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scarlett johansson becomes visible with 'ghost world'

Zap2It.Com / August 3, 2001
by Brandon Gray

She's 16 going on 17, but Scarlett Johansson has been told time and again that she has an old soul.

Indeed in "Ghost World," based on the Daniel Clowes graphic novel, she plays Rebecca, a sardonic 18-year-old and best friend of the even more biting Enid (Thora Birch). She filmed when she was just 15. Impressive, considering that the norm in Hollywood is to have 20-somethings playing teenagers.

Johansson first garnered attention in the 1996 indie drama "Manny & Lo," which earned her an Independent Spirit Award nod. She is best known, though, for playing the troubled teenage equestrian in the 1998 Robert Redford film "The Horse Whisperer," for which she received an "introducing" credit despite it being her sixth movie. Her upcoming projects range from the small indie "American Rhapsody" where she plays a Hungarian girl, to the off-beat Coen brothers' "The Man Who Wasn't There," and the creature feature "Arac Attack."

Sitting down to chat exclusively with Zap2it.com, she wears a tight, bright red Dulce Gabana sweater with a plunging neckline, making it hard not to take notice. But it is her deep, husky voice, exaggerated on this day from allergies, and her laid back personality that stand out. She nestles into her seat, folding her legs up and resting her arm on the table, her hand propping up her head, the other hand twirling the straps of her sandals. Her blonde hair is pulled back, swirled around a white orchid.

ZAP2IT: Your outfit is rather bold. Do you consider yourself to be an extrovert?

JOHANSSON: I don't think I wear my heart on my sleeve or am I like a super loud person. But I think I tell it like it is, you know, I'm really a no-bulls___tter. I don't know if I'm an extrovert though. It's weird, though, because I can act in front of cameras and like 200 crew members. But whenever I have to give speech, I'm frozen and nervous. It's so terrible. I don't really understand what the difference is. But for some reason, just looking at all those faces staring back, it makes a complete nervous wreck. I'm trying to work on it.

ZAP2IT: Did you enjoy working with Thora Birch?

JOHANSSON: It was such a pleasure to work with somebody that is such a talented young actress. It's so rare. I think we just kind of fell into Enid and Rebecca those characters. It was such a pleasure to get a reaction from somebody of around the same age. And we could also hang out and still have a good time. Even though we were both kind of stuck with Rebecca and Enid and they wouldn't go away. No matter what we tried they just kept reappearing in our speech and our actions. It was so odd. But we had a great time working together.

ZAP2IT: Were you familiar with the Ghost World comic book before taking the role?

JOHANSSON: No. Later on I found out that there was this whole massive cult following and it was really popular amongst these underground comic books. And Dan Clowes had a number of other editions of different comic books. It was weird reading the comic book, because it was so dynamic, like the characters are so realistic, that it reads like a script. Visually, it's like a moving picture. But I just think that Dan Clowes is so brilliant, how he can movie the reader visually and verbally with dialogue. I had this character. She's already developed. All I had to do was bring her to life.

ZAP2IT: How close to the comic book do you think the movie is?

JOHANSSON: They stayed pretty true to the comic book, the characters do anyway, which is nice. A major part of it was that Dan Clowes was always on the set. The character of Seymour was based on Terry (Zwigoff, the director). It was very much a personal film.

ZAP2IT: Your movies range from dramas like "An American Rhapsody" to the more frivolous ones like "Arac Attack." How do you choose your projects?

JOHANSSON: I kind of I mix it up between whatever comes. I take projects based on certain aspects, such as, who's directing, what the script is like, who's starring, if it's being produced by important people… that not so much… more of the artistic aspects of it. I think in that sense because I kind of look for all aspects of film, if the script isn't so good but Francis Ford Coppola is directing it, well then, of course, what the hell, of course, I'm going to do it. (laughs) I think that's why what I've done is so varied.

ZAP2IT: In "Ghost World," your character has just graduated from high school without firm plans, but you're still in it and a working actress to boot. How were you able to relate?

JOHANSSON: In high school, you're taking these subjects. You're taking science and math, English, history, a language, an elective possibly. But in the long run, you come out of high school, and, if you're not me, it's like "Holy s__t, what am I going to do with the rest of my life? You know. I mean, I haven't been prepared for anything. I don't know what my special interests are." You go into university or college and there are so many options and you haven't been prepared for them at all. So I think I could definitely relate with the angst that Rebecca and Enid have when they graduate high school. Absolutely.

ZAP2IT: You're already well-established as an actress. Will you be going to college?

JOHANSSON: I want to defer for a year. I think I'm going to a university in New York. I'm going to study film and hope to be a filmmaker someday. I absolutely want to further my education. I couldn't just imagine not being able to learn more about filmmaking than what I already know. But I think the other hand, I also have kind of an upper hand in the situation, because I have been it around for, whatever, eight or nine years.

ZAP2IT: What are your favorite movies?

JOHANSSON: I love "Goodfellas" and "Mean Streets" and all those great gangster movies. I love Martin Scorese. I love old films. My mom kind of raised me on them. So I love, like, "Auntie Mame" with Rosalind Russell. I love Judy Garland movies, and I really like Al Pacino movies. I love Tim Butron, some Francis Ford Coppola. These are people I hope to work with some day.

I like Patrick Swayze in "Dirty Dancing." I came up to him at a party once and I was like "Oh, God, Patrick!" And he was trying to have a conversation with somebody else. And I said, "I loved you in "Ghost" and "Dirty Dancing." And he turned to me and said "Whoa, that was a long time ago."

ZAP2IT: What do you think of the "Ghost World" poster and the movie's slogan "Accentuate the negative"?

JOHANSSON: I think that's really funny. I just hate that picture of me (pointing to the poster on which she stands next to Birch, staring into the distance). But you know what, it doesn't matter, because I think I'd hate it no matter what kind of picture it was… Don't I look so confused? I look like, I don't know, I look like a bird just s__t on my head, or something. Don't I? I mean come on, think about it in that sense… I look like I'm saying, "What the hell?" I don't know, it's just the oddest face.

ZAP2IT: "Ghost World" is so adamantly opposed to pop culture. How would you react if the movie had a marketing tie-in with, say, MTV?

JOHANSSON: Hell, you know, like I'm going to say no. Of course, that's not going to happen. MTV, whether you like it or not, you've seen it. You know what the shows are. And when you're flipping through the channels and there's nothing on and you're seeing like the making of "Charlie's Angels," you watch it. And I don't know why, but you just do, whether you like the movie or not. And it's great press. So what the hell, I have nothing against MTV. As long as people are watching. Apparently, "Ghost World" can't be publicized on MTV because it has an R rating. Which I think is so ridiculous.

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