Luminous Scarlett Johansson has come a long way since Paul Fischer first interviewed her ten years ago for The Horse Whisperer. Now recently married, the 24-year old is firmly part of Hollywood’s A-list.
She remains ferociously protective of her personal life but intensely passionate about her work, whether she is starring in a Woody Allen film or the bespectacled villainess dressed in a Nazi uniform in Frank Miller’s The Spirit.
In this rare one-on-one interview, the actress shared her thoughts with Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: Was that the attraction of doing this, the physicality of playing somebody that I guess you’ve never really played before?
Johansson: I really just wanted to work with Frank. I’m not a real comic book fan. I mean, I never – I used to read Archie and Friends when I was little. And Sam just told me that counts. He’s like, ” Oh, that counts.” I’m like, ” Yeah, right.” But I never – well, I don’t know, comics always seemed – that whole world seemed kind of exclusive, a little bit. And – but I read Sin City, and I really loved 300, and I thought that Frank must be an interesting guy. I’d gotten the script, and there wasn’t really a part for me. There was a character – the Ellen character in it, who’s just a little bit older than me. And the Silken Floss character was kind of an underwritten part. And so I met with Frank. We talked for three hours, and had this amazing time just talking about New York and all the things that we loved about the city. And – I don’t know, we just had a lot to talk about. And at the end of it, it was like – ” Well, I hope we can work together someday.” And Frank said, ” Let me think about it.” And so a few weeks later, he’d come up with the new script, and the part had been expanded for me. And I was excited to work with Frank, and I was excited that all my scenes were with Sam. And so, yeah. It just seemed like a fun project to be on. the whole world that Frank was creating. And – I don’t know, all of the other female characters were really spun strong, just being able to play with the comic timing of it. I don’t know, it just seemed like a different kind of a project, like something cool that I would want to see.
Question: The comic timing of The Spirit is crucial, in terms of the relationship between you and Sam. Did you guys devote a lot of rehearsals to get that right?
Johansson: No, we actually shared a hair and makeup trailer, so we would spend, like, every morning – two hours together, or whatever. And it just became apparent as soon as we met that we would have a really great rapport between us. And we just kind of used each other’s energy in a way, to bounce off – he’s the sort of wild guy, and I’m the straight guy. And all of his ideas and – grandeur, and these big prolific speeches that he gives, and everything, are real opportunities for me to kind of slice him in half. And so it’s – I don’t know. I feel like we’re the Lucy and Ricky, although he was the Lucy, and I was more the Ricky, I’d say.
Question: When you looked at yourself in the mirror wearing a Nazi uniform, what went through your mind?
Johansson: I mean, the costume – it was very bizarre to put it on at first. Eventually it was like, ” Oh, my grandfather’s rolling over in his grave right now.” [LAUGHTER] But, I’ve realized that – I mean, all of our costumes are very tongue-in-cheek. It was Sam’s idea that the characters would probably give each other a memo of what their theme of the day would be and Frank got into the whole production design of this staff, with these big columns, and the posters of kind of Nazi memorabilia, and the Adolf Hitler. I think that Sam Jackson in an SS costume, it’s just absurd. I mean, here you have, like, an African-American guy and a Jewish girl, in an SS costume. So for us, it was really part of just the fantasy.
Question: So I take it that being Jewish didn’t kind of make you feel a little squeamish during those scenes.
Johansson: Of course I felt squeamish, yeah. When I first put it on, it was like – you never think you’re going to wear a swastika armband. But it wasn’t a Halloween costume I put on. That might be a little bit more disturbing. It was – I understood where its place was in the film. how it fit in.
Question: Has your family seen the movie yet?
Johansson: No. I don’t think – nobody has seen the movie. Maybe – part of my family, I think, went to a screening of it. Yeah.
Question: Just curious to know, how are they going to react when they see you in those scenes?
Johansson: How they’ll react to the Nazi uniform?
Question: Yeah. Right.
Johansson: You’re really stuck up on the Nazi uniform, aren’t you? Did it profoundly disturb you?
Question: I’m Jewish too, so that scene struck me as being very bizarre.
Johansson: Yeah, it’s totally bizarre. I think my family that saw it kind of took it for what it was. Sort of the same as you’re saying, which is, that it was just bizarre. I think the fact that Sam – as I said, it’s Sam Jackson wearing the monacle, and the whole SS costume and the swastika and all those things, kind of take the – you know. I mean, when we were doing press for it in Berlin, it was a huge deal. And Sam just kept saying, ” But, I’m black. It doesn’t work that way.” It’s not meant to be a political message. I think it is just totally bizarre. And I think Frank thought it would be very bizarre to have this kind of sexy version of this costume, and Sam in this costume. It just added to the whole hilarity of our operation.
Question: Does doing comedy come easy for you, Scarlett, because it seems that the funny side of you has been quite dominant in your career of late. I mean, do you enjoy being funny?
Johansson: Sure. I think it’s fun to explore both the dramatic part of life, as well as the funny side of it! I don’t know. It’s fun to be able to not feel like you’re pigeonholed into doing one or the other. And more than anything, I liked playing a real character. who’s sort of almost winking at the audience. I feel like she kind of knows that she’s stuck in a comic book. And, to me, I come from New York. My father’s got a very dry, Scandinavian sense of humor. So I grew up watching I Love Lucy, and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. And The Lucille Ball Show. And I was a huge – obviously, a big Lucy fan and that kind of comedy. That sort of – I guess, situation comedy, I like a lot.
Question: I was recalling before doing this that I first met you exactly ten years ago. And it strikes me that you’ve evolved into this very successful young woman. You’re married now, which I guess is quite interesting. How surprised are you at the way that life has turned out for you in the last ten years?
Johansson: I don’t know. It’s hard to have a perspective, because I’m living it. I feel like perhaps when I’m older, and can look back on this whole time – my early 20s, and all of the kind of hype that was the kind of end of my later teens, that came with the success of Lost in Translation – maybe then I feel like in some time, I might have a better perspective on that. But I don’t know that surprise is the right word, because I’ve been working consistently for such a long time, that to me it feels like a career, more than anything else, that I’ve built a career for myself. And that’s something that I always wanted to do, even when you were interviewing me for The Horse Whisperer. I wanted to make movies since I was three years old, so I guess my perspective on it is that I was more than surprised by success. I mean, I feel incredibly lucky to have had success, because I’d seen and I know so many talented people that never get the opportunity. But I am a big believer that putting in the actual hours is kind of what makes a successful career and a lot of luck, too, of course.
Question: You’re going back to comedy again with a very mainstream movie with He’s Just Not Into You. Who are you in that film?
Johansson: Well the story is so kind of twisted, and turned around, because it’s really about a group of women, and a group of men, and how they relate to one another, It’s a movie, really, about the complications of relationships between men and women and in every way. It kind of focuses on young, single women, looking for their Mr. Right, friends with benefits, and a married couple who are struggling through an affair and a couple who’s to be married. So I play a girl who’s kind of a free spirit, who’s not really looking for anything, but finds herself having an affair with a young man, who’s a young married man. And then she’s also kind of had this strange relationship with a friend, that’s played by Kevin Connelly. They’ve kind of crossed the friend boundary, but she’s just kind of young. She finds herself falling for somebody who’s taken. And that’s her story line.
Question: Do you think you’ll work with Woody again?
Johansson: I hope so. I would do his craft service, really. I feel like we work very well together, because we’re very comfortable with each other. Because we’re friends, And we challenge each other. I’m in a strange kind of age group. I’m 24. But I’m looking very much forward to growing older in this industry, probably contrary to popular belief. I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity for women that are a bit older than me. A lot of the actors that I really admire are probably ten or 15 years older than me, and just have wonderful opportunities. So, I’m hoping that with time – and fortunately, I found with Woody, that because he’s such a – he doesn’t think in that way. He doesn’t look at me and think of me as being any age. He just liked me as the young woman character. And to him, the semantics of numbers, of all that, is unimportant. So I feel like I’ve been fortunate to get some really great young women’s roles, whereas there might not be such an opportunity.