Sky, September 2004
by Jenny Cooney Carrillo
Scarlett Johansson seemed less surprised than anyone else when she failed to win an Oscar nomination for her two hit movies of last year, Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, which both premiere on Sky Box Office this month. Perhaps that's because the 19-year-old actress knows she currently has something much more valuable than any Academy Award. She has heat.
For Lost in Translation she earned a BAFTA award, a Best Actress gong at the Venice Film Festival and a nomination at the Golden Globes. She got another Golden Globe nomination for Girl with a Pearl Earring, but insiders say she was so good in both films that she cancelled herself out for the Oscars. She's also been gracing magazine covers around the world, working with A-list actors and has been linked to hunks such as Jared Leto (Cameron Diaz's ex) and Benicio Del Toro.
In person she is naturally beautiful and self-assured. "It's all flattering." says the teenager of the media attention and great reviews. "The best thing I can say is that it opens the door a bit wider and lets me work with extraordinary people."
Scarlett began acting at the age of eight, having enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in New York. "I wanted to be Judy Garland, Rosalind Russell or any of the women I saw in those Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. I used to sing and dance and throw all kinds of shows in my house, until my parents finally supported my decision to go to acting school."
Scarlett made her stage debut in the off-Broadway play Sophistry opposite Ethan Hawke, and landed her big-screen breakthrough in Robert Kedford's drama The Horse Whisper-er. Her performance earnt her a Hollywood Reporter Young Star Award, which led to roles in comedy horror Eight Legged Freaks and indie hits such as Ghost World.
In Lost in Translation, she plays a newlywed who goes with her photographer husband on a business trip to Tokyo. With little to do she stumbles into a connection with an equally bored movie star, played by Bill Murray. Girl with a Pearl Earring is something of a departure for her. Set in the 1600s, she plays a maid called Griet who develops an intense relationship with her employer, the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, played by Colin Firth. Vermeer becomes so obsessed that he makes her the focus of his most famous work, the painting after which the film is named.
Shooting started on the film only a matter of days after she finished Lost in Translation. The two films came out back-to-back in October 2003. "I remember I was really emotionally vulnerable coming off Lost in Translation and going into that film," she now recalls. "I was tired, I was overworked and I had 10 days to prepare. There wasn't tnw time to do anything other than pray it would work out!"
For many young actresses, working with established movie stars such as Bill Murray and Colin Firth would faze them. Not our Scarlett though. "Colin was wearing that absurd wig as Vermeer, which provided a lot of entertainment," she says. "I also had to wear that awful bonnet, which he kept saying was like a peeled egg. I would came back with, 'you look like some hairy creature from the black lagoon!'" she laughs. "But he was also the most supportive actor anybody could hope for. l could say, 'Colin. I know you have the rest of the day off, but could you stand on the other side of the door so I know you're there when they shoot my scene?' and he'd say. 'no problem.'"
And Bill Murray? "Bill takes his game seriously in more ways than one," she continues. "It was almost like being in a boxing match. We'd go out there, have these intense scenes and then we each went to our corners and sat there. I can't say I really know him well. I did respect the fact that he knew exactly what worked for him and what didn't and that was a pleasure to be around."
Needless to say, Scarlett has not been short of movie offers. Coming up is A Love Song for Bobby Long, in which she worked alongside John Travolta.
"I love that man like a family member," she says adoringly of her co-star. "During the shoot I missed him so much over the weekends and, when I told him that, he would get overly emotional and cry."
Other films Scarlett has completed include The Perfect Score, a dark comedy about high-school students planning to steal the college entrance exam, and A Good Woman, based on the Oscar Wilde play Lady Windermere's Fan.
Although still a teenager, Scarlett comes across as being in firm control of her career. The Perfect Score may be about a group of high-school students, but it has an intelligent edge and is certainly no popcorn flick. "I try to make reasonable decisions, not dumb things down for myself," she says. "I don't need to be patronised, so if that's a sign of maturity, then I suppose I am mature."
Despite being romantically linked in the press to 33-year-old actor Jared Leto and 37-year-old Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro, Scarlett says she's "for the most part single".
"I've learned so much about myself and my own survival instinct that it's been a huge growing time for me. My parents have always told me I should meet lots and lots of people, so that's the philosophy I've taken."