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New year bright for Johansson

USA Today, December 28, 2004
By William Keck

HOLLYWOOD — Those ripe, scorpion-stung lips easily are her most alluring feature, but a recent Saturday night found Scarlett Johansson looking a little too puffy — the result of some weird allergic reaction.

"I think it was something I ate, or something I put on my face, or something bit me," says the now back-to-beautiful 20-year-old star. "At 3 a.m., my eyes, face and mouth were so swollen it really scared me.

"You can still see a little red in the corner of my eyes," she says, pulling down her eyelid and hunching over her partially eaten tuna melt and "so-so" potato salad in a booth at Mel's Diner on Sunset Strip just days after her mysterious affliction.

It was the only blemish on what was otherwise a motion-picture-perfect week that began Dec. 13 with her Golden Globe lead-actress nomination for A Love Song for Bobby Long, her third after dual nominations last year for Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring. Love Song, in which she plays a girl returning to New Orleans after her mother's death, opens today in select cities.

It's a Johansson double feature: Also opening today is the comedy In Good Company, in which the actress plays a college kid torn between the love for her father (Dennis Quaid) and her attraction to her dad's much younger boss (Topher Grace). With both films squeezing in just before year's end, her chances for Oscar consideration are good.

But instead of celebrating her Golden Globe nomination with pals, Johansson hung out in her L.A. apartment, dripping cortisone drops into her usually beautiful blues. Whether anyone was beside her on the sofa playing doctor, she's not telling.

Reports indicate her low-profile, months-long relationship with actor Jared Leto, 33, petered out a little more than a month ago, but Johansson won't say whether she's single or coupled. "Thank you for not prying," she says demurely.

She does say the two were disgusted by a widely distributed photo of them making out outside Jerry's Deli in L.A. "It was creepy, horrible. As long as people keep buying tabloids, they'll keep harassing people in the public eye. They'll make up stories.

"Recently I read I was dating (Yankees shortstop) Derek Jeter. We were at a mutual friend's party, and no, we are not dating."

And as for her widely reported sexual liaison in an elevator with Benicio Del Toro at last year's Oscars, she says that's rubbish, too. "I went home alone that night to my mom's house, but nobody cares about that." Apparently, a joke she cracked to Elle magazine was taken as fact by the New York Post. "It was so embarrassing. I felt horrible about the way that portrayed Benicio Del Toro."

But there is someone who has been text-messaging Johansson throughout our late-night diner dinner, someone who has been making her blush and smile and inspiring her to send back a few punched-in responses of her own.

With no personal e-mail account ("It's another way of getting in touch with people that I just don't want to be bothered with"), Johansson "loves text-messaging because you can be flirty or silly or gross ... or serious."

She is all of those things in one petite 5-4 package. "Whippersnapper" is the term actor Gabriel Macht, Johansson's Love Song love interest, uses to describe her. "She's got a real generous nature. She's so playful. I enjoyed watching her and John (Travolta) sing show tunes between takes."

Her In Good Company boyfriend, Grace, also found her pixie-like nature endearing. "We would sit around the set cracking each other up," Grace says. "Everyone knows (Scarlett) is the greatest young actress in Hollywood. She's just that good and has handled her fame so well."

Career shaped by family influences

Growing up in New York City caused Johansson to mature quickly. And being raised by an "open-minded" father made for a smooth transition to womanhood, a far cry from Quaid's In Good Company character, an overprotective dad who threatens his daughter's suitors.

Johansson's parents, Karsten and Melanie Johansson, divorced just over a year ago but separated when Johansson was 13.

Now, Melanie is working with her daughter as her manager and protector. The morning after this interview, her mother expressed concern that Scarlett had been kept out too late on a night before she was due back on a film set at 5:30 a.m. "I have a lot of actor friends who worked with their parents closely and have had really horrible experiences," Scarlett says. "They end up suing or being emancipated. The wonderful thing about my mom is that she completely respects my creative weirdness and supports any decision I make."

With Melanie, who produced A Love Song for Bobby Long, Johansson campaigned hard to get Travolta to star as the title character, a down-and-out drunk who wants nothing to do with Johansson's pretty little Pursy when she arrives on his doorstep.

Travolta has called Johansson a throwback to Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren. "She's one of the dearest people ever," he says, recalling a gift she made for him when Love Song wrapped. "In the last days, she spent several hours putting together a portfolio collage of memories with characters and photographs of us. It was so sweet."

Johansson blushes when reminded of her generosity but gamely reveals even more of the story. Her portfolio contained Polaroid photos of an old Welcome Back, Kotter Vinnie Barbarino (Travolta) doll the actor gave her, which she manipulated into strange positions to tell a story. "I called it Johnny T, the All-American Movie Star Who Can Do Anything and Everything," she says, laughing.

As much as she's an adult who used her voice to campaign for Howard Dean and then John Kerry (she has harsh words for George Bush, Dick Cheney and Arnold Schwarzenegger), there remains a child who played board games with Grace on the set of In Good Company, designs jewelry with her big sister, jumped at the chance to voice a mermaid in The SpongeBob SquarePantsMovie and headed to Disneyland last month to celebrate her 20th birthday.

"I'm the biggest Disneyland freak in the world," she says.

Beyond Disney, serious film roles

In her early teens, Johansson almost fulfilled a Disney dream when she auditioned for the studio's remake of one of her favorite films, The Parent Trap, which she says she has seen 45 times. But the role ended up going to Lindsay Lohan; instead, in 1998, Johansson landed in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer.

Her time on that set changed her life's course. "Robert was incredible to me," she says. "He talked to me like I was an adult. I don't think I've ever been so carefully directed by someone. Things always work out for the (right) reason. My career took a different turn."

To say the least. The face of Calvin Klein's Eternity Moment perfume is in the enviable position of working with a top designer on the gown she'll wear to the Golden Globes on Jan. 16. As a budding fashion icon, she knows the world will be watching.

Johansson concedes that her double nominations and losses at last year's Golden Globes, coupled with her exclusion at last year's Oscars and SAG Awards, left her bewildered by the awards process.

But whatever the outcome this season, 2005 already is looking bright. In March, she'll wrap her role in Michael Bay's big-budget thriller The Island, in which she and Ewan McGregor play a couple of clones on the run from rich folk who want to chop off their spare parts. Then she immediately begins work for Brian De Palma in The Black Dahlia alongside Hilary Swank and Josh Hartnett. Summer will find Johansson promoting her top-secret role in Woody Allen's next film before beginning her top-secret role opposite Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible 3.

Allen, she says, has "no ego at all, which makes him so touching somehow. It attracts you to him. He's adorable. Lovable. I wish we could be companions and go everywhere together."

And Cruise is "one of the most motivated people I've ever known. He's so excited and enthusiastic. I've said to him, 'Tom, can you bottle this and sell this to me?' "

Traveling the globe with Woody Allen? Bottling Tom Cruise like a genie? When you're Scarlett Johansson, you dream big.

The Scarlett file

Age: 20
Last boyfriend: Actor Jared Leto
Breakout child role: As Kristin Scott Thomas' traumatized daughter in 1998's The Horse Whisperer
Breakout adult role: As a neglected newlywed hanging in Tokyo with Bill Murray in 2003's Lost in Translation
Out Wednesday: A Love Song for Bobby Long (Golden Globe nomination), In Good Company
2005: Woody Allen's summer project and The Island with Ewan McGregor
2006: Mission Impossible 3 with Tom Cruise


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