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Scarlett Fever

Empire UK, February 2005
By Olly Richards

New Queens of Hollywood - Scarlett Johansson

With six films set for release by the end of the year, it seems starlet Johansson has got temperatures rising m Tinseltown...

She's a delightful mess of contradictions, is Scarlett Johansson. Hollywood's current 'it girl' has the polished appearance and dignity of a 1950s starlet, all tumbling platinum waves, plump pout and expensive wardrobe. Yet her delicate appearance is in stark contrast to her rasping voice, which is as gravel dry as that of a veteran sex line operator. And while she's only just crept into her 20s, she has the 'seen it all before' ease of a seasoned pro - which in a sense she is, having made her acting debut at the age of ten (in the execrable North; she's made amends since).

That sense of perverse diversity spills liberally onto Johansson's film CV. Despite her youth, she has the chameleon-like gifts of Meryl Streep, able to mould her exaggerated features into plain anonymity or distracting beauty as the part demands, a trick which saw her recognised in 2004's award season for both her turn as a wan servant girl in the arty Girl With A Pearl Earring and as a heartbreaking ingénue in the instant classic Lost In Translation. Ever since, directors as disparate as Woody Allen and Michael Bay have been lining her up for roles in their next projects.

"People just don't typecast me," she says, as brightly as her louche vocal chords will allow. "I've played so many different roles, from a high school student, to a wife, to a 17th century Dutch maid, to trailer trash. For a while, I thought I might get typecast as the bitter, shitty teenager who's always sarcastic, but luckily that was a fear that was never a reality."

Fear is not an emotion that emanates from Johansson - nor, thankfully, is bitterness or, indeed, 'shittiness' - although there is the occasional hint of sarcasm. She is utterly determined in everything she does, whether it be acting the pants off anyone fortunate enough to share the screen with her, or famously attempting to seduce the pants off Benicio Del Toro (she succeeded, naturally). And getting men out of their pants appears to carry over into her professional life, too, at least in the case of her latest movie, In Good Company, in which she plays the daughter of Dennis Quaid and love interest of his youthful boss (Topher Grace). One scene called for countless takes of Quaid wearing no more than skimpy boxers, which, to Johansson's surprise, he was reluctant to keep on. "He kept mooning," she remembers, laughing throatily. "I was completely mortified and grossed out, but I have got to find his personal trainer."

With six films scheduled for release between now and the end of 2005, and Mission: Impossible 3 already set for 2006, Johansson will be as ubiquitous this year as Jude Law was in 2004. Aside from the "top secret" Woody Allen London project, which she inherited from Kate Winslet when the latter decided to spend more time with her family, and Michael Bay's big, noisy, paranoid blockbuster The Island, alongside Ewan McGregor, Steve Buscemi and Djimon Hounsou, she'll also take the lead in the James Ellroy adaptation The Black Dahlia for Brian De Palma. Before all that is the moody ensemble piece A Love Song For Bobby Long, which recently brought her a Golden Globe nomination despite mixed reviews. The surprise nod is, in fact, a good indicator of her A-list status, the Golden Globe-nominating foreign press being notorious celebrity celebratists. Even children will soon know her name, as she voices a mermaid in the upcoming The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (ask your nephew or a marijuan-fuelled student). With a crowded film slate, a high-profile Calvin Klein campaign and media-friendly eagerness to discuss any subject, she's on the verge of becoming as much an all-encompassing brand as J.Lo, minus the mediocrity.

"I don't know that I'll ever get accustomed to it," she says of her soaring level of fame. "It's a wonderful thing on the one hand because the audience grants you the opportunity to get small films made. That's the best part. But there's the strange part about what being a celebrity means. You give up a certain part of your private life and people speculate and make things up about you. They build you up and bring you down - all that stuff. That can be a little disconcerting."

Maybe it's a reaction to the intrusion of celebrity, but Johansson remains, for all her independence, very much a home-loving girl. She talks animatedly of her building-contractor father, who can apparently "dismantle a toilet in seconds", which presumably has its uses, and is all but fused at the hip to her mother, Melanie. Though, as might be expected, her mother is not a traditional homemaker, rather her daughter's manager and producer of A Love Song For Bobby Long (the indie yin to In Good Company's mainstream yang), not to mention shaper of the Johansson good judgment.

"My mom's seen, like, every film ever made. She's the biggest film buff ever, so a lot of my enthusiasm comes from her. She has really classy taste." She laughs a little and narrows her eyes. "We've got a lot of ideas. I think we could really take this town by storm, the two of us." On current form, it would be foolish not to believe her.

Heir to the throne of: Cate Blanchett
Jewel in her crown: Lost In Translation (2004)
Royal mint: The Horse Whisperer (1998) $187 million
All the queen's men: Jared Leto, Benicio Del Toro
Dignitary without dignity: That whole Benicio Del Toro/hotel lift thing.

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