Scarlett's on the Scene

Meet the new face of disaffected youth.

by Smriti Mundhra

By the time her title card -- "Introducing Scarlett Johansson" -- came up during the opening credits of The Horse Whisperer, introductions were no longer necessary.

Scarlett Johansson, then 13, had been introduced to Hollywood way before Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer -- five films prior to be exact. Johansson was a seasoned veteran in the film business by the time Redford got a hold of her, even before she started high school.

In with the new
Now 17, Johansson has continued her trend of taking big roles in small, compelling films and has carved her own niche in the Hollywood youth market. Unlike the fresh-faced novice you'd think she was, Johansson is an old pro, having starred in 12 films and worked with Hollywood's finest actors and directors.

Like her Tinseltown predecessors Natalie Portman and Christina Ricci, Johansson has a winning mix of unstoppable talent and James Dean-like attitude that can be felt on and off-screen.

Big city girl
Born and raised in New York City and exposed to the film business at a young age, Johansson grew up a lot faster than the typical girl -- which has given the actress a sophistication and maturity beyond her years.

Even her influences reflect her cultured lifestyle. She cites Golden-Age icon Rosalind Russell as her favorite actress.

"Auntie Mame is my absolute favorite movie," she says. "Also, I think when Margaret O'Brien was a little girl, she was brilliant. When you watch her in Meet Me in St. Louis, she seems like an adult trapped in a young body."

The most unique thing about Johansson is her gravelly voice. "I'm so tired of hearing casting directors ask if I have a sore throat," she says in her signature tone that reminds people of Marlene Dietrich. "The people who have told me that my voice is distinctive, it's unusual, those people have always been close to my heart."

Fashion is another way that Johansson distinguishes herself in Hollywood. Maybe it's the influence of having grown up in the fashion capitol of the U.S. that's given the girl her unique sense of style, but whatever it is, it's making her a favorite on the red carpet.

At an age when most girls are just learning to put together outfits at the mall, Johansson has no trouble throwing on a head-to-toe Dolce & Gabbana outfit, like she did for the world premiere of O recently, in what will surely be her signature color -- scarlet red.

Teen angst queen
Most recently, we've seen Johansson in two of the summer's best films, the coming-of-age black comedy Ghost World, and the drama An American Rhapsody. Both films have earned the actress critical raves, and she seems to be on every people-to-watch list out there.

In Ghost World, Johansson plays Becky, one half of a scheming duo [complemented by Thora Birch's Enid], that spends their summer after graduation playing pranks and working crappy jobs. In An American Rhapsody, she plays Suzanne, a rebellious teenager trying to find her identity in America by learning about her childhood in Budapest, Hungary.

In both roles, Johansson is the kind of teenager that parents have nightmares about. In real life, nothing could be closer from the truth.

Not that she doesn't have a wild side. "You know that guy with the nun-chakus?" jokes Johansson, referring to a mullet-sporting character in Ghost World that defines wacko. "I feel like him a lot of the time. I'm afraid to tell my parents."

Ask any of today's starlets if it's easy for a young actress to find roles like the ones Johansson has compiled on her resume -- and they'll say it couldn't be harder. So how does Johansson find the interesting roles she does?

"You have to search for them," she says, rolling her blue eyes. "Roles like the one in American Rhapsody ever come along. You get scripts, and it's like, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad -- oh, here's a good one! What? It's not financed? Okay, bad, bad, bad."

But somehow she's managed to build a filmography that actor's twice her age would be envious of. Coming up next for Johansson is a pivotal role in the Coen Bros. latest flick, the noir film The Man Who Wasn't There.

Her role? Another hellcat teen -- a character she's come to perfect.

Smriti Mundhra is a freelance writer and honorary ChickClick goddess.