New Ingénue - Scarlett Johansson

Entertainment Weekly, November, 2003
By Troy Patterson, with additional reporting by Karen Valby

Though Scarlett Johansson is 18, she is not to be mistaken for a "teen actress", a veteran of slasher flicks and little-league sex farces like so many of her contemporaries. "I luckily never got pushed into that genre," she says. Lucky for us, too.

Instead, this year she's transforming herself from promising young actress to merging star with a pair of entrancing performances in thoroughly grown-up fare. In the widely adored Lost in Translation, Johansson deploys her ripe pout and smoky voice as Charlotte, a lonely newlywed drifting through a quarter-life crisis in Tokyo, buoyed only by the friendship of Bob Harris, a fading American movie star played by Bill Murray. In Girl with a Pearl Earring, the adaptation to Tracy Chevalier's best-selling novel due in theaters Dec. 12, she is Griet, the maid--and muse and model--of 17th-century painter Vermeer.

It's tempting to place the two roles in the same box. "There are obvious things you could pull out," says Johansson. "'Older men realizing their potential through these young women.'" But as far as she's concerned, the resemblance ends there: "Charlotte needs Bob to help her through everything. She just can't do it alone. She's a mess, you know. Griet, she's a survivor. I don't think Charlotte has that instinct in her."

Her attention to such nuances should only be expected. Colin Firth, her Earring costar, marvels at Johansson's subtlety in a key scene where a shaken Griet, survivor that she is, struggles to pull herself together. Lesser actresses, he thinks, would use the tears as "a kind of award-grabbing moment.... Scarlett had the complexity to have that emotion--have it really there--and to also have the judgement and the restraint and the dignity to see that what this girl is about having to deal with it."

Don't mistake Johansson for an overnight sensation. She's been in showbiz since she started going out for commercials at age 7. North, Rob Reiner's forgotten 1994 comedy, is notable for marking her film debut. Four years later, in The Horse Whisperer, she played a girl maimed in a riding accident, turning in a breakout performance and experiencing an artistic coming-of-age: "I was beginning to figure out how to manipulate my emotions without it personally affecting me. Bob"--director Robert Redford--" never forced anything on me, so that I was able to see how far I could push myself."

And then she lay relatively low. "I was in regular high school, so when I wasn't working, I was writing a history paper. I could afford to wait for the right thing to come along." She was free to be offbeat--sneering wickedly in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, playing a chipper Lolita in the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There.

And now, having set out on her own terms, she's literally arrived in Hollywood. "I just bought an apartment [in L.A.]," she says. "But I don't have any furniture." In other words, don't expect to see her in a teen movie--but look for her at IKEA.

typed and sent to my by thevoid99