‘Marriage Story’: Scarlett Johansson Praises Noah Baumbach for ‘Exhaustive’ Directing Technique

With major award nomination deadlines looming, Noah Baumbach’s critically acclaimed Netflix divorce drama “Marriage Story” is emerging as a strong contender. The stars at the center of the festival favorite, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, have both been hailed for their tour de force turns as a theater director and his actress wife caught in an acrimonious divorce. Johansson, who has never been nominated for an Oscar, shared her reaction to the award buzz with Variety.

“It’s great and it’s exciting,” Johansson said at the film’s premiere on Tuesday night at the DGA Theater in Los Angeles. “I’ve never really experienced this before. It’s mostly exciting for me to be able to experience all of this with my cast and crew. It’s just wonderful. We have all worked so hard and then for people to be responding to the movie in the way that they are and to really be touched by it.”

Johansson told Variety that the feedback she’s personally received has been especially gratifying. “I’ve had so many wonderful messages from colleagues and other actors and friends and family members that were just so touched by this film, by the love that remains between these two characters,” Johansson said. “It has a bitter-sweetness that just really affects them, and I think it’s wonderful to be a part of something like that”

The actress credited Baumbach, who she was working with for the first time, with drawing strong performances out of the cast, describing his directing style as “relentless.” “He will work his actors to an exhaustive state, which is interesting because that’s when weird, kind of interesting stuff happens,” Johansson explained. “You make discoveries that might not be possible if you kind of have your wits about you. Sometimes, I think when you are feeling vulnerable, I don’t know, your walls come down. You end up surprising yourself. I was thankful for that even if it was very tiresome.”

Though the film is an unflinching portrayal of the ugliness that can come with divorce, Johansson said it conveys an overall uplifting message about love and marriage. “I think sometimes we can feel dismissive of relationships that don’t technically work out in the long-term because of the expectations that we have, while I think that the commitment of two people to one another for a long period of time and having a child together and building something together is something to honor and respect and feel positive about,” Johansson said. “I think that’s kind of what this story is about. It examines a marriage through the lens of divorce.”

Baumbach, whose “The Squid and the Whale” script was up for an original screenplay Oscar in 2006, told Variety that he is appreciative of the film’s favorable reception. “It’s been very gratifying because people bring a lot of themselves to the movie,” Baumbach said. “So when people talk about it to me, they are often talking about their own experience and I find it’s an easier way to talk about a movie. We end up just having conversations about life and relationships and love and I find that very gratifying. I learned a lot about the movie from them because of how they are reflecting back on it.”

Laura Dern, who plays Johansson’s character’s cutthroat lawyer, also stars in Baumbach’s real-life partner Greta Gerwig’s upcoming “Little Women.” When asked if Dern now feels like part of their family, Baumbach said, “She does, and we feel like part of her family.” In fact, the premiere itself was a bit of a family affair, with both Gerwig and Dern’s father, Bruce Dern, showing their support for the film.

Though their movies may be going head to head during award season, Baumbach told Variety that their partnership is one of collaboration instead of competition. “For both of us, we are talking about these movies before we write them and we show each other every draft,” Baumbach said. “I feel very much a part of her movie as she feels about mine. It feels like one big mashup. ‘Little Marriage.’”

“Marriage Story” is in select theaters now and begins streaming Dec. 6 on Netflix.