Scarlett gives a damn

Judging by The Man Who Wasn't There and Ghost World, Scarlett Johansson is going to be around for a long time - good job she knows what she wants

Bob Strauss
Saturday November 17, 2001 / The Guardian

In Ghost World, Terry Zwigoff's film of Daniel Clowes' acclaimed graphic novel, Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch play proud misfits who have staved off a frighteningly boring world by making fun of it together. In the real world, though, Johansson is fitting in very successfully, finding her way through the treacherous straits of teen acting with ease. Best known before this year as the troubled girl set straight by Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, the New York kid has had an amazing run of recent roles, including Billy Bob Thornton's object of idealisation in The Man Who Wasn't There, a 1950s immigrant from behind the Iron Curtain in An American Rhapsody and the potential victim of giant mutant spiders in the upcoming Eight Legged Freaks. Johansson, who turns 17 this month, appears ready to deal with anything a scary world might have to offer.

What made you want to be involved with the Ghost World film project?
I received the comic book with the screenplay, and I was so blown away by the reality of the characters and the truthfulness of their dialogue. I mean, it was so real to life it was amazing, and the visuals were like watching a movie, almost. But one of the great things about the film, what really brings it together, is the cast.

Thora Birch says that she got so into her character, she couldn't shake it after she went home and eventually had to apologise to friends and family for her behaviour. Was it the same for you?
When Thora and I went out, we'd catch ourselves starting to use Ghost World lingo. We were like, "We're sounding like Terry and Dan. What is wrong with us? We sound like these two old men!" And we'd sit in cafes poking fun at people walking by, things we just wouldn't normally do.

What does Rebecca do that Scarlett might as well?
I'm very headstrong, and when I know what I want there's no way that I won't go for it. It's been this way ever since I was a toddler. So I can definitely identify with that part of Rebecca. But I also identify with the part of Rebecca which is glad to be an adult ready to do her own thing.

And how do you define doing your own thing?
I want to always be able to do things that I'm passionate about. I always want to be proud of my work. I always want to be a truthful person.

Well, you've run up a pretty good track record so far.
Yeah. Eight Legged Freaks is produced by Roland Emmerich, so it's very campy and action-filled. Then the Coen brothers film and Ghost World, there couldn't be a more different range of films, really. I guess it's been an interesting year.

You began acting in live theatre...
I started acting when I was seven. I had a couple of lines in this play called Sophistry with Ethan Hawke. I studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute, and that really gave me an opportunity to perform before live audiences. There's absolutely a difference between that and working in film... like you can mess up in film and not worry about it.

Are you able to live any kind of normal teenage life?
I go to regular school, so I have a bunch of friends. I like to play pool too; that's about as extreme as I get. My boyfriend is like my mentor. Although I did beat him once, actually. It was the most exciting time in my life.