Johansson relished working environment in 'Translation'

North County Times, December 27, 2003
By Dan Bennett

When production began on the film "Lost in Translation," there was barely time for introductions, much less rehearsal.

"It was, 'Hi, I'm Bill,' 'Hi, I'm Scarlett,' and off we went," says co-star Scarlett Johansson of her meeting with co-star Bill Murray. "That's the way it works sometimes."

And works well sometimes, apparently. "Lost in Translation" has become a critically acclaimed must-see in its few weeks in release. The film stars Murray as a washed-up American actor in Tokyo to do a television commercial while battling a midlife crisis, and Johansson as a 22-year-old, newly married fashion photographer's wife, bored and sad.

The two meet while staying in the same hotel and form an unlikely friendship, finding more in common than either could have imagined. The film was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola.

"The script was beautiful," Johansson said. "It read like a good book. I finished it and felt so satisfied, even though it was very bittersweet."

"Lost in Translation" is a quiet film, where characters must reveal much with a few words.

"Sofia gave me space," Johansson said, speaking from her cell phone as she walked Manhattan city streets. "As an actor, you can only hope the director will allow you to feel things out and get a handle. That approach worked because we are all so different. Bill is a very serious comedian, very instinctive. Giovanni Ribisi is more of a method actor, and I'm somewhere in between. It was a very peaceful working environment."

Working on location also helped Johansson establish her character.

"Tokyo is so crazy and amazing," she said. "I had never been there. Everything can be so fast, and also peaceful and mellow. It was also nice staying in the same hotel where we were shooting. I could just go downstairs to work."

The 18-year-old Johansson, a New York City native, first gained attention as the child star of "The Horse Whisperer." Several other movies followed, including "Manny & Lo," "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Ghost World."

"I've been very fortunate in that I've been offered a lot of great stuff," she said. "I think I try to choose projects that I'm guessing would be fun to make. I try to make movies that I would go to see myself. I like teen comedies as much as more serious films. I like Arnold Schwarzenegger movies."

Johansson just finished shooting a film with John Travolta and has a film called "The Girl With the Pearl Earring," about a woman who was a major influence on Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer, coming out later this year. Next year she co-stars in the young-adult comedy "The Perfect Score." She says she looks forward to directing her own projects.

"That's something I would like to do as soon as possible," she said. "Directing could easily become a passion of mine. It's always inspiring to be in a place where you surround yourself with talented people who have similar visions."

If the films she makes can inspire and provoke like "Lost in Translation," she says, all the better.

"It's easy to see why the film has had such a wonderful response," Johansson said. "People see something in these characters when they are re-evaluating their own lives or trying to figure out if there is something missing. For a moment, the characters in this film can change you, help you feel something universal, and that's special."