Vogue UK, May 2004
By Daisy Garnett
Scarlett Johansson has been called the new Monroe. Certainly she's cinema's newest leading light. Daisy Garnett finds out what makes her shine.
Scarlett Johansson arrives at the Vogue shoot resembling Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver - and before she's said a single word, she walks straight into the photographer's spotlight and strikes a pose. She is so good at looking just as she should on film- whether a philosophy graduate with a taste for Marc Jacobs in Lost in Translation, a seventeenthcentury Delft maid, dignified, beautiful and just coarse enough, in Girl with a Pearl Earring, or dressed up and made up on the red carpet - Hello, Hollywood! - that it is a shock to see her as the New York teenager she is.
She wears turned up dirty jeans, black ballet pumps that lace up around her ankles, trashy white porn-star sunglasses, and a crocheted headscarf over her yellowblonde hair. "Cut it all off," she says, when our hairdresser offers her a trim. "All of it. I'm trying to grow out a Ziggy Stardust mullet. It was such a good haircut, and I thought I'd get these great Debbie Harry layers when it grew out, but look at this!" she says with mock disgust, picking up a randomly short lock of hair. "Look!" she says, again. "Weird! I guess someone took a sample of my hair from the middle of my head. I don't know" She shrugs. "Whatever."
Scarlett Johansson is all chat. She is a born performer, on camera and off, and if she underplays her parts to quiet perfection on screen, there is no danger of the 19-year-old diva hiding her light under a bushel in life. "Sofia [Coppola] and I had our picture taken together backstage at the Baftas," she says about the previous day's festivities. "She sat there quietly, whereas I was bouncing about pulling faces. Spot the actress," she adds. You couldn't not. Johansson is a pro. So be careful if you think this - two Bafta nominations, one win, two Golden Globe nominations, an enviable contract as the face of the new Calvin Klein fragrance - might be her moment. Not for her, it isn't.
"I was shocked at winning," she says about her best actress Bafta for Lost in Translation. "I thought I would cancel myself out because I was nominated twice. But actually," she continues, giving the matter half a moment's thought, "it felt normal. You know?" No, I say, not really. "Well, I've been working in this industry for as long as I can remember, and so it feels like the award has been 11 years in the making," she explains. "Mostly, though, when I was accepting it, I was busy worrying about my earring." Her earring? The pearl one? Still? "No, these ridiculously big diamond ones I borrowed. When my mum kissed me to congratulate me, she held my face so tightly that I thought she'd knocked one of them out, and so all I could think was, is the earring OK? Where is the earring?"
Johansson is füll of this kind of talk. She is immediately familiar; absolutely friendly. She can-and does-gab about her mullet haircut, her romantic life (currently single, after two long relationships), her family (they are close; her mother was her Bafta date), her home (she grew up in New York, but now divides her time between her own apartments there and in LA), and her love of dressing up (Prada and McQueen) for hours, but the minute you ask her about her work, she becomes reticent and quiet, presumably for good reason. Her work is subtle and füll of nuance. She is always compelling to watch because she is an intelligent actor as well as a relaxed one: think of her charm as she struggled through her karaoke version of The Pretenders' "Brass In Pocket" in Lost in Translation, then remember her face - a study of innocence encumbered by knowing too much - when she witnessed her mistress' pain and distress on discovering that she is sitting for her husband in Girl with a Pearl Earring. So it is a surprise to learn that Johansson doesn't prepare heavily for her parts, doesn't do much outside research, and relies almost solely on her script when it comes to creating a character.
In life, or on a photo shoot at least, Johansson keeps it light. Instead of gushing about shooting two of the year's best movies, she is realistic. Acting is, after all, her job, not something she is precious about. She has been doing it since she was seven, when, on the suggestion of a friend, she went for a commercial audition, realised that she felt at home on a set, found herself a manager, and began pounding the New York pavement. She has been winning awards for it since 1998, when she won a Hollywood Reporter YoungStar Award for her work in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer.
"It was rough," she says about her Bafta-nominated work. "Lost in Translation was emotionally draining, and 10 days after finishing work in Tokyo, I was suddenly in Holland, handed this garb, a mop and a broom and told: `Go'. That was Girl with a Pearl Earring. I love everything about making movies," she adds (her next project is Brian De Palma's adaptation of James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia). "I love acting because it feels right. But it's hard to explain how it all happens. People ask me how I get into character, and there is no straight answer. I could be thinking of anything. I might be thinking how cute or uncute the assistant director is. But whatever it is, however you get there, it's a private, personal thing." She purses those now-famous lips and squints into the mirror. The hairdresser is finishing her haircut and she wants to get back to the mullet discussion. No doubt the mystery will continue.
"Girl with a Pearl Earring" is available on DVD und video from May 3; "Lost in Translation ", from June 28