Scarlett Fever!

The Face, October 2001
by Kevin Maher

Scarlett Johansson excels in the long-awaited Ghost World and shines in the new Coen brothers film. 'I'm no bubblegum cheerleader,' she explains

A precocious 17 years old, Scarlett Johansson is hot shit in hotpants. She emerges from this month's stingingly poignant comic-book-turned-credible-movie Ghost World with a career high -- playing a teenage coffee jerker, brimming with acrid putdowns and wounded stares, she is the emotional core to a synthetic world of gleefully garish retro-pop suburban irony.

After 12 films, Johansson has finally emerged blinking into the Hollywood limelight. Feted by Robert Redford, snagged by the Coen brothers, and costarring with big budget monster spiders, she is suddenly the doyenne of her day. 'It's not like I think I'm hot shit,' she says, in her architect father's spacious West Village, New York apartment. 'It's just that I definitely have an advantage over other young actors 'cause I've been doing this for half my life!'

But, even as a kid Scarlett Johannson, native New Yorker, never did cute and cuddly. Never did that formative gee-shucks cookie commercial that made her toddler name. Instead, from sullen nine-year-olds in movies like Rob Reiner's North (1994) to pre-teen tearaways in critically lauded indies like Manny And Lo (1996), she's done, and still does, dour contemplative angst to perfection.

She does it with her voice, a beguiling scratchy rasp that drags whole sentences backwards through treacle-covered sea shingle (`I think people are kind of attracted to it in some way. I hope it always stays like that or else I'm gonna have to start chain-smoking'). And she does it with her looks: pale, etiolated skin, dark sunken eyes and eastern European milkmaid meets post-operative coma child chic. `My father's Danish and my mom's background is Polish, so I definitely don't look like a bubblegum cheerleader.'

And that's her main appeal. She's not one of those blonde southern Californian teen dreams like Mena Suvari or a patented big-breasted babywoman like Christina Ricci. She has simply cornered the glorious gangly otherness that everyone feels.

Robert Redford cast her in The Horse Whisperer, back in 1998, and cooed about her steely maturity ('She's 13 going on 30'), as she singlehandedly saved his movie from gross sentimentality. The Coen brothers have wooed her with a cameo blast of brooding, buttoned-up schoolgirl sexuality in their noir homage, autumn release The Man Who Wasn't There. She has, ever so slightly, stolen Ghost World from her friend and co-star Thora Birch, and found herself dodging CGI terror in next summer's giant mutant spider rampage flick Arac Attack.

And yet there's still so much to do. `I wanna go to film school too and make my own movies. There are so many stories I wanna tell. I wanna say, "You know what, screw this conservative bullshit, I'm going to make the movie I wanna make!"' Scarlett Johannson. There's hot shit on the horizon