Johansson: Workaholic gets ‘under the skin’ of roles

Walk of Fame Honor: Scarlett Johansson

At 27 Scarlett Johansson’s been a star for half her life.

As Robert Redford observed of the teenage actress after directing her in “Horse Whisperer,” she was “13 going on 30.”

And now that she is nearly 30 — well, 27 to be exact — Johansson is described even more flamboyantly by director Gregory Mosher, who guided her to a Tony win for her Broadway turn in “A View From the Bridge.”

“Scarlett Johansson has the class of Katharine Hepburn, the sex appeal of Brigitte Bardot and the balls of General George Patton. She even looks good dipped in cement.”

The cement honor at Grauman’s Chinese Theater will have to wait until after the thesp gets her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. It’s a career that spans movies and theater, has expanded to include her being a global ambassador for Oxfam and Red, as well as an ardent supporter of Planned Parenthood.

Whether it’s fighting disease and hunger on a worldwide basis or picking a new film role, Johansson says she always knew, “I just wanted to work on projects that I felt were challenging. As I’ve gotten older, of course, my interests have branched out. Having your hands in a lot of different pockets so to speak has always been attractive to me. I’ve never wanted to be pigeonholed or stuck in a corner, creatively speaking.”

Despite her insistence that there’s never been a career plan, Johansson has always exhibited a strong sense of self and a confidence in her choices.

“I’m probably like most actors: When you’re not working, all you can do is think about work and complain and agonize,” she says lightheartedly. “Then you get a job and it’s ‘I can’t go back to work. I just can’t do it. I’m going to fail. It’s a disaster, I’m a fraud, they’re going to find me out.’

“I always want to go back to work,” she adds. “I don’t agonize over the things I do. I know when I want to do something and it’s right for me. Even more emphatically I know what I don’t want to do or what I’m not right for. But if something’s eating away at me and I need to keep coming back to it and circling it, the number one call I make is like every other actor in Hollywood: to Bryan Lourd, who I’ll ask, ‘Do you see this the way I see this or am I crazy?’ Nine times out of time he’ll say, ‘I see it.’ ”

Johansson’s film debut at age 10 as John Ritter’s daughter in Rob Reiner’s little-seen “North” was followed three years later by Redford’s drama.

The New York City-born and -raised Johansson transcended that child star persona with her first adult hit, opposite Bill Murray in Sofia Coppola’s Tokyo-set “Lost in Translation.” The actress attributes that successful transition to her mother.

“I also think that I’ve been unbelievably fortunate in many ways,” she adds. “A lot of it was being in the right place at the right time. When I was a kid there was still a legitimate industry in New York that was casting for film and television. Now it’s mostly in California; it’s pretty rare that you cast in New York. When I was a kid, people were still looking for stars in New York for film and television. Now it’s theater of course — and that’s always going to be there — but not the same with film and television. I was there at the tail end of it and I got lucky to be among a small group of actors who were hired by casting directors and I forged a lot of relationships growing up in industry that helped cement my reputation as a professional and usher me along.”

Johansson was more than lucky when Woody Allen came along. Dubbed the Woodman’s muse, she performed in a trio of his films — “Match Point,” “Scoop” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” — that dramatically altered her image, taking her from innocent ingenue to complex woman.

“It is a very rare thing, a very rare honor,” she says of having an esteemed filmmaker invest in one’s growth. “When I first worked with him, in ‘Match Point,’ (it) was such a transitional time for me. He carried me through that. Most importantly to me in my relationship to Woody was I had an amazing friendship working with him, that he put his trust in me and I could rise to these amazing female characters that he’d written. It’s hard to say if that could ever be replicated with another director but I’d hope so. Jonathan Glazer being one of them. I’d jump at the chance to do anything with him.”

Glazer helmed Johansson’s upcoming “Under the Skin,” which has been described as “an alien disguised as a human walks through Scotland.” The actress says she had “all sorts of creative realizations” on the pic. Being “totally immersed” was also her working state on “The Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

“I was completely immersed with the period, the story and the character. ‘A Love Song for Bobby Long,’ I had a very similar experience,” she adds.

“Skin” has already caused some speculative consternation, Johansson has learned. “It’s so weird, I’ve never been in a movie where the logline of the movie, where the plot has been so twisted,” she says with a laugh. “It’s crazy. ‘Are you eating people on the side of the road?’ I’m like, ‘No, no!’

But she admits, “OK, yes I do play an alien who is wearing my own skin. But it’s actually not a science-fiction film; it’s sort of a film that asks existential questions and much more complex than the logline.”

To date, Johansson has clocked in four Golden Globes nominations, as well as a big Tony win for her portrayal of Catherine in “A View From the Bridge.” That legit stint was not a one-time thing. Johansson plans to return this fall as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a role famously played on film by Elizabeth Taylor and onstage by Elizabeth Ashley and Kathleen Turner.

“I’m close to making a deal on it and I cannot wait absolutely to get to it. I’m exhilarated, I’m terrified, but I think in a good way,” says the thesp.

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