Johansson: Unfazed by fame

USA Today, December 10, 2003
By Donna Freydkin

NEW YORK - It's fair to say that having Scarlett Johansson play a demure 17th-century maiden is seriously casting against type.

The style-savvy hipster can proudly sing Will Smith's entire version of Just the Two of Us. She's madly in love with her new BMW Z4 Roadster, waiting for her at home in Los Angeles. She's a huge Prada fan who can cover entire city blocks in soaring heels. And her Oscar night plan of attack?

"I'll be eating pizza at home and watching everyone on television," she says. "I would go if I was nominated, but I won't just show up. But I'll go to the after-parties, because they're just hysterical."

Chances are, though, that Johansson, 19, won't be a mere bystander at this year's Academy Awards, thanks to dual performances that have struck a chord with critics. First, she played a frustrated, lonely wife stuck abroad in Japan in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. And on Friday, she's hesitant, humble Griet, the Dutch maid who goes to work in the house of Johannes Vermeer and becomes the subject of one of his most famous paintings in Girl With a Pearl Earring.

Johansson utters few words in the film and has to convey delight or desire with a toss of her head and a downward glance - no easy task for a woman who's "noisy, irreverent, witty, opinionated, just an amazing force of nature, really," director Peter Webber says.

The real Johansson is "alive and intelligent and communicative," says Colin Firth, who plays Vermeer. "She treated me with a fairly healthy disrespect."

Particularly when it came to the pantaloons Firth had to wear as part of his period costume. "Scarlett would start singing the Oompa Loompa song," says Firth, referring to the plump creatures in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And when she saw his long, artistically disheveled wig, "she would say, 'I can't believe it's not butter.' Fabio became my name for a while."

As for Johansson, she's not craving the sort of celebrity that would make her a household name, nor has she ever starred in by-the-numbers blockbusters. When talk turns to Britney Spears, Johansson shudders at the thought of not being able to grab a hot dog at Gray's Papaya without being mobbed by fans or reporters.

"If I'm on downtime, I can still go to Starbucks and order a latte. But you realize people are recognizing you, and that's a little bizarre," she says.

Johansson has had ample time to get used to the recognition, which she has been earning since playing a traumatized teen in Robert Redford's 1998 drama The Horse Whisperer. Now she's finishing up A Good Woman, based on Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, on Italy's Amalfi Coast. She loves the location, sure, but it takes more than a gorgeous view to bedazzle Johansson. She's played opposite Redford, Bill Murray in Translation and John Travolta in the upcoming Ladder 49 and it's safe to say that it's hard to faze her.

"I'm kind of regular, but in a certain way I'm jaded because I can't not be," she says. "I've been doing this for 11 years."

But there are certain moments that bedazzle her. Like the time musician Elvis Costello recognized her at a party and told her he loved her in the 2000 black comedy Ghost World.

"But something that's been truly surreal is shaking Neil Young's hand in Toronto. I was like, 'I'm a young person and I like your music!' " she nearly shouts

Johansson is that rare breed of actress who would rather bash Hollywood's Botox obsession, chat about her black stilettos or discuss just about anything than ardently hype her own movies.

"I can run a marathon in heels," proclaims the native New Yorker, who just bought a place in L.A. She's remodeling it with the help of her architect dad.

And don't bother even mentioning the distinct possibility that Johansson might earn not one but two awards nominations this year.

"That would be crazy," she says. "If you start to expect something because people are constantly telling you, it can be disappointing."