Interview with Scarlett Johannson
We caught up with the latest bright young thing in cinema - Scarlett Johannson - to chat about her year, growing fame and acting opposite Bill Murray in the new box-office hit Lost In Translation.
Scarlett, it's shaping up to be quite a year for you, what with Lost in Translation and all the acclaim it's already received on both sides of the Atlantic and what we are referring to as your Dutch Jewellery Movie (Girl With A Pearl Earring). What was it about this film in particular that struck a chord with you?
Scarlett Johansson (SJ): Well, Sofia Coppola (the director. Ed.) and I met in a restaurant - I heard she had a hankering for a meeting and I couldn't say no.
So we met in a restaurant in New York and she basically explained to me that she had this idea that was shaping up with some clarity and that it was definitely going to be with Bill Murray and if it wasn't Bill Murray then she wasn't going to do it.
She said it would also take place in Tokyo and these seemed like two very appealing things, Tokyo and Bill Murray, so I said send me the script when you've finished it and sure enough, not that much later a little mini-script came and I knew right after I finished reading it that it was a project I wanted to be a part of - it was such a beautiful, beautiful script.
I had nothing to say about it really, everything was there. It was 75 pages, it was short, and a lot of it was visual, I mean the dialogue between Bill and I is pretty much he'll have one line and I'll have one line, like a ping-pong and it just read so well, like a really great novel and when I finished it I was happy and I was sad and I just knew, I knew I could play the part.
Was it a case of art imitating life? What did you like most and least about Tokyo?
SJ: Well I guess I had Bob Harris' (character Murray plays) experience. I was really tired the whole time I was there and we were shooting a week of days, then a week of nights, then a week of days and I felt very discombobulated while I was there.
I was also staying at the Park Hyatt hotel while we were filming there, so it was a very surreal reality, going downstairs in my pyjamas for rehearsal and so on.
It felt like fun for me and the days that I had off, which was just one day a week unfortunately, I just tried to do what everybody else was doing - I'd go shopping and eat out and try to walk around but I couldn't even do anything that touristy because I was so involved in what we were doing.
Were you intimidated by the language barrier at all?
SJ: Yeah, for whatever reason, nobody really spoke English very well in the hotel. There was a Swedish hotel manager, I guess he spoke pretty well. Oh and there were a couple of people there that knew how to say "No"…
The karaoke scene is the most amusing scene in the film. I was wondering how spontaneous the choice of music was and whether it was improvised or was it heavily scripted?
SJ: Well for a start, Sofia wanted those particular songs and I think Ross got the copyright two days before so I had to learn all the words to Brass In Pocket, even though the translation on the screen is really bizarre, some of it's just not at all the real words, it's like funny, broken translation. But other than the songs it was pretty much improvised.
Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
SJ: I like the whole sequence with Bill and me in his bedroom. It starts off with us watching TV trivia and then pans over to the window and ends up with us lying on the bed and falling asleep.
It's so telling, it's really the one time when our characters are really honest, you know there are the jokes about his mid-life crisis, 'Have you bought your Porsche yet?' and so on, and I have that self-help tape but it's the one moment where we're trying to figure out exactly what it is that's missing and not just that but Bill really is so evasive.
With my character I'll say things like 'I really like you' and 'I'll miss you' and he's just like 'Okay' and it's sort of the one moment where he really makes an effort to connect and I think it's really touching.
Have you ever been in any commercials, before you became a well-known movie star?
SJ: No, I'm terrible at selling things - I can only sell myself. I have a really eerie natural delivery where it sounds almost forceful or really fake and I haven't really found a happy medium, so no.
I used to audition when I was younger, I'd go on cattle calls but they didn't know if they wanted me or a young Chinese boy and it was very overwhelming.
And I used to get really frustrated because they would always ask if I had a sore throat so my Mum just said 'Well, then we won't go out on these commercials anymore because you don't like them' so I just stopped.
You're on the verge of becoming a sex symbol - how do you feel about that? Do you get people chatting you up a lot more?
SJ: A sex symbol? My God. Yeah, I get sexy young man and women coming up to me…
You should stress that you're joking, or it'll be in the papers…
SJ: Yeah, I guess that it's appropriate timing - I'll be 19 in a couple of weeks. I'm legal now! So it seems quite appropriate, becoming a young woman and I'm comfortable with my own sexuality and all that sort of thing. So it's nice, you know, it means I can borrow lots of designer dresses and that sort of thing. There are lots of perks and so on.
Are you old enough to go to a bar in the States?
SJ: Well, no but you have to kind of go in the back door…