The face of 2004: Scarlett Johansson

Evening Times, January 6, 2004

Scarlett Johansson is making an early claim for the title of movie face of 2004.

I suspect the 19-year-old New Yorker will be to the new year what Orlando Bloom was to the old, almost ubiquitous.

Certainly, she is making a strong claim with two remarkable performances in the first month of the year.

She stars in Lost In Translation, released next week, for which she has already won a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival and could be Oscar nominated.

Then, the following week, she can be seen in Girl With A Pearl Earring, a haunting romance based on a best-selling novel that is being seen as a Bafta front-runner.

If the attention she is getting is causing her any problems she does not appear to show it. Indeed, in the middle of a spell where she finds herself on the cover of style, film and fashion magazines, the blonde seems to be enjoying every minute.

"Sexy young men throw themselves at me," she says with a husky laugh. "I'm 19 now, so it seems appropriate timing now I am becoming a young woman, and am finally comfortable with my sexuality and that sort of thing.

"It means I can borrow lots of nice designer dresses, and there are a lot of perks with that."

One of those perks is being constantly in demand on just about every casting director's list.

Sofia Coppola, who directed her in Lost in Translation opposite Bill Murray, wrote the part with her in mind. Coppola says she would not have made the film without Murray, but I suspect she feels the same about Johansson.

In the film she and Murray are two Americans displaced in Tokyo. He is a movie star visiting the city to shoot a whisky commercial, while she is the wife of a fashion photographer who is away on assignment.

Stranded in the same hotel, they form a powerful but chaste attachment to each other.

The double whammy of Lost In Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring is a vivid example of Scarlett's versatility.

She has been acting in movies since she was nine. Her screen credits include North, Home Alone 3, Just Cause - where she was Sean Connery's daughter - and The Horse Whisperer.

In that Robert Redford movie she was billed as "Introducing Scarlett Johansson" even though it was her sixth film.

Something of a veteran, her performances in her two latest films should establish her as a mature performer.

In Girl With A Pearl Earring, based on a best-selling novel, she plays a Dutch servant who captures the heart of painter Johannes Vermeer, played by Colin Firth. She becomes his muse and inspires one of his greatest paintings.

For Scarlett, it is another platonic relationship with her leading man.

"Their relationship becomes tender through their mutual involvement in his paintings," she says. "With Vermeer she tastes a kind of passion beyond her comprehension, and casts a shadow on her former life."

Tracy Chevalier's best-seller, on which the film is based, tugged at the heartstrings of women all over the world. Scarlett says she hopes the film will have the same effect.

"The raw emotion of a girl who is on love and not able to express it is universal," she says, "because very often you can't have what you love."

o Lost in Translation opens in Glasgow on January 9 and Girl With a Pearl Earring on January 16.