Shooting: Oct. 25 - Feb. 24
Theatrical Release: Nov. 19, 04
Theatrical Release: Dec. 29, 04
Theatrical Release: Dec. 29, 04
Theatrical Release (UK): May 13, 2005
Shooting: March 05
Shooting: Summer 05Additional projects: proceed
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Esquire, February 2005
For many reasons, including the one you're looking at, Scarlett Johansson will be cast in wax one day. But even that face and that figure are not as memorable - or personally devastating - as, Jesus … That Voice
RIGHT ABOUT NOW, Scarlett Johansson is supposed to be surveying the history of dildos with rne. This fantastical happenstance was meant to take place at Hollywood's Erotic Museum, which, because she's a girl of appetites, she's long wanted to visit. But the only person who'd ever offered to go with her - till today, at least - was her dad, and that would have been creepy. So, thinking myself chivalrous and only marginally creepy, I'd extended an invitation, she'd accepted, and I was looking forward to accompanying her there very much. just the idea of looking at sexual artifacts with Scarlett would take the curl out of most men's mustaches; hell, if those artifacts included the translucent pink panties she wore for the opening shot of Lost in Translation, they'd never need straightening again. * Alas, Scarlett has changed her mind, deciding that today is not the day to gape at dildos with a stranger. Partly because it's eleven o'clock in the morning ("Too early to be vulgar," she says) and partly because she has a reputation to clean up ("I don't have half the fetishes I've read I have") but mostly because a friend told her that the better exhibition was right next door. Which explains how we've found ourselves at the Hollywood Wax Museum, squinting at alleged near-to-life reproductions of the original cast of Star Wars. * "Harrison Ford looks like his face is melting off," Scarlett says. "And Mark Hamill looks like his eyeballs are sinking into his head."
"If You Have a…Weak Heart…Bad Nerves…or Expect a Baby, Enter This Horror Chamber at Your Own Risk."
Did I mention I was expecting dildos?
But all is not lost, for it's pitch-black in here, and Scarlett is scared enough to put her arm in mine. Plus, the in-house sculptor is apparently at his best when whipping up the dead (Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi) and the masked (Jason, Leatherface). We arrive at Lon Chaney in his toothy Phantom of the Opera getup, and, ignoring the mannequin lying stiff at his feet, he's not half -
"In sleep he sang to me," Scarlett belts out. And, lo, horror becomes heaven just that quick.
That voice. Isolated like that in the dark, it's a thing of shivers. Husky but not a smoker's hack, deep but not masculine, breathy but not gaspy, a trace of New York but not Queens, New York. It's perfection. It's what gets you, even in a movie theater. And it's turned out to be her ticket, though when she was a very young actress - she got her first role at the age of eight in an off-Broadway production of Sophistry with Ethan Hawke - casting directors kept interrupting her auditions to check and see if she needed a lozenge.
It's not just the voice that gets you, of course. Our morning began with a walk down Hollywood Boulevard to Highland. We were stared at along the way by men struck dumb by Scarlett's beauty, and for this they can't be blamed: Looking at her invites dilemma, because it's so tough to know what to fall for first. Her eyes are huge and a color that's almost hard to look at, a kind of preternatural blue-green-gray that changes depending on the angle of incidence. Her nose finishes in a pleasing knob that grounds the rest of her features, like the last post of a banister. Her cheekbones are mighty without being too severe, her lips are epic, and her teeth are white but crooked along the bottom, which lends a fallibility to a face that might otherwise be too perfect. And that nearly perfect face sits on top of a body that's petite and fleshy at the same time. Hippy, breasty, it has the give that normally comes only with miles.
Seeing all that, despite Scarlett's camouflage of jeans, plain brown T-shirt, and big hat, passersby began stoppingus on our walk so that I might take their picture with her. She was plenty accommodating and swore that she's never picked out in a crowd, but after snapping pics for Eric and Angela and some English broad in rapid succession, I decided she was lying. As was Scarlett's friend, who I was cursing out loud by the time we saw Frankenstein propped up in the gloaming, something like cranberry juice pouring out of a severed head, the reputed ashes of Florenz Ziegfeld, and...
"Omigod, the scariest of them all: Sammy Davis Jr.!"
Oh, and she's funny. Not nineteen-year-old funny. (Nineteen? Jesus, maybe I am creepy.) More like she is on the screen: dry, smart, sarcastic funny. "Those are the Beatles? They look like the princes of Luxembourg." That kind of funny.
We're rolling now, back into the light. In addition to our trying to catch Sammy's wandering eye, we discover that Whoopi Goldberg was the inspiration for Jar Jar Binks, that Cher can be mistaken for both Liza Minnelli and Marv Albert, and that Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood, looks like Dick Cheney's less scowly brother, a coincidence that pushes Scar-Jo - we're getting tight like that now - into a hilarious rant about Cheney's voting against Meals on Wheels, up there with stealing milk money from children with polio.
But it's a short and puffy Muhammad Ali that wins for the worst sin so far - "He looks like some sort of man-child," Scarlett says - at least until we come face-to-face with a smirking Tom Cruise, circa Top Gun, circa patch-covered leather jackets and too-tight stone-washed denim. Now, here's a man-child for you; five feet tall, and yet, if we accept the artist's genital rendering as gospel, Tom leans large and to the left.
"I've got to show him this," Scarlett says, getting out her phone so she can take a picture with it. She can show Cruise his wax package because she's about to work with him, having signed on for Mission: Impossible 3, among the approximately forty-seven films you will see Scarlett Johansson steal over the coming year or two.
Somehow avoiding the usual pitfalls of child stardom, she's been working steadily since before she was twelve, when she was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Manny & Lo. She thought about taking a break after graduating from the Professional Children's School in Manhattan two years ago, but her application to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts was rejected - a happy failing, turns out, because instead she's proven herself worthy of Sofia Coppola and Woody Allen and she's been given one of those gift bags at the Oscars.
"I have a hard time taking time off," she says. (See also: The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, followed by In Good Company with Topher Grace and also Allen's unnamed latest.) "Whenever I'm taking time off, all I'm thinking about is working. I feel like right now I have a one-in-a-million chance. There are so many great actors who are unemployed, and seeing them makes you wonder why everything's happening for you. It's luck. I'm just lucky. But to have this strange breakout, it's just a dream. It really is."
I had dreams once, too. Unfortunately, the next exhibit is another blind pinata swing at Star Wars - this time the newer, crappier ones - with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson crossing light sabers over Jake Lloyd, who looks frighteningly like the zombie baby in Dawn of the Dead.
"We're getting all my buddies, all my famous friends," Scarlett says, pointing at McGregor, not Lloyd. "I've got to get a picture of him, too."
Only yesterday Scarlett had begun her first day of filming with McGregor ("A lovely man," she says) on another one of her projects, this one destined to be her most controversial. It's being directed by Michael Bay, who, if you don't know, parks in handicapped spaces.
He also has a flair for making big, dumb blockbusters, an oeuvre that seems to stand in contrast to Scarlett's penchant for small, smart semihits. A closer look at their resumes, however, reveals two larger truths: One, she's made her share of counter intuitive choices (Eight Legged Freaks, The Perfect Score), and two, he's co-opted plenty of Oscar-caliber actors (Sean Connery, Will Smith) into his crazy schemes.
This time, Bay blinded Scarlett with his dazzling preproduction for a sweeping sci-fi flick called The Island.
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity," she says. "Different projects bring different things to you. I mean, I don't have a game plan for myself, and I don't want people to see me in any particular way. A lot of people have asked me if I was selling out, but I don't really know what selling out means. When I think of somebody selling out, I think of a politician saying he'll do one thing and then breaking his promise. I don't think you can sell out creatively. You just do what you think will fit, when and where. People could ask me to do a million films in Tokyo, and we'd never find a sequel to Lost in Translation."
Sounds good and reasonable. But the next night, I'll be at this obnoxious film-student party at a big house in Beverly Hills, and I'll mention that Scarlett's hooked up with Bay, my only chance to slip into a gossip klatch of artistes and soon-to-be blow-job queens. And one guy in that circle will actually spit up the chocolate-covered banana he'd been working on - practice, Marco, practice - so sickened he'll be at the thought. Such is the depth of feeling for young Scarlett.
Dwayne Johnson, aka the Rock, aka the Scorpion King
She has intoxicated legions of men. Benicio Del Toro has succumbed to her (in an elevator), and so has Jared Leto, and she got from them everything she wanted.
Fact is, she's young enough not to be ashamed to live life but wise enough to live it right. She's cultivated a diva's taste for diamonds, for instance, but she's also developed a schoolmarm's grip on the language, and she uses both to lay waste when it suits her. (Taking in an elaborate rendering of the Last Supper, Scarlett points to the third disciple from the left and says, "Gay.") Someone once said she would grow up to be Lauren Bacall, but even Lauren Bacall had cuffs put on her by the times she lived in, bound by manners and piety. Scarlett's scope is limitless. This girl is built to leave a wake.
Because of that, she's been coveted from a too-early age: fair game for Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, Billy Bob Thornton in The Man Who Wasn't There, and Dwayne Johnson - better known as the Rock and here, in wax, as the Scorpion King, posed next to Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft - in a one-on-one with Scarlett for Interview magazine. Nearly three years ago. When she had just turned seventeen.
"I couldn't tell you why, but for a couple of years I was obsessed with pro wrestling," Scarlett says, trying to explain how she was tapped to probe the mind behind the muscle. But before she could start asking questions, Johnson had a few of his own, asked on behalf of every nonteenage man in America.
"Are you still in school?" he began.
"Yeah," she said. "It's my second semester of my senior year in high school, so I'm almost done. I'm ready to go on to higher learning."
"How old are you, eighteen?" he asked, probably hopefully.
"Seventeen," she said, probably a little too quickly.
Scarlett has since become expert at fending off such advances, usually witheringly. After she reportedly said she couldn't imagine dating anyone under thirty - and after the career she's built by feeding on the corpses of veteran actors like Murray and Thornton - she's decimated long lines of suitors who first made out with girls her age in cars with fins.
"It's horrible," she says. "I don't know why young men won't come up to me anymore. Seriously. I only get balding men with giant guts since that comment circulated. I never said that, okay! It's going on the record: Young men can feel free to try to seduce me. I would never shoot someone down for how old he is: 'You're really sweet, but you're only twenty-five? Sorry, I have my limits.' I've just been fortunate enough to work with some incredible older male actors. And that's turned into, I can only date men over thirty. Now I'm stuck with the geezers."
She's also these things: A baseball fan, more specifically a Yankees fan, more specifically a Derek Jeter fan. ("He's so cute. He's a fantastic shortstop. He looks great in his uniform. What's not to love?")
An unrepentent walker, a holdover from her New York childhood that makes her a sideshow freak in L. A. ("I've had people come up to me and say, 'I saw you walking! Walking on Hollywood Boulevard!' Like it's a bad thing.")
The proud owner of a new teacup chihuahua, which she got instead of the pit bull she'd been thinking about getting, illustrating the same wide-ranging tastes reflected in her work. ("Her name is Maggie. Margaret, really. And no, I do not carry her in a little bag.")
And now, too, she's desperate to get the hell out of the Hollywood Wax Museum.
"I didn't know Braveheart was set in Tarrytown, New York, in the autumn. But it's lovely," she says, sweeping past Mel Gibson in his kilt, standing against a backdrop of turning leaves. "Look at Uma Thurman. She looks like my cleaning lady." And upon reaching the Titanic diorama, with Leonardo DiCaprio, as played by Kurt Russell, and Kate Winslet, as played by Loretta Lynn, on the bow of the ship: "Oh, Leo! I want to be up there with you... even though you're rotting from the inside out."
But she stops her play-by-play, mouth frozen open, when we come upon Robert Redford standing next to Paul Newman, as they might have looked in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had they'd been Laotian. "That finishes it," she says. "That's the worst one here. That looks nothing like Robert Redford."
Until here's Redford again, side by each - now that's star power - this time as he appeared in The Horse Whisperer, Scarlett's first big-time vehicle. She played Grace, the ill-fated horse-riding gimp, the job that launched her career, that brought her to Hollywood for good, to this place, in this moment, abetted by her decision not to go look at those ancient nipple clamps with me. Seeing him there, against a painted Montana sky, makes her wistful, or at least as wistful as a teenager ever gets.
"That film changed things for me in a lot of ways," she says. "Certainly as an actor. I went through this realization that acting, at its heart, is the ability to manipulate your own emotions. I understood then that you can't think about it. You can't plan it. You just have to let your emotions flow through you. It's hard to explain exactly, but I can see that when I watch the film. It's weird to have that sort of learning process documented."
She's quiet for a moment, lost, and then she's back. And finally we're done, ready to step out of this palace and maybe grab a bite to eat, or go for a long walk, or go to the Gap.
"Where was I, do you think?" Scarlett says, her mind jumping back to Redford's encore. "Shouldn't I have been hobbling somewhere behind him? At least they should have my amputated leg in there. I could pose."
Still a few weeks away from turning twenty; and already she's on her way to being cast in wax.