In Step with Scarlett Johansson

Parade, December 7, 2003
By James Brady

Scarlett made her acting debut in an off-Broadway play at 8. At 12, she starred in a wonderful movie called Manny & Lo, and at 14 she was in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer.Scarlett has a film coming out in January called The Perfect Score, about high school students who plan to steal SAT answers. In real life, Scarlett wouldn't need to cheat: She graduated from high school last year and was on the honor roll. "I really liked school," Scarlett told me. "I'm a little dorky." What about college? "The college lifestyle was never what I wanted. I wanted to go to film school to learn to direct," she said. "When I was being directed by Robert Redford, I kept asking him questions. Bob heard me out." So maybe we can expect her behind the camera someday. Since her parents split, Scarlett has lived in L.A. with her mom and in New York with her dad, but she just bought an apartment in West Hollywood. "I love it," she said. And as a kid raised in New York City, how is her driving? "I just got my license," Scarlett replied. "I bought this beautiful sports car, and I drive like this--- with both hands on the wheel and slow, just like a grandma. All the drivers behind me honk their horns, but I don't care."

When you'Re still a teenager, and you are named Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for your performance opposite the great Bill Murray in the critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation, there could be a tendency to become blase, to behave as if you've already seen and done it all. But Scarlett Johansson isn't an overnight sensation. And she's no prima donna: Asked if her last name is pronounced with a "Jo" or a "Yo," she said: "Doesn't matter. Whichever you prefer."

The young actress was back in Manhattan (where she was raised) from London and would soon be off to Italy. Since she had a photo shoot during her lunch hour, we settled for coffee (and a soft drink for her) at the posh Four Seasons Restaurant. When the waiter fetched us a plate of sweets, Scarlett enthused, "Oh, how lovely---chocolates!" and began munching away.

Her new movie, Girl With a Pearl Earring---based on the Tracy Chevalier novel---is set to open Friday, with enormous advance buzz. It's about the 17th-century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (played by Colin Firth) and his muse (Johansson). "It was a nice little field trip," Scarlett said. "We made it in Luxembourg but did the establishing shots in Bruges and Delft.

"I love to travel in Europe," she added. "In Paris a few days ago, I had dinner at the Grand Cafe, near the Opera." I asked where she'd be going in Italy. "The Amalfi coast," she replied, knowing what a sophisticated answer that was. "We're shooting a movie called A Good Woman, based on the Oscar Wilde play Lady Windermere's Fan. Helen Hunt is the `Good Woman.'" And young Scarlett? "I play Lady Windermere," she said modestly. Believe me, this is quite a kid. Yet she remains unspoiled.

Scarlett was surprised by the raves for Lost in Translation, directed by Sofia Coppola. "I never thought it would do that well," she said. "All of us were surprised, because we were really making it for ourselves. In Venice, it got a seven-minute standing ovation." What about her own smash reviews? "It's wonderfully flattering," Scarlett said, "but I've been working in this industry for so long. The best thing is it enables me to work with extraordinary people. The better the reviews, the wider the door opens."

And was she named for Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind? "No, but I'd love to play her," she replied. "She's my favorite character!"

Born Nov. 22, 1984, in New York City. Single.

Include North, 1994; Just Cause, 1995; If Lucy Fell, 1996; Manny & Lo, 1996; Home Alone 3, 1997; The Horse Whisperer, 1998; Ghost World, 2001; The Man Who Wasn't There, 2001; Eight Legged Freaks, 2002; Lost in Translation, 2003; Girl With a Pearl Earring, 2003; The Perfect Score, 2004.

Includes Sophistry, 1993.