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Scarlett Fever

Angeleno, February 2005
By Jessica Hundley

WITH AWARD-SEASON BUZZ AND FIVE FILMS ON THE FRONT BURNER, SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS SUDDENLY AT THE TOP OF HOLLYWOOD'S HOT LIST. HERE, THE PLATINUM-HAIRED ACTRESS PLAYS UP HER DARK SIDE.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON IS VAMPING FOR THE CAMERA - LIPS POUTING, CHEST HEAVING, EYES SMOLDERING UNDER THE SOFT FRINGE OF A JET-BLACK WIG. SOMEONE, A PUBLICIST OR A MANAGER, IS ASSEMBLING A TOWERING PLATE OF SALAD FROM THE CATERING TABLE. A STYLIST MOVES IN TO BRUSH OFF AN INVISIBLE PIECE OF LINT FROM JOHANSSON'S RAW SILK BUSTIER WHILE A MAKEUP ARTIST FILLS IN FIRE-ENGINE-RED LIPSTICK. DUKE ELLINGTON PLAYS ON THE STEREO, AND JOHANSSON'S TINY NEW PUPPY, MAGGIE, A CARAMEL-COLORED CHIHUAHUA WITH ONE FLOPPED-OVER EAR, SKITTERS ACROSS THE FLOOR OF THE STUDIO, STOPPING TO STUDY HER MISTRESS WITH A QUIZZICAL LOOK.

It's a scene out of Old Hollywood, full of glamour, decadence and carefully constructed artifice. For the lens, Johansson is mysterious, voluptuous and experienced beyond her 20 years. She throws herself into playing a movie star, enjoying the part to the fullest along with the manager, the stylist, the makeup artist, even the little dog, who all give strong supporting performances to her starring role as Hollywood's current "it" girl.

But later, on a plush couch in a back room, Johansson has cast off the expensive silks and emerged as herself. The real Johansson is young-startlingly so. Her cheeks still carry a trace of baby fat, and her skin glows a pale pink. She's wearing jeans and comfortable walking slippers, a wool blazer and a knit cap that hides the bulk of her long, platinum hair. There is no makeup, no pretense, no games here.

"Maggie, stop biting!" says Johansson suddenly, and there is that voice, the unexpectedly seductive rumble that seems so wonderfully at odds with the full lips and the wide eyes. Its partly this voice that so captivated audiences in last years Lost In Translation, that distinctive wet-earth growl that makes it seem as if Ms. Scarlett knows something we don't - the kind of voice that gives her the nonchalant, slightly amused tone of a woman who has spent her life seeing, and doing, it all.

Johansson had been remarkable before Translation. In 1996's Manny & Lo (for which she took home an Independent Spirit Award at age 12), she played an 1 1-year-old kidnapper. She later appeared as a misfit teen in Ghost World, and last year Johansson haunted us as the luminescent object of desire in Girl With a Pearl Earring. But Translation was the movie that made her a star. Her nuanced portrayal of Charlotte garnered critical acclaim and helped breathe life into what would prove to be an Academy Award-winning screenplay for Sofia Coppola.

"A lot of wonderful things have happened from that film," says Johansson. "I've been working a lot, for one."

"Working a lot" is an understatement. In the next two years, Johansson will appear in five films, including the sci-fi/action film The Island opposite Brit heartthrob Ewan McGregor, Brian DePalma's 1940s-style noir The Black Dablia, the third installment of the Mission Impossible series, and the new, still-untitled Woody Allen film.

"I've had a cool opportunity to have the studios see that I can do action, sci-fi, romance, everything," says Johansson. "It's great to not be typecast; there's nothing like being an actor and having an opportunity to go in different directions and be sexy and be reserved and have every option open to you. I feel very fortunate in that, that the studios and the audience have granted me that position."

Johansson, who divides her time between her hometown of New York and her adopted home of L.A., is now moving into development. Her most recent film (for which she was just nominated for her third Golden Globe), Love Song for Bobby Long, costars John Travolta. It's a project Johansson and her mother have been working on for the last three years.

"We'd been developing that movie for a long time," she explains. "It was wonderful because my mother helped produce it and we always wanted John Travolta as the lead, so, in general, the whole thing was a dream come true." Johansson, who made her screen debut at age 10 in 1994's North, admits she wants to do more of the same; to develop her own projects, to produce and, eventually, to direct.

"But I want to still be an actor for hire," she says. "I don't ever want to stop collaborating with people, or slip into an ensemble cast, or work with an amazing director and not have any part of the development. But I like the other side of it, too."

She pauses and holds up one slender finger. "But all in due time, right?" Until then, Johansson is doing her best to make space for both her work and her life.

"I don't have time to do some of the things I want to do, the silly things around the house, for instance," she says. "But I do try to see my friends as much as I can. They're creative people and are often very busy as well, but we all find time for each other, when we have it. That's part of what being an understanding friend is." Johansson grins mischievously.

"That's not to say that occasionally I won't do something horrible like stay out until 3AM and get up at 7AM the next day," she says. "But everybody has those nights - the party you can't miss or the certain someone who comes into town. You've got to make time for that once in awhile, too."

She's obviously made time for a love life. Romantically, the young actress has been linked to Benicio del Toro and, most recently, to Jared Leto. But for an upcoming trip to India as part of her continuing charity work, she's taking along her sister instead of a beau.

"I can't imagine being there with anyone else," she says firmly. Suddenly, Maggie barks and makes the leap into her mistress's lap, where she settles in for some attention. Johansson coos over her. "She's spoiled, but how can I help it?"

Johansson laughs and curls her legs onto the couch. She looks small sitting there, but not at all vulnerable. Despite an exhausting work schedule, despite friends, family, photo shoots and films, Johansson seems to have retained a firm grip on herself. "I think with all art forms there's the possibility to learn something and hopefully you grow with your art and through your art," she says thoughtfully. "You realize things about yourself and you incorporate that into your work. One of the wonderful things about having the creative freedom is that you spread your wings and your mind through the work you do."


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