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INTERVIEW: Scarlett Johnasson of "Lost in Translation"

Cinema Confidential, September 8, 2003
By Sean Chavel

"Lost in Translation" is a thinking person's movie about a delicate, strongly personal friendship about two fish out of waters lost in the unfamiliar culture of Tokyo. Scarlett Johansson, in one of the year's most intriguing performances, plays an educated Yale graduate who has not found her niche in the world. Her character is married to a brash young photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who has brought her along on a business trip in Tokyo. Johansson meets a fading movie star played by Bill Murray, generating an unusual and intimate friendship between them. Despite their wide age gap, they both share something in common: They both feel alone in the world. Johansson discussed her film in Los Angeles recently at a press conference table.

How did you get involved with this movie?
Um, well, I heard through the grapevine that Sofia was hankering for a meeting. I had met her before and kinda knew each other. We met in New York for lunch and she said, 'I had this idea to make this film with you and Bill Murray in Tokyo. I know this sounds really bizarre…' I don't even remember what she said exactly about the film.

You were just surprised to hear Bill Murray -
Yeah, I was like, 'What?!' I was just thinking, 'Me and Bill Murray?' Where did this come from? I wondered if it was a vision that had mysteriously come to Sofia one night.

What came next?
A couple of months later, Sofia sent me a rough draft that was seventy-something pages. I thought, 'Wow, this is absolutely just totally satisfying in every way.' There was nothing bizarre about it, or uncomfortable about. It was a film that ready to be shot. We courted Bill and then we made the movie.

Do you have any experiences in your life that you could relate to?
One of the great things about the film is that everybody can relate to it, relate to some period of their life with someone where they have that weird feeling that everybody you associate with is unfamiliar.

But like your character, have you ever met somebody where there was some magic that existed between you two but couldn't ultimately continue with that relationship enduringly?
I mean, I've had connections with people that we've never consummated before. But it's never been a situation as similar in this film. I wonder a lot about the sexual aspect of the relationship between the two characters. To me it seems kind of silly, but it's not a huge [component]. Sure, they're attracted to each other but it's not like my character sees his character and, 'Whoa, the sparks!'

It's realistic?
Yes, it is realistic. It's not like it's a physical thing.

But it could have a chance to be a physical thing?
But, it's just not right. My character is in love with her husband [played by Giovanni Ribisi]. It shows that they are in love with each and do have a future together.

Maybe part of the interest is that as an audience we're not used to seeing these type of relationships together on film where most of the time we're expecting for them to "get together."
Yes, it's definitely a [film] that's original all its own.

What do you look for in a friendship?
I really don't look for friendships. They just sort of fall onto you, wouldn't you say. If I'm friends with somebody it's because we enjoy each others company. We trust each other. There are overused but applicable words: Loyalty, Trust, Open, and Friendly.

How do you spend time with friends?
Hmm, I don't know, we do all different sorts of things. I have different friends that I do different things with. Sometimes we travel, sometimes we watch movies, sometimes we play games… Or we just sit and have lunch. Which tends to be my favorite thing to do. There's nothing better than just sitting around, having food and chat.

What was unusual about Tokyo?
Yeah, it's foreign. The language, the strangely westernized pop culture, the clothes…

They have great clothes, right?
Summer shopping season there every season! I've never seen so much consumption my entire life… I definitely bought another suitcase while I was there before I returned home.

Did you spend a lot of time shopping with Bill Murray off the set?
We were so busy shooting there wasn't time for that. We shot for six days a week for four weeks.

What is your favorite Bill Murray movie?
"Groundhog's Day" is one of my favorite movies of all time. People are surprised by Bill's performance in this movie. Bill isn't seen as a serious character actor, but in that movie there is something sad about him.

Why do you think Bill Murray is underrated as a dramatic actor?
I think a lot of comedians are overlooked as dramatic actors. Jim Carrey is, I think, has the potential to be amazing as a dramatic actor. I saw him in Man on the Moon and I think he's great. Being a comedian is such a 'Make me laugh' [stigma] on their personas, audiences want this instant gratification of showy humor. I guess it's a similar reason people watch soap operas, they want this instant gratification of artificial emotion. People don't want to wait… A lot of comedians though are underused as dramatic actors.

What are some of the specific cultural norms about Tokyo?
Tokyo is really a character in its own right. I'll give you this story. In America, if you're making a movie the whole world stops for you. In Tokyo, we will be shooting in a restaurant and at four o'clock, we were in the middle of doing coverage, and somebody had turned all the lights off because we had gone over our time. Sofia had to write a formal apology to the owner of the restaurant because she had disrespected them. The film crew was not seen as special.

"Lost in Translation" opens in limited release this Friday.

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