The truly gorgeous Scarlett Johansson continues to impress critics and audiences alike with her work in a range of films. Her latest is Universal’s “The Black Dahlia”, Brian DePalma’s take on the famous real-life unsolved murder of 22-year-old aspiring actress Elizabeth “Betty” Short in the 1940’s.
Johansson portrays Kay Lake the girlfriend of one of two detectives obsessed with solving the murder of Short. As her lover starts becoming unstable, his partner begins to insinuate himself into her life. Recently Johansson sat down to talk about the film with the press.
Question: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS CHARACTER?
Johansson: Luckily I had what a lot of actors don’t have which is the source the book. I mean, you read a script and you interpret the character’s emotions through their actions and their words, but I had the perspective of Bucky’s character looking in on Kay. So I really used that as the beginning source the character.
Question: WHERE DID YOU SHOOT THIS FILM?
Johansson: We filmed it in L.A. and we filmed it in Bulgaria as well.
Question: WHAT DID YOU SHOOT IN BULGARIA?
Johansson: We shot most all of the interiors there. Dante Ferretti had built the sets and he actually built the Chinatown set there. He had built the apartment there that they find. He built the interior of the house there and the boxing ring and the police station. A lot of it was just there.
Question: DID YOU HAVE ANY PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT BRIAN DE PALMA BEFORE GOING INTO THIS PROJECT AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH IT? ALSO, DID YOU HAVE A THEORY AS TO WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO ELIZABETH SHORT?
Johansson: Well, when I had become involved with the project, and I was originally excited just hearing that Brian had a film that he was directing with two female roles. I’ve always wanted to work with him and have been a huge fan of his. I met with Brian. I had read the script and was very attracted to the character of Kay. So, I met with him and I tried to convince him that I could play this character that I’m completely physically wrong for and he bought it. So that was good. I never have any preconceived notion of people because I find that they always prove you wrong or are surprising. I expected a certain kind of darkness about him, a certain kind of roughness about him I guess, and I was surprised to find out that he’s a very funny guy. He’s very funny. One thing that didn’t surprise me about Brian is that he’s really cut and dry. He’s never going to beat you around the block regarding anything and he’s never wishy-washy about anything, which is such a relief. As far as my own theory, I had read ‘The Black Dahlia’ and that seemed like a palpable (note: maybe she means plausible?) story. I don’t know though. I mean, that seemed to be – I felt that was interesting and was definitely a candidate for the truth, but who really knows.
Question: YOU SEEMED SO COMFORTABLE IN THIS PERIOD. DID YOU DO A LOT OF RESEARCH ON THE TIME PERIOD OR WATCH A LOT OF FILM NOIR FILMS?
Johansson: I never thought that actually the character was a femme fatale and she didn’t go out there to ruin someone’s relationship or steal the man or anything like that. She’s not trying to seduce him into this dark kind of relationship or torrid affair or anything. She likes him and she falls for him, but of course I have a pretty good film history for someone my age too. I’ve seen a lot of those noir films. It’s fun to watch them too. Films like ‘The Maltese Falcon’ or ‘Third Man.’ But I always liked film noir, but some of those films are too kind of cops and robbers for me. I like the more melodramatic Bette Davis films of that period, and stuff like that. But there wasn’t anyone that I really based the character off of. I wasn’t trying to copy someone’s performance or something like that, but it was interesting to see that. And well, of course as a modern actor we have this movement that sort of started in the ’70’s of realism and the gritty kind of natural – whatever you can bring to the table, that kind of technique. So it was interesting to pair that with the dialogue. The dialogue is so stylized and impossible [Laughs] and impossibly unrealistic. It was interesting and it was a challenge to try and keep the integrity of that with ease and the realness of it while also saying things like, ‘How could you, Dwight? How could you?’ I mean, you never say those things. It was so dated, that kind of dialogue. It was a challenge to make that not such a film type dialogue.
Question: COULD YOU IDENTIFY WITH THE STRUGGLE OF THE ACTRESS IN THIS FILM, AND ALSO, DID DOING THIS FILM MAKE YOU SENTIMENTAL FOR AN L.A. THAT DOESN’T SEEM THE SAME AS IT ONCE WAS?
Johansson: I think that that – I have a lot of friends who are very talented actors and musicians who struggle. You have a one and a million chance here and all you have to do is come to L.A. and everyone is trying to get involved in the industry somehow. Any time that you are involved in a field that’s revolving around vanity of some sort with a high rate of failure it can breed a desperation in people that doesn’t always have a happy ending. I think that kind of ambition with no end can really make for a lot of nastiness. And of course, luckily, I mean for myself I’ve been constantly surprised at my luck. It’s really unbelievable especially being surrounded by a lot artists who struggle and watching them struggle. I feel very, very lucky. As far as L.A. at that time I feel very sentimental about it. I read a lot about the industry at that time and watching several documentaries about Hollywood at that time. It’s so very different now than it was then. I think that there is a certain sort of decency and class that’s somehow been eliminated over time. I don’t know. I think that it makes you sentimental when you read different autobiographies of actors at that time and how exciting it was that actors came together and they talked about the method and they talked about the work that they were doing, and just the amount of available and incredible actors at that time it just doesn’t seem to be the same now. That’s not to say that I don’t like L.A. I do. It’s very nice here of course. The weather is lovely and all of that stuff, but I think that people – look, even being in this hotel that’s such a beautiful hotel it’s just rare to find these gems that have been preserved. It seems like people are always bulldozing over beautiful storefronts and restaurants and houses and things like that to make way for whatever is popular now, things that are bigger and better and more modern and all of that stuff. I don’t know. I think that’s also true of New York too. So I don’t know. It’s sad I think.
Question: DO YOU STILL HAVE TO AUDITION?
Johansson: Occasionally yeah. It’s rare, but it does happen and I like it. I always like cold readings and all of that stuff. I think that it keeps you on your toes. I mean, after all I’m an actor for hire and so I will never turn down the opportunity to audition for something.
Johansson: No, not if it’s something that I feel that I want. If I want a role and they say, ‘Well, we’re only auditioning people.’ I will say, ‘All right. I’m going to get this part.’ That’s the mentality that you have to have. It’s like, ‘All right, fine. Test me. I got it.’ Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s still fun to do that.
Question: DID YOU AUDITION FOR THIS?
Johansson: No. This project I didn’t audition for actually.