With her now trademark blonde hair, Scarlett Johansson, may be a mere 20, but this major star-on-the-rise, doing some advance press for her first big Hollywood film, The Island, is mature beyond her years.
While it takes the beautiful actress a while to warm up for this interview, she admits that even had she not filmed The Island, a futuristic thriller in which she plays an adult clone on the run from a high tech cloning facility along with fellow clone Ewan McGregor, admits she is very much pro -stem cell research, a political hot potato. “I think that there’s a lot of wonderful possibilities erupting,” the actress explains. “I mean, if they could eliminate diseases like Alzheimer’s and polio that would be incredible. On the same note, people may say you’re playing with fate or the idea of people creating a master race or being able to choose their children’s eye colour – and that seems quite strange to me. However, I think that the positive outweighs the negative.”
Not that The Island, directed by Michael Bay, is a political film by any means, and Johansson, who is also currently starring in not onem but two, new Woody Allen films, is not used to appearing in a high budget action film. Yet somehow The Island appealed to the actress’s sensibilities. “I was in the middle of doing Match Point with Woody, and we were gonna be finishing that. It was five weeks till they started production on The Island, I read the script when I was in London and it was just a great script, exciting and fun. I love genre movies when they’re done really well and I think they accomplish what a film is trying to do, which is allow you to escape your life for a couple of hours. I was in a world all of my own when I was reading this script, and I wanted to work with Michael and Ewan.”
Making The Island was tough, and for Johansson, with her reputation of being one of Hollywood’s hardest working actors, it makes no difference whether you are working with a Michael Bay, a Woody Allen or her latest director, Brian De Palma. “Making a movie is hard. I was talking to somebody about it in the middle of shooting The Black Dahlia and we were saying that you have 200 people, we’re all working and it’s the kind of job where even if you’ve got the flu and you have a 103 fever, you have to come to work, because time is money when you’re making a film. People work harder in film than most jobs, because it’s just that kind of intense work for five months or whatever.” On The Island, the actress recalls that this film in particular “was very physically exhausting, as we were running around all the time, we’d work 14 hours a day and then we’d get off work and hit the gym for two hours. But once you start doing that after a couple of months, you just go into sort of this mode that allows you to just keep getting up at 5:30 and going to work: you just do it.”
Beyond her own work ethic, she laughingly adds that there are no other comparisons to be made between Bay and Allen, who represent the opposite extremes of American cinema. “I don’t know that there is a comparison you can make between Michael and Woody. Let’s put it this way, when I told Woody that I was doing a Michael Bay movie, he was like ‘who? I mean he’s totally separated and is such a snob. I told him, I said ‘you’ve got to see The Island when it comes out. It’s gonna be great. It’s a really great science fiction movie’. He goes, ‘oh, I like science fiction’. We’ll see if we can get him to the premiere. But, I love working with Woody. He’s a dream. I think I’d be happy working with him for the rest of my career. we had a fun time working together and now we’re working together again.” Their next outing, untitled of course, is a comedy.
Johansson will also be seen in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia and makes some interesting comparisons between De Palma and the younger Bay. “Michael is so incredibly energetic, he never ever leaves the set and I was convinced he never used the bathroom for five months. Brian is a 65 year old man, he’s been doing it for a long time, he ends his work day at 5:30, we start at eight, we end at 5:30. It’s very civil and a totally different experience because we’re doing a film noir drama and precisely to film noir standards so it’s a different kind of focus that he has. Michael is busy directing 300 extras on a huge, huge action movie while every scene in The Black Dahlia has so much lying in the whole twisted story, so Brian is only focusing on the actors. There’s not much other than a couple of really gory and violent moments that of course Brian does very well. Other than that, it’s completely a character driven film. Not to say that The Island isn’t character driven in a lot of ways, since you have to love these characters to go on the adventure with them, to want to escape with them, to want them to survive. But at the same time, you’re buying your tickets to see the Michael Bay explosive action, so it’s a totally different experience.”
Johansson is nearing the top of Hollywood’s A list, but with her increasing success come the downside of impending fame. “There are certainly negative things about being a public face: People following you to the doctor’s office to take pictures of you never used to happen. There was a certain standard that pop culture has become culture, so the more that people buy into tabloid stories and tabloid magazines, it makes our lives can at times feel impossible. I mean It’s weird to go for a walk with your brother and have people say that it’s your boyfriend and to take pictures of you when you’re in a private moment. It’s strange and I can’t make that adjustment. I refuse to adjust to that, because adjusting to that means being a hermit and never leaving your house. I was having a conversation with somebody the other day. He was like, ‘You can’t walk around New York alone. You have to get a bodyguard.’ I said, ‘I’m from Manhattan. I’m not going to walk around with people. I know this city like the back of my hand.’ I refuse to adjust to something like that.”
It’s the work that keeps the actress going, and says that after shooting the next Woody Allen film, she hopes to co-star with Anthony LaPaglia and Frances McDormand in the long awaited screen version of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge, for director Barry Levinson. “Anthony’s been trying to get this film made forever and it looks like it’s finally going to happen.”