Scarlett's Web

GQ, January 2004
By Jason Gay

Nineteen-year-old Scarlett Johansson, who slays men twice her age on-screen and off, is not as precocious as you think

Scarlett Johansson is so good in Lost in Translation, you almost forget it starts with her bum. A close-up, actually, of the teenager's behind, clearly visible through sheer pink underpants. Playing a young woman adrift in a frail marriage, Johansson is so dazzlingly assured that she easily keeps pace with her nearly thrice-her-age costar, Bill Murray, and establishes herself as an ingenue nonpareil. It may be the best performance ever from a teenage actress who begins a movie in her underwear.

It's work like this that leads one to assume the real-life Johansson is equally precocious. When I meet her, however, she's more interested in showing off her brand-new toy pet.

"You have to see what I got!" Johansson says, beckoning me into her hotel room conspiratorially a moment after we've met. She's wearing a shimmery black dress with thin silver straps. In her hand is one of those little Neopet video games featuring a creature that mewls hungrily until its owner "feeds" it.

"What is it, baby?" Johansson coos at the tiny screen. "What is that?"

I'm relieved to see there is still some kid left in her. Sometimes it's hard to believe Johansson's only 19, born after Murray made Ghostbusters. Partly it's her genes: those full lips, the emerald eyes and that smoky Bacall-issue voice. In person, the combined effects are even stronger-the eyes sharper, the voice deliciously scruffy and alluring. Johansson's hair is short and platinum blond these days. Earlier this year, having trimmed her locks for a role, she pulled off what may have been the world's first sexy mullet.

But that's Scarlett - a Manhattan girl born and raised who exudes that underage acuity only girls raised in Manhattan possess. Asked if she enjoyed her prom, Johansson replies drily: "is any prom really fantastic?" She's equally blasé about how she did on her SATS. "I didn't give a shit, really, but I did well," she says. "You know, common knowledge. I didn't do very well on the math - I was like, How the hell do you multiply fractions again?"

Now she's the It muse for midlife leading men. When she was 12, Robert Redford plucked her to costar in the syrupy The Horse Whisperer, in a part she describes as "the role of the century for that age - like being in Paper Moon or something." Later Johansson cozied up to a quiet Billy Bob Thornton in the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There before moving on to Murray's numb Bob Harris in Lost. (She was also in Ghost World, a movie that didn't provide her an older-man foil but did endear her to lonely video-store clerks for all time.) Currently she's in Girl with a Pearl Earring, in which she's an inspiration for Jan Vermeer, played by the 43-year-old Colin Firth. Later this year, she appears opposite - here we go again - John Travolta in A Love Songfor Bobby Long. Johansson's is a résumé that would make Nabokov blush.

"I go out and I pick 'em like that," Johansson jokes, placing the Neopet aside and unfolding her legs on the couch. Truth be told, she says, the confluence of May-December roles is "coincidence," though it's "quite something to be able to work with such talented older actors. Grown rnen." Still, she's doubtful she could date an older man in real life.

"I don't know," she says. "I think you can't stop attraction between people no matter what their ages are. And certainly there are attractive older men. I'm very open-minded, but even with young guys and older women, you wonder - with twenty years' age difference, you're at different stages in your life. Even if you both like to listen to Led Zeppelin. Or the Velvet Underground. Or in Bill [Murray]'s case, the Rascals or whatever they're called." Johansson concedes that her past boyfriends have tended to be "a few years older" than she is (keep it in your pants, Larry King; she said a few years).

And yet just when you wonder if she's too sophisticated for her own good, Johansson reverts to girlhood - starring this month in a high school caper called The Perfect Score. She even thinks PlayStation 2 makes for a good date-albeit a second date, "because it can get sort of rough and flirty."

Fair enough. Last question: What, exactly, did Bill Murray whisper in her ear at the end of Lost in Translation?

"Luke, I am your father?" I suggest.

"Something like that, actually," she says, and laughs. Sometimes Scarlett Johansson is content just to act her age.