The Horse Whisperer's rising star

MoxieGirl, Summer 1998

"When I read the script for the movie The Horse Whisperer, I kept thinking, the girl that gets this part is going to be the luckiest girl in the entire universe," says Scarlett Johansson -- who just might be one of the luckiest (and talented, we might add) girls in the universe. She snagged the coveted role opposite big time star Robert Redford, and right about now, the film and our cover girl should be hitting big screen near you.

When you're a teen, serious acting gigs aren't a dime a dozen... especially when the role is opposite a hot veteran actor and the script is based on a best selling book that just keeps selling and selling. The dish on The Horse Whisperer is that actress Natalie Portman was attached to the project first. But, Natalie opted to play the part of Anne Frank on the Broadway stage instead. So, when the role went up for grabs, and it went to up and comer Scarlett (you saw her in Home Alone 3 and she won accolades for her performance in the indie film Manny and Lo) we wanted to get to know her, 'cause this movie and this actress are both gonna be huge.

So some of our moXie crew flew to Manhattan, where Scarlett lives with her family (including twin brother Hunter) and attends a private professional school. Before meeting her, we had heard she was passionately serious about her work, outspoken with a sense of humour, thirteen-going-on-30 in the thoughts and opinions departments. Everyone that knew her guaranteed we were gonna love her.

Well, we had to love her. Scarlett arrived at the Chelsea Equestrian Center at the designated time for our horse-themed fashion photo shoot in her hometown of Manhattan with her mom and publicist, on one of the coldest March days we could have picked to shoot anyone in summer clothes. There'd been a freak snowstorm. The heat blew out. The power blew out. But, Scarlett proved to be a total trooper, warming up to everyone with gobs of quirky questions and practically willing to turn blue to help us get some great shots.

Well, she did want to pick out the outfits and style them, and she wouldn't let the hairdresser give her poufy hair -- the girl has a mind of her won, but ya gotta respect that. And, as you'll find out, that independence and self confidence has lots to do with her success.

At lunch the next day, at a happening cafe in The Village, Les Deux Gamins, where we tried not to stare at supermodel Stella Tennant at the "A" table as we walked in, or drool over the plates of steaming Belgian waffles, gorgeous salmon salads and other heavenly looking entrees... we got to know Scarlett and her mom even better. After jokingly(??) suggesting that she might have preferred something off the menu at the "golden arches" Scarlett settled for a ham and Swiss sandwich on French roll (pickles held) and a coke. We turned on the tape recorder and here's what Scarlett had to say, about her role in The Horse Whisperer, being an actress, and about being Scarlett.

"When I read the script I wanted the part... I loved the characters, that's what appealed to me the most. She's such a strong character, you know, and she goes through all these different phases, like with her horse and her accident and her mother and everything...

"I didn't go to a real audition to get the part. I did like a reading for the casting director in New York... which was kind of an audition... then I did a reading on tape, and then I flew to California and I had a reading with Bob."

mXg: You call him Bob?
"Actually I call him Booey. It's a long story, really too long to tell... he calls me Boo. Anyway, we had this meeting and I read for him, but mostly we talked aoubt everything really. We kind of skipped from subject to subject... I'm a subject skipper. I always talk about different things one minute and then another thing another minute.... and I was in there for about two hours I really wasn't supposed to be in the meeting for two hours, but I was. I mean, I felt we had some kind of connection."

mXg: So, did you get the part right away?
"Oh no. There were screen tests and then we kept hearing different things fo about a week afterwards. It was this awful waiting period. It was just an ordeal, and after a while I just almost didn't care if I got the part or not. Then my agent called and said you did a really good job, and I thought she was going to tell me I didn't get it. And then she told me I was the girl, and I just screamed!!

Within three days we (me and my mom) were on a plane and then we were shooting the film."

mXg: The movie is about a girl and her horse that get into a tragic accident together, and they both have a lot of healing to do afterwards. Did you know how to ride when you got the part?
"I didn't know anything about horses. I had this impression of them that they were like big dogs. I didn't know how much effort and skill went into horseback riding. I took some lessons, and by the end of the film I got to love them. On location in Montana, I used to go off and ride in these big fields during my five minute breaks. Everyone on the set would know that if they wanted to find me I'd be loping on a horse in the fields somewhere. Every break I had there was a wrangler there with a horse standing by. I really got to love them by the end of the film. But you know, horses are funny things. Sometimes they're like cars -- you drive them where you want them to go. Then when you're not on top of them and feeling powerful, you think of them as the animals they are. Sometimes they're intimidating. I'm not gonna say that I've never been scared by a horse, cause I have they're so ... like unpredictable all animals are...even humans (she gives us a thoughtful look and pauses) ...and that is my statement of the day!" (She laughs and then picks up her sandwich again, while we're all cracking up.)

mXg: Anything else?
"There isn't any cheese in my sandwich, (Scarlett tells the waiter). I looked for it unless you can find it." (The waiter cracks up.)

mXg: The Horse Whisperer is going to make you famous...
"I don't look into the future that much. Whatever happens, happens. Being that it's the first major film I've done where the character will be recognized by the general public I've been waiting for it for a long time ...l mean, I can't really think of myself as being noticed by people on the street so for me to think that it might happen soon it's baffling. (Scarlett seems baffled as she says all this.)

"I'm the kind of person who could never be self conscious. I mean I have been, but I'm not like a self conscious person. I don't know why… that's the way I am. Self confidence just comes with the package, I guess. It's not like I build it up for acting.

"I'm just a person with a passion. I think of myself as Scarlett. I mean when I was three I told my mom I had a fire in my brain to act. So I guess they kind of thought I was mentally insane. (She giggles.) I probably wanted to act since I was like in the womb. So I used to put on shows and set up chairs, and make my family buy tickets. I think everyone has a passion, but they don't know how to direct it. But, when I was younger I always knew what I wanted -- definitely!"

mXg: Did you take acting lessons?
"I took all those lessons and all those classes, but I found that the only way that I could work with myself and not get frustrated was just to go with my own method, cause I know what works for myself. I don't really prepare or have A METHOD! I read my lines and I think about what the scene may be like. But mostly, it's more spur of the moment."

mXg: Is it hard being away from home so long? You were away for six months on the Horse Whisperer...
"When I'm away I'm doing what I've always wanted to do, so for me it's like heaven. It's just a part that comes with it. I love being away from home and being with my mum, so it doesn't bother me. The rest of my family comes and visits sometimes. Yeah, I make friends on the set, but not like me and my mom. We like tell each other everything when we're on the set and we have fun.

"Going through the phase of going back to school... it's strange... but I go to a professional school where the kids are going and coming too, because they work... so it's not like... unusual."

mXg: What do you think of the Academy Awards? (Scarlett watched them the night before the interview.)
"Every actor would like to hold one of those little gold things. And yeah, I wonder sometimes if The Horse Whisperer is going to make it. It looks like so much fun to be honoured that way, it has to be pretty cool to be nominated. If it ever happens, if I ever get ther, I've already picked out different designers that I want to make my dress. (She laughs.) I'm very superstitious, though, about an acceptance speech. If I ever made it up there I don't think I'd be very prepared. I'd probably just accept it and walk away."

mXg: Do you have any tips for mXg readers interested in acting?
"If you want to be an actress, whatever you do, don't do it for the fame, cause you're gonna end up unhappy. Don't do it for the fame, or, like, the money. Do it for the art of acting. And... I don't really think you can become an actress, you ARE an actress. There aren't any special step-by-step ways of becoming an actress."

mXg: Any other thoughts?
"Yeah, I never got my coke."

We chatted with Scarlett and her very cool mum (yep, she's cool) for a while longer... just shot the breeze about New York and stuff -- and frankly Scarlett... we can't wait to see the movie!