Giving a damn about Scarlett

BBC News Online, January 1, 2004
By Neil Smith

US actress Scarlett Johansson is up for two Golden Globes for her work in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring.

To be nominated for one Golden Globe is impressive enough. To be up for two is just plain greedy. What makes it even more galling is that Scarlett Johansson, star of Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, is only 19 years of age.

Age notwithstanding, her poise and grace recall the classic Hollywood leading ladies of yesteryear

Hollywood has fallen under her spell, and with both movies opening within a week of each other in the UK, British audiences are sure to follow suit.

You might think such success would go to a girl's head. But Johansson has an old head on young shoulders.

She is no overnight sensation. She has been acting for a decade, starring opposite Robert Redford in 1998 drama The Horse Whisperer and working with the Coen Brothers on their 2001 film noir The Man Who Wasn't There.

Even by her standards, though, 2003 has been a good year, capped off by that brace of Globe nominations - best actress in a drama for Girl with the Pearl Earring and best actress in a musical or comedy for Lost in Translation.

At first glance, Johansson's roles in the two films - a British drama shot in Luxembourg and an American comedy made in Tokyo - could not be more different.

In Lost in Translation, she plays a neglected young wife in Tokyo who befriends an ageing, disillusioned American actor (Bill Murray).

In the second movie, she plays a humble servant girl in 17th Century Holland who inspires Dutch master Johannes Vermeer to create one of his most famous paintings.

However, both films find her involved in intense, albeit sexless, relationships with older men.

"In Lost in Translation you don't want them to get together, it would be terrible," says Johansson.

"But with Girl with a Pearl Earring you really do - you want them to get together really badly."

Although Johansson had not read the Tracy Chevalier book that inspired the latter film, she was instantly won over when she received the script.

"It's so rare you have such a beautifully crafted script with a young girl carrying the film," she says.

Part of the attraction was to convey the depth of her feeling for Vermeer - played by Love Actually star Colin Firth - with only a small amount of dialogue.

"Actually, I think it made my job a lot easier," she says.

"What could have filled those silences? I can't imagine what kind of awful dialogue could have been written there."

And shooting in period costume, with her hair covered throughout by an unflattering bonnet, was never a problem for the talented teenager.

"It's always fun to do a period film like that if it's executed properly," she says.

"No matter what period you're shooting in, it's always best if it's done authentically - not cheesy or campy."


There were no bonnets in Lost in Translation but, after a meeting with director Sofia Coppola, Johansson knew she wanted to be involved.

"She said it would be with Bill Murray and that it would take place in Tokyo, and this seemed like two very appealing things - Bill Murray and Tokyo."

"The script read so well, like a really great novel. When I finished it I was happy and I was sad and I just knew I could play the part."

Shooting in Japan did have its drawbacks, though, and Johansson admits to feeling just as disoriented as her character in the film.

"We were shooting a week of days, then a week of nights, then a week of days, so I felt very discombobulated," she explains.

"I had just one day off a week, but I couldn't do anything touristy because I was so involved in what we were doing."

"I was also staying at the hotel where we were filming there, so it was very surreal - going downstairs in my pyjamas for rehearsal and so on."

Surreal or not, the future looks bright for Johansson. And even if she does not go home with a Golden Globe on 25 January, she may still find she has the world at her feet.

Lost in Translation opens on 9 January in the UK. Girl with a Pearl Earring opens in the UK on 16 January.