MAKING THE COMPETITION SEE RED

Interview Magazine, Author: Scott Lyle Cohen, Issue: July, 2001

Scarlett Johansson first caught moviegoer's attention as the street-smart Manny in 1996's independent treat Manny & La. From there it was on to bigger, if not greener, pastures, playing Kristin Scott Thomas' daughter in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer (1998), where it was Johansson's presence that kept the film from the Hollywood glue factory. Her adolescent years brought a handful of adolescent films: Home Alone 3 (1997) and My Brother the Pig (1999), among others. Now 16, Johansson boasts two high-profile projects in the coming months. The fall brings the Coen brother's The Man Who Wasn't There--a small role that's earning the actress big buzz--but first, a deft co-starring turn in next month's Ghost World, a cultish coming-of-age story directed by Terry Zwigoff, based on a comic book serial by Daniel Clowes.

In Ghost World, Johansson and Thora Birch play best friends on the cusp of adulthood. New high-school graduates unleashed upon a Los Angeles full of promise, the world is their oyster. But when their friendship begins to unravel and their problems magnify, their oyster suddenly seems more like a barnacle. The film is an edgy script-driven drama in which Johansson, Birch and a supporting Steve Buscemi all shine, providing audiences with an island of intelligence in the summer's expansive sea of dinosaurs, aliens and dive-bombers.

SCOTT LYLE COHEN: You live and go to school in New York when you're not working, don't you?

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Yup. NYC-born and raised. I was born on the day JFK was shot, actually--well, the same day, but many years later.

SLC: November 22.

SJ: Exactly! My U.S. history teacher would dig you! You know, this year my birthday falls on Thanksgiving. How cool is that? You get a big turkey, a big cake and lots of presents. The only problem is you get really tired. [laughs]

SLC: The tryptophan will get you every time.

SJ: It kinda has a misleading name, tryptophan--it sounds like it'd have much more exciting effects than just making you pass out.

SLC: [laughs] Ghost World is a pretty eclectic film. It's not your ordinary teen story.

SJ: No. It's definitely a different kind of story. It's very raw--and rare--in the sense that there's no bullshit in the film. And the ending... it's so personal. Everyone has their own interpretation of how things turn out. It leaves you hanging there.

SLC: Well, we'll let more foolish people give too much away and spoil its power for audiences. Any similarities between you and your character, Rebecca?

SJ: Believe it or not, I can be just a little sarcastic at times. [laughs] But seriously, I don't really have that much in common with her. All she wants in life is a safe, comfortable routine. I'm a little bit more unpredictable.

SLC: The film brings up some pretty important issues. The alienation of youth culture is the movie's major theme, but that's nothing new. What really struck me was the film's commentary on the lack of respect between generations.

SJ: Oh, yeah. There's a lot in the movie about the lack of respect teenagers have for older people.

SLC: Do you think that's a problem we're facing today in real life?

SJ: Definitely. With people my age, there's not much respect for elders. But I'd like to think I'm not like that. It's so interesting to listen to what older people have to say. Your grandparents, your parents, it really affects the way you look at things.

I'm writing this short paper about the '60s for my U.S. history class. So I go in with this whole opinion about the counterculture of the '60s, right, how I felt that so many people were just following along with whatever was cool at the time, going along with the fads. And then I read the paper to my mother and she had so much to say about how exciting it was to wake up in the morning and be a part of what was going on. There were all these ideas that I hadn't thought of. I was being so critical of the period that I didn't even consider them. What my mom said was so interesting; it added a whole extra page to my paper.

SLC: I spoke with your mom this afternoon, and she called you "an old soul." And I came across an interview with Robert Redford, which was done just as The Horse Whisperer was coming out, where he said that you were 13 going on 30.

SJ: I've heard that before.

SLC: I'm sure you have. To tell you the truth, I get the same feeling about you. And it's not because your voice sounds like you've been chain-smoking for 20 years, but you really do seem to have an uncommon maturity

SJ: [laughs] Look, I'm the kind of person that doesn't put up with bullshit. Does that make me uncommonly mature? I don't know. I think you mature with experiences, and how other people view you and your maturity really depends upon when you have those experiences. If you have them at the age of 13, you're gonna seem really mature, and if they happen when you're 75, you're gonna seem immature. I think I was born with a great awareness of my surroundings and an awareness of other people. I know when I really connect with somebody and I know when I feel like I've known Somebody before. And I absolutely know what it feels like to meet an old soul, to know an old soul. So for my mom and Bob Redford, two people I really respect, to say that about me, well, that's a huge compliment.

SLC: To have the respect of those you respect? I'd say it's the ultimate compliment.

SJ: It is. But I can't take too much credit for it, really. It comes down to my sense of--about--people. Sometimes that awareness is good, and sometimes I wish I wasn't so sensitive.

SLC: It can be a curse and a blessing.

SJ: Absolutely. I'm so happy I'm not walking around life with a cloud over my head, not really knowing which way to look or which way to turn. But then, on the other hand, sometimes you don't wanna see what's behind people's doors.

SLC: So are you an old soul?

SJ: Oh, I don't think so. But I haven't really plunged into the depths of that just yet. Maybe years from now, when I'm having my midlife crisis and need to find myself, I'll search deep down inside and find that old soul of mine and dust it off. But for now I'm enjoying getting to know all about my young soul.

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