Movieline, February 2004
By Stephen Rebello
The arresting soulfulness and singular beauty of Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring (she earned Golden Globe nominations for both) have transformed her into one of Hollywood's most sought-after talents. with a soaring movie career, a brand-new car, house and 'do and even a potential new boyfriend, the outspoken 19-year-old reflects on her breakout year's projects and what's still to come.
Who could blame Scarlett Johansson if she decided to suddenly belt out the old American Songbook standard that goes, "I've got the world on a string/Sitting on a rainbow/Got the string around my finger"? That's exactly what she does this early weekend morning, looking sensationally young, pretty, petite and smartly groomed as she settles into the prime table of the dining room at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel and orders a breakfast fit for a ravenous halfback. Johansson and I have met before, several months ago and knowing we're both music fanatics, she immediately asks what I listened to on the drive over (Andrew Bird's "Bowl of Fire, " if you care), then tells me, "I listened to a `Las Vegas Legends' CD, which is really great because it has Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland. So, I was driving here singing with Sinatra, `I've Got the World on a String,' which was fabulous. I mean I'm in my new car, which I love, heading for an interview, a photo shoot - it couldn't have been more perfect." Right she is.
After all, Johansson, who since her 1994 movie debut in North right up through the irrepressible Ghost World in 2001 and last year's double whammy of Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, has been earning attention for her distinctive acting, solemn beauty and husky voice. She has become a very hot commodity. In the upcoming months, she will be seen in The Perfect Score, a comedy about seven high school students trying to break into the Princeton Testing Center, and after that, A Love Song for Bobby Long, in which she costars with John Travolta and plays a feisty young woman returning to New Orleans to attend her estranged mother's funeral. Not long after comes A Good Woman, inspired by Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, in which she trades zingy bon mots with such Oscar types as Helen Hunt and Tom Wilkinson. Right now, she's about to begin shooting the comedic drama Synergy with Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace, for American Pie's Paul and Chris Weitz. And then...well, you get the idea. The beauty of it is that Johansson, unlike so many other Hollywood girls in her age bracket (just 19), has vaulted to her lofty new status without the frantic press push-and-shove. It couldn't happen to a smarter, funnier, more talented and sexy girl.
STEPHEN REBELLO: You're looking much blonder than the last time we saw each other.
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: Do you like it? Thank you. I'm a dirty blonde anyway, but for the film I worked on this past summer, I was a bottle blonde - very yellow - then I decided to go blonder for the movie I'm doing in Italy with Helen Hunt, A Good Woman. So now I'm a true blonde, and I wanted it tinted like my dad's color. I said, "Dad, I need a little clipping of your hair," but at first he wouldn't let me take it, like he was afraid I'd cut a chunk out or something. I thought I might have to cut it while he was sleeping, which is what I do when I perform voodoo spells. [Laughs]. My dad finally gave in but he would hardly let me take any and he's got plenty of hair.
Q: Besides blonder, you're also even more famous than the last time we chatted, and that was just after Lost in Translation had opened and began making such a noise.
A: Lost in Translation totally changed everything. I've been making movies for more than half my life, and it's "happened" for me in funny increments - first with Manny & Lo, then with The Horse Whisperer, then Ghost World. To do a movie that had such an incredible sort of sensational release is enabling me to get more great movies made - things I've been trying to get made for a while that, hopefully, are going to be great movies people will enjoy. I don't plan on selling out. I mean, it's nice to get a dinner reservation ahead of other people, but when it comes down to it, the most important thing to me is the actual work.
Q: How are you adjusting to being more recognizable to fans?
A: I don't think about those things. It doesn't really register with me. I just feel the same as I've always felt. I'm very lowkey. I still eat a burger at a counter with ketchup dripping down my face.
Q: How are you handling all this rewed-up awards attention for both Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring?
A: I've done a lot of pre-Oscar stuff, which is draining but it's for a good cause - so my publicist says. [Laughs] When it comes to the awards and that kind of talk, I try to keep my distance from that whole thing, too. Otherwise, you could be sitting there at 5 a.m. when they announce the nominations going, "Oh, why wasn't I nominated?" In my mind, the chances of being nominated at all seemed very unusual. But it's just nice that people think that a performance is worthy of some recognition, especially when it's not just a marketing tool. Neither of these are big movies where you might expect it. We thought people might go and see Lost in Translation, but when we made it, it was just a small, crazy, weird experience. Who knew? Girl with a Pearl Earring had more of a built-in audience of people who liked the book or appreciate Vermeer or like period movies or who watch The View. [Laughs] I wanted Girl with a Pearl Earring to do really well because I really think it's good. Everybody worked so hard on it. We just feel it deserves to be seen.
Q: I've gotten a lot of mirth out of Oscar acceptance speeches, especially in the past few years. Are you with me on this?
A: They can be so goofy, like the ones where they say, "I'd like to thank our Lord Jesus up above!" I'm like, 'Tor the love of God, keep your mouth shut. That's why the world is so fucked up, because God is focusing solely on your career." And how about being "blessed"? Like you're an angel from on high?
Q: During any awards acceptance speech you may have to make in this er any other year, promise us you'll try and refrain from hyperventilating, OK?
A: Hyperventilating is so unattractive. I think I'd probably start to cry. I mean, it looks overwhelming up there on stage, and if you look around and your mom is crying and your agent is crying, that would be overwhelming. I promise you that in my "blessed" future, I won't thank my personal savior. I haven't even been saved yet, but I'll let you know when I find Hirn. Or Her.
Q: We're counting on you. Have these movies provoked any congratulatory phone messages you've listened to too many times?
A: Of all these fabulous phone messages I got when Lost in Translation came out, there was one in a male voice that said, "Hey, Scarlett, this is a message you don't have to return. It's Ben Stiller calling." We'd worked together when I was a baby in a movie I did with Sarah Jessica Parker called If Lucy Fell. He got my number from someone who does both our hair and left this wonderful message saying, "I was so moved by Lost in Translation and I'm still thinking about it. Congratulations." It was really nice and touching, so it was really cool to play that over and over again for myself.
Q: What kind of groove did you and John Travolta cut in the upcoming A Love Song for Bobby Long?
A: John is so damn good in this movie. And his face is so beautiful on film. Working with him was absolutely a pure, pure delight. We are so compatible. If I worked with him on every movie from now on, I'd be so happy.
Q: You play a fiercely headstrong girl in the movie. How headstrong are you off-screen?
A: Very. That's good in some ways, but in others, it's blinding. I tend to make these big statements like, "I hated that movie. It was the worst thing I've ever seen." If they say, "I didn't think that movie was that bad," I'll say, "It wasn't that bad? Did you see it?" I say these things as though that's the bottom line, which is really irritating for people, and afterwards I'll say, 'I'm sorry. I totally made that statement as if it were God's word coming through. I have a problem"
Q: You're a twin, right?
A: Yes, but my brother Hunter and I don't look anything alike. If we're out together, people ask all the time if he's my boyfriend and I'm like, "Ewwww, no, he's my brother. Gross."
Q: How is shooting A Good Woman, which is based on Oscar Wilde and costars the formidable Helen Hunt and Tom Wilkinson, going?
A: Helen is really sweet, actually - very professional on the set, which is good because everybody else is goofy and ridiculous. I love Tom so much and told the producers I wouldn't do the movie without him. We're shooting in Rome and Ravello, and Helen was there with her boyfriend and we all hung out downstairs eating French fries at the hotel bar because we were all so dying for food that wasn't Italian. It's delicious food, but day after day you get so bloated. We have insane night schedules. At first when you're doing night shoots, it's like, "Wow, this is fun being up all hours. It's like a sleepover." Cut to two days later and people are just mean.
Q: "Scarlett Johansson in Rome." The whole idea makes me have this image of you walking around the city being ogled by men like in Ruth Orkin's great photograph "American Girl in Italy."
A: [Laughs] In New York, guys will go, "Hey, nice set of tits" and you're like, "Fuck you:" You feel violated. In Italy I was sitting having a big cappuccino, my seventh or eighth - I mean, you get stoned from this coffee - and while fiending for another cup, this guy comes up and says, "Can I give you a kiss?" I went, "No, keep the hell away from me!" and then he hands me a little candy Baci Perugina he'd gone into a store and bought for me. I thanked him, and he walked away so sweetly. In New York, you get catcalls, but in Rome a guy will say, "You're such a beautiful girl. Where are you from?" which is so much more romantic because then you say, "Oh, I'm from New York. Where are you from?" Also, the men seem so confident and füll of life, maybe because European mothers tell their sons they're beautiful all the time so you get these hairy, short, bizarre-looking men who believe they're good-looking. Of course, they're also probably still living at home at 35 and sending actresses fan mail.
Q: Did you raid the shops while shooting in Italy?
A: There was anothcr movie shooting in Rome, The Life Aquatic, that my friend's boyfriend [Wes Anderson] is directing. So when my friend came to visit him, it was so nice because it was a little piece of home. We were these two blonde American girls on the run, in and out of Prada and Gucci. It was great because I'd been to Rome for a week before this and had done all of the touristy stuff, so I didn't feel any pressure to see the Coliseum. Instead, I could go to the Via Condotti and shop. was so fabulous. I left those stores with like 800 shopping bags. It was like my retail therapy. Also, [before I left] I boug my car, which I love. I was that idiot who goes into the BMW place and says, "I don't care, I have to drive off this lot with the car I want." I'd gone online and saw the different colors available, and there on the lot was the exact Z4 that I wanted. I didn't want to lease it. I just wanted my incredible car because it's not like getting a Honda Civic where you want to trade it in for something else later. This is a sports car, kind of a classic, beautiful car.
Q: So, are you now dating some Italian who looks like Rao Bova?
A: There's this guy I really like in New York. I 'm kind of pursuing him. It's very new. And fun. It's nice to have a crush on someone. It feels like you're alive, you know? It's been good on this film I'm doing in Italy, too. Because I'm so far away from everything, I feel like I have something else that keeps bringing me back to New York and someone to think about, too. So we'll see. He has a kind face and I like kind faces, approachable - with nice, kind eyes.
Q: Working like crazy appears to agree with you. But, aside from shopping sprees in Italy, what other sorts of fun are you having spending some of your hard-earned wages?
A: I just bought an apartment here in L.A. Everybody was like "You're going to buy a house? Cool." But, I'm like, "House? A you kidding? I'm going to be alone in the kitchen at night shivering in the corner." I'd like a house when I'm married with children. I don't want a big house. I don't like to be alone in a big space. It's about 1,100 square feet - basically two rooms, two bathrooms, a big kitchcn - and it's glorious. My father is an architect and a contractor and he's so happy because he could never help me out before until now. It's my first apartment, and it's in quite a large building, and everybody in it is crazy, all these kooky, old Hollywood producers and stuff. I want to be an active tenant association member. I'm also going to throw a cocktail party for the neighbors on my floor once my apartment is ready.
Q: What's the interior design going to be like?
A: My dad's turning my bedroom into a bordello with satin wallpaper - really tacky - with angels painted on the ceiling, paintings of nude women on the walls, a four-poster bed. The living room I want to look very Frank Lloyd Wright. I want to get all that brushed, steel furniture from the '30s, and my father's building a long, rounded wet bar. I wanted to put a hot tub in the living room, and I love how when I suggested it, instead of someone saying, "That's ridiculous," they said, "Oh, of course we can do that:" Actually, I think it's very illegal, and they probably would have screwed me over, although my dad could definitely put it in without telling anybody. But it would just take up too much space.
Q: With your profile heightening exponentially lately, are you reaping tons of free celebrity swag?
A: It's certainly nice to get sent tons of free shit, but it's not the same feeling I get as when I charge my credit card and say to myself, "Damn, I bought and paid for that thing. I earned it." It's a wonderful feeling to be able to shop for nice things for myself, my family and friends.
Q: With your star in ascension, have you ever caught yourself in high diva mode?
A: Serious diva behavior just means someone who tramples all over "little people," people who are basically working their assess off for you. I don't believe in that kind of work ethic. I'm certainly whiny about things, like, "Oh, but can't you deliver that thing I need here? Otherwise, I'll have to walk all that way," like, "poor little movie star" me. That kind of thing I can get a little diva-ish about.
Q: Peter Webber, who directed Girl with a Pearl Earring, told me that, despite your appearing in virtually every scene and working very hard on locations, he only heard you complain once.
A: About the cold, right? I didn't have much to complain about on that movie besides the freezing cold and my sinuses, which I have trouble with three or four times a year. Instead of saying something on a set like, "Don't expect me to be happy because I'm miserable," say, "Why am I here? Please wrap me soon. I don't feel well." People sometimes forget that you're, like, half-dying and they're moving you here and there and you're standing outside freezing without a coat. But when you're making movies, there's no stopping. It's not like your mom can say, "OK, you don't have to go to school today" Mike Barker, the director of A Good Woman, was really sweet trying to get my scenes finished early because my nose kept getting all runny. See? I whine a lot.
Q: I whine, too, when I'm overworked. You deserve a vacation, but aren't you about to shoot another movie?
A: I am doing the Weitz brothers movie, Synergy. I have to do some tennis training for it because I play Dennis Quaid's daughter, and he and I have a couple of scenes where we're playing tennis together. When you're on a film set, even though it's tough because you're not sleeping and you're up crazy hours, you don't actually do any physical activities. You're like this big ogre. I don't do any physical exercise anyway, so I'm looking forward to having a really fabulous tennis instructor. Plus, the movie shoots here and for a week in New York, so I can, like, furnish my new apartment while I'm filming. Yay, furniture!
Q: What's the biggest self-discovery you've made recently?
A: Within these past six, eight months, I've noticed that I feel like a very strong person. I have a survival instinct and mentality. Sometimes, you forget to give yourself credit for being compassionate, caring, and sometimes you have to step back and go, "Wait a minute. I am a pretty good person. I do good things for people. I think about them." That's something I'm finally giving myself credit for.