo Mein, and a typewriter thinking like what is Scarlett doing now [laughs] and how can I you know, how can her life sort of inspire this tale and I know certainly not.
PF: But he said at the press conference that he felt you were an actor cause you could do anything, I mean he was very, very high on your acting, are you surprised that he has begun to perceive you in that way and that you’ve seemed to have grown and evolved ever since you started working with him?
SJ: I mean after the monthly payments, I’m not surprised that he would say that, I’m just you know, [laughs] write him a check and no I am, you know what, of course I’m always, I’m surprised, I’m always surprised how you know, a lot fortunate I’ve been, I can never quite understand what’s happening (laughs) and I always just feel lucky to be employed and so for me it’s such a high compliment for him to see me in any role or that he can imagine me doing anything, I mean as an actor, that’s the best compliment. You know, that you don’t get pigeonholed into some type and you can you know, sort of seamlessly be, sort of manipulate yourself into these different roles and different time periods and different characters and that’s what you hope that the audience, that’s how you hope they feel as well, it doesn’t always work out that way but it’s certainly nice for somebody like Woody, who I’ve always admired and always aspired to work with, you know, to finally have worked with him now three times and it’s really been a dream come true for me and as an actor there’s no higher compliment certainly.
PF: Can you talk about how it was working with such a steamy scene with Penelope and Javier? [laughs]
SJ: Well you know, it’s funny because people are so conservative I mean it’s amazing, they really are and I think that it’s such a, when you see the film it’s so, I don’t know, these characters fall in love and that’s what, you know, people that fall in love are intimate, and also when you’re shooting there’s like 60 grown men eating salami sandwiches, kind of waiting for when they can get ready. and you know, get up and watch the game or whatever and you just think god are we rolling, because there’s like trays of food being passed, oh we are rolling, okay [laughs] you know, nobody cares when you’re doing it, of course, it’s like your day at work and this is part of the story and then of course you know people get wind and they get excited because they associate like two women who wear you know, gowns at an award show and like gosh, the possibilities, you know? [laughs] But you know, it’s ridiculous, of course I go home at the end of the day and I prepare for the next day, it’s not like I sat at home…
PF: Woody made a big joke about that yesterday at the press conference and said that he would just allow you guys, you and Javier, you know, we’ll just kiss and kiss and kiss and then, when it was done, that would be the end of it, and…
SJ: Of course, that’s how it always is, but you guys know that, I mean…
PF: But it is very erotic, on the screen…
SJ: Which is great…
PF: It’s more erotic than most Woody Allen lovemaking scenes.
PF: And it’s still PG-13 so he’s pulled off something really intricate without showing anything, he suggested everything.
SJ: I think there’s a lot of chemistry between the characters and all of us as actors and that’s where the steaminess comes from, because it’s not really explicit, I mean people kissing, and you even said by the rating, I mean nothing is like crazy about it, but it, you know because there’s such a chemistry between the characters and you’re really invested in them and it’s such a turn it’s like whoa, wait a minute, like I thought that this wasn’t going to work out but it’s seemingly, and even my character’s kind of surprised by it herself, it’s sort of, you know…
PF: The press reports at the beginning were saying that all the stuff about the threesome and it is going to be Woody Allen’s hottest movie, and all of that, and now as you see it, it’s obviously a lot tamer than press reports, did you read any of that stuff, did you find it amusing when you were reading about it?
SJ: I don’t know, I mean, when you’re working you’re so isolated that I never even opened the newspaper, you know, you’re so tired, you come home you’re exhausted, I never like research what the world thinks about the film but it’s funny because it’s not like it’s, I mean it’s Woody, the idea of like Woody Allen’s steamiest film is so ridiculous to me [laughs] it’s not like it’s Bertolucci or something, I mean it’s, you know it’s like, I don’t know, he’s so conservative with that kind of thing, he’s always, it is sweet, and I think he’s quite respectful of the relationship.
PF: Doing that three way scene, did being comfortable with each other help that situation out?
SJ: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s funny that people are so conservative that it’s ridiculous. It’s so not a big deal in the film. These characters are in love with each other and so it’s not like I had to sit there biting my nails down to the bone to try and think of how I was going to deal with this.
PF: But it’s our society, that kissing a woman is a big deal now. maybe in Europe that’s not a big deal.
SJ: I love that we always use that. “In Europe…” It’s so crazy. You’d think it was like colonial times. It’s funny. I don’t understand it myself. Someone said to me earlier that this was sold as Woody Allen’s steamiest film. I was like, “Wait a minute. Woody Allen’s steamiest film?” I mean, those words together are so ridiculous. You’d think it was like Bertolucci or something. From all the press that we got out of this one kiss or whatever you’d think that it was some crazy X rated movie. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know.
PF: Your character in this movie, sometimes got lost and doesn’t know what she wants. Do you in your life ever feel you don’t know what you want and you got lost?
SJ: Sure, I mean, I’m only human, you know, people are you know, I think everyone has times when they struggle with where to go now from here, and you know, I’ve been fortunate enough always to know what I wanted to do, you know, what I was passionate about and I never had to struggle with that, but you know, in the world of that even in itself there’s all kinds of you know, questions you have where I go from here and of course personal times when I felt that way, you know?
PF: Can you talk about Frank Miller, working with Frank Miller on The Spirit?
SJ: Sure. What about it? [laughs]
PF: How much can you divulge? What was it like working with Frank and also dealing with all of the green screens that you obviously had to do on that?
SJ: Frank, I loved working with Frank, he’s wonderful, he’s such a visionary, and so, he’s just fantastic, he would come on set you know, and almost lead the whole crew into some kind of you know, like this presentation of, like he would draw the storyboard and kind of lead us, I mean he sees it, he can see how he wants it to, I mean he’s a visionary, he really is, and it was exciting, I mean it’s very exciting to do that, cause everybody disperses, we all know what we’re going to do, and he’s so excited about the characters, you know, that’s obviously, that’s his thing, right? He like creates these fantastic characters and their, you know, some of them are like so rotten, they’re just so rotten you know, and none of his characters are like so gray you know, it’s like none of us are heroes, they’re all kind of gray, you know? And I love that.
PF: Are you rotten in that?
SJ: You’re just going to have to see. [laughs] You’re just going to have to see, but it was such a wonderful time and you know, actually working with the green screen was really interesting because we’re shooting these huge I don’t know what, they must have been like an airplane hangar or something, and converted with all this green screen but then Sam and I, our sets were really like, we had a lot of props and we had like our whole set right here so it was almost like a theater in a way, and the camera would be like way back there or like overhead or some crazy angle, and so the performances I think are really theatrical, which is great because it’s, obviously the film is a fantasy, you know, film and even when we were doing you know, some of the post production like sound, when he was doing some of the sound editing, it was like, we’re so loud, because we’re in this huge room, we have to fill this huge room and of course Sam is so loud and the two of us were just like (laughs) so enthusiastic about the whole thing that Frank was like, I actually had to bring the volume of the performance down [laughs] a little bit and make it like a little bit more intimate, it was a lot of fun, we had a really good time on it.
SJ: Not intentionally. I also did other things during that time. I released an album. I directed a short film. Why are you laughing at me?
PF: I’m talking about how you’ve slowed down.
SJ: [laughs] I’m productive, I think, in other aspects of my life, my career maybe. I don’t know. I think that I want to work not just to work. I want to feel like there’s a purpose behind it. It’s hard to find good roles for young women. They don’t come along that often. It’s a kind of weird age group. I’m twenty three and it’s like I’m a young woman, quite a young woman, but I’m at a certain kind of transient phase in my life and things are changing for me. Obviously, I’m growing up. I think it’s a hard time. There are only so many parts available for that. Like I said too, I’ve been focusing on other things that I’ve been excited about.
PF: But that’s a lot of work, an album and directing.
SJ: Well, it’s not like I’m a trauma surgeon or something like that. There are more stressful jobs, obviously. I’m working on things that I love. I’m like any artist. I’m productive and this is what I do. This is what I do for a hobby. It’s what I do for a living. It’s what I do. I have my private and personal life and the time that I take to relax and spend time with my family and then there’s my job that I do, just as anyone would, just as a college professor would be working ten months out of the year or whatever. I’m working sporadically for that same period of time.
PF: Parade Magazine named you as a person who most consistently sets a good example.
SJ: Oh, that’s nice.
PF: Does that surprise you?
SJ: I don’t know. It’s funny. It’s a funny thing to say. Any time someone makes a huge generalization about you you’re just like, “Okay. I guess so.” But I certainly work with certain non-governmental organizations that I work hard for and I try to use whatever interest that people might have in me to shine the spotlight on these certain causes that I’ve researched and believe in and seen firsthand work. I try to focus on those things that I’m passionate about. I’m hard to distract. It’s probably a good quality and a bad quality, but when I’m focused I’m focused on something.
PF: What’s your main cause right now?
SJ: Well, there are a couple of them. It’s hard to say a main cause, like picking a child, but certainly I continue to work with OXFAM as an ambassador for them. I’m doing a trip with The Red Campaign coming up in September. I work with USA Harvest. I’m always trying to raise money for them. They’re a wonderful organization. Obviously, not that it’s a charity, but the Obama campaign I’m a surrogate of. So there are several different causes.
PF: Are you going to be at the convention?
SJ: No. No purpose to it, and it’d be boring.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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