Scarlett's ride of a lifetime

The Man Who Wasn't There", "Eight Legged Freaks"

Tuesday, May 26, 1998 / Calgary Sun

NEW YORK -- Scarlett Johansson wasn't intimidated at the thought of meeting screen icon Robert Redford.

Redford had originally cast Natalie Portman as the emotionally and physically scarred girl in The Horse Whisperer.

When the production experienced a major delay for the third time, Portman opted instead to take the title role in the Broadway revival of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Suddenly, the search was on.

Redford needed a talented, sensitive young actress to play this pivotal role in The Horse Whisperer.

He eventually settled on Johansson, whose films included Rob Reiner's North, the thriller Just Cause, the romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, the independent drama Manny and Lo and Home Alone 3.

"I was much more in awe when I met with Rob Reiner when I was eight years old for North. I knew him from reruns of All in the Family," recalls Johansson, who turned 13 this year. "I'd already met a screen legend when I played Sean Connery's daughter in Just Cause, so I guess you can say I was ready for Robert Redford."

After working with Redford both as a co-star and a director, Johansson says he is "the same patient listener that his character is in The Horse Whisperer.

"Because he's had his own children and grandchildren, he knows what questions to ask about school, parents and friends.

"I didn't like calling him Mr. Redford and I didn't think it was respectful to call him Bob like every one else, so I settled on Booie because he called me Boo."

In The Horse Whisperer, Johansson plays a young girl who loses her foot when her horse slips on ice and falls in the path of an oncoming truck.

It is up to Redford's character to teach the young girl to love and respect horses as much as she did before the accident.

"I wasn't a horse person before I made the movie, but I certainly am now.

"There were dozens of horses used in the film and I got to bond with several of them. They're so adorable."

Johansson was just eight when she made her professional acting debut in the off-Broadway play Sophistry.

She says that since completing The Horse Whisperer last year, she has received numerous new scripts but adds "we're reading them very carefully.

"I'm aware I've just had the role of a lifetime, so it's difficult to find something that really excites me."