A GOOD WOMAN - Q&A with Scarlett Johansson
Movie Interview by David Michael
Set in the 1930s on Italy's beautiful Amalfi coastline, A GOOD WOMAN is an elegant, romantic comedy based on Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's Fan". A young couple's marriage is put in jeopardy by high-society gossip. Robert Windermere (Mark Umbers) is suspected of providing a secret allowance for Mrs. Erlynne (Helen Hunt) an older woman of ill repute. Meanwhile, Windermere's young wife, Meg (Scarlett Johansson), is attracting the attentions of Lord Darlington (Stephen Campbell Moore), a notorious playboy.
Mrs. Erlynne's arrival in the fashionable resort has drawn the attention of many of the men, in particular that of the wealthy Lord Augustus (Tom Wilkinson), who soon proposes marriage to her.
Events bubble to the surface at Meg's 21st birthday celebrations and she feels compelled to abandon the party and her husband to elope with the predatory Darlington. However, greater truths begin to emerge and it becomes apparent that dark family secrets lie beneath the elegant society surface.
When LOST IN TRANSLATION was released, you said in terms of fame affecting you, you'd just wear a big pair of sunglasses and continue to eat at McDonalds. How's that routine going?
I don't go to McDonalds anymore. After I saw SUPERSIZE ME...no way!
It doesn't matter how level-headed you are at your age, it's hard to imagine how you can get swept up by the industry and media. In terms of exposure, for example, you've also done adverts for Calvin Klein...
I don't know if I got swept up. In terms of being exposed, I try to be clever about my choices. It's so shocking when you hear that Calvin Klein wants you for their new campaign. You're like, 'Who me? Oh, Okay...I hope they have a good make-up artist.' I guess you have to decide where you draw the line between saying, 'This is fun, pretty and fabulous' and being over-exposed.
But has it been easy to keep some perspective?
It's hard to step out side of the circle once you're in it. I don't know if you ever get accustomed to it. It's a wonderful opportunity on one hand that the audience grants you the opportunity to get small films made. But then there's a strange part about what being a celebrity means, and giving up a small part of your private life. People speculate, and make up things about you - they build you up then bring you down - all that stuff can be a little disconcerting.
Do you feel you have to look your best all the time because of the media?
I don't feel like I have to be anyway. I like to dress up and look pretty - I'm a girl. That's fun, people doing your hair and make-up, and I love clothing, so I can get a dress made and I feel very fancy and everything.
You've become the proverbial sex symbol, what's your take on this image?
I guess I think sex appeal is something that comes out of you. You can force it, but to me what's really appealing is when someone just exudes a sexual energy. I don't ever think about being sexy...unless I'm trying to seduce someone!
Have you been practising your powers of seduction recently?
Not recently, I've been working and working. When I'm single and busy - it's nice not to have any attachment. But likewise it's nice to have a boyfriend; I'm open to that. But it's hard when you're working constantly to spend enough time with someone to establish something with them.
How do you react to all the press speculation of who you're dating and invasion into your privacy?
I read a lot of stuff things about myself that aren't true. I've read that I've been with people I've never met. I don't mention names now. I don't even go there. I've learnt you can say things and they're taken the wrong way, and things are taken out of context. I'm a very private person. Living in New York, helps, because nobody is really interested in anybody else there. You'd be amazed how many times Michael Stipe [singer of REM] passes me on my block - like 15 times a week - 'Oh, there's Michael Stipe again.' People have this idea of celebrity that it's this huge deal, I'm not trying to be a celebrity - I'm just trying to make good movies.
I read you were thinking about buying a house in London after spending last summer there, while making Woody Allen's MATCHPOINT, to escape all this attention....
London is a place of solace for me. I love London. It's an amazing city. I've met some wonderful people there and I have some family there, so that was nice. I'm from New York, so I feel very home in London. It's like a metropolitan breeding ground for culture, art, music and diversity, it's a beautiful city, and it's got a beautiful history and...
It's alright, you don't have to do the whole tourist board routine...
Oh sorry [laughing]. The thing was I was really moved by how excepted I felt there, and it was a wonderful place to spend the summer.
A GOOD WOMAN is typical of the roles you chose, in respect of avoiding typical teen- based movies fodder...
Yeah, well I do try to do more interesting roles. Tons of that stuff comes to me, but a lot of it was awful. All these teenage slaying movies, and movies about girls that have deformities that become cheerleaders and then marry the prom king.
You're mum's also your manager, do you sit down and have business meetings, or is it pretty relaxed?
It's my mum. So before discussing business, like whether I was going to do A GOOD WOMAN, for example, I can say, I had a bad dream last night and she'll comfort me - that comes before any business. Because we've been working together for so long, it's so casual. Also, I have a full-time career, and she's part of that. Our conversations have to do with all kinds of things, my siblings and also my next film.
Your character Meg in A GOOD WOMAN is very straight-laced and a little naive, which I'm guessing, isn't typical of your own character. Can you see anything of yourself in her?
You put a little piece of yourself into every character that you do, even if you're playing some psychotic person - which of course I'm not...at least as far as I know...not during the day time anyway! Some part of you is in that character and it's hopefully believable. You can even prevent it. As an actor you always look at ways to get rid of yourself. I always come back to the fact that my own instinct is better than something I build in my mind.
The forthcoming A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG sees you carrying on your tradition of acting opposite older male actors - this time, John Travolta. What do you get out of these older guys?
I feel it helps me step up my game. When you're working with somebody you admire and someone who is iconic, like John Travolta, it makes you want to be a better actor. You aspire to be as great, and you don't want to drop the ball. At the same time you can't be nervous, because it shows. Like the first couple of scenes I did with Woody [in the forthcoming MATCHPOINT], I felt like: 'What am I doing? This is useless, this is not getting me anywhere!'.
How was your relationship with John Travolta?
He's such a warm person. He was immediately warm to me, and it invited a good energy. So I took him up on that offer and we just became really good friends. I love him very much, he's a generous person, and was absolutely pleasant and wonderful to work with.
Was he fatherly to you on set?
More like a playmate. I have a dad, and I don't need anybody to say, 'Hey don't stay up past midnight'. He's almost like a best friend than a dad.
You started acting as a child, how did you actually get into it?
Somebody had suggested to my mom, that we were the very cute Johansson family (she has a brother and sister, plus a twin brother), and we should go to this commercial agency. So we all went, but the only person they wanted was my older brother - I was devastated. Later, I'd go up for more commercial stuff and also be devastated, because it was so overwhelming for a little kid - they didn't know if they wanted me, or, like, a little black boy.
Do you feel that you missed out on a normal childhood?
I always had the chance to do whatever I wanted to do. My parents were very open about that. Acting has been a passion of mine. I was one of those singing "Ahhhh" people, and wanted to be in musicals as a kid, and took tap dance - believe it or not - so for me, it's a dream come true. My childhood was filled with things that I loved to do, and also very normal things: I lived in New York, I have a family life and went to a regular school. If anything I probably look back and think, 'Wow, I did a lot of things that a lot of people don't get to do in their life time.'
You've obviously been in the industry along time, but do you ever get star-struck?
There's only been a couple of celebrities I've been intimated by. One was Bill Clinton and the other was Patrick Swayze. I actually ran up to Patrick at a party, and said, 'Hi, it's so nice to meet you. I just want you to know I've really liked DIRTY DANCING since I was a little girl'. He told me, 'That was a long time ago.' And I shrunk into a corner, cried and went home.
Question & Answer Text Copyright Vertigo Films