'I'm not anything like her...'
The director wanted to get away from “that sexualised thing” for Scarlett Johansson’s character in Marvel Avengers Assemble. They put her in a catsuit. She talks to TARA BRADY
SCARLETT JOHANSSON curls into a ball on the couch and puts her head in her hands. She emits a little rasp in mock anguish. Huzzah.
It’s a bit like hearing Paul Daniels say “Not a lot” or meeting Keith Richards out on the tiles of an evening.
“It was a good premiere last night,” she groans. “But it was a little too good. All that screaming. I felt like Tiffany or something.” Fatigue, however, has not prevented the Marvel Avengers Assemble star from attempting to steal my Lego.
“I have a Lego? Is that my Lego?” she cries, as she cradles my Black Widow action figure: now available as an awesome Lego piece. “Oh my God.”
I’m not crazy about her eyebrows, I say.
“No! No! I don’t know what you’re talking about. She is totally rad. I love Black Widow as a Lego. Look at her curvy waist. It’s drawn on and everything. This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve always, always loved Lego.
“Oh wow! My hair comes off – oh God – did you know this? I have two faces. Look here I am with my fighting face, and here I am looking . . .”
She lowers her voice into a second trademark rasp: “Look. It’s my nicer face. I so don’t want to give her back to you. But you kind of look like her with the red hair and everything. So I got to.”
It is only fair. Today, dressed in white, with her blonde hair scraped back, Johansson is not looking at all like Black Widow, her ass-kicking alter ego from Marvel Avengers Assemble.
“I’m not anything like her, not in looks, not in anything,” says Johansson. “We both have lot of conviction: other than that I can’t think that we’re at all similar. It’s funny because since making the film I have a very inflated idea of my badassedness. I keep thinking I could actually take my co-stars down in real life. But actually I’m not at all badass.”
She looks pretty hard onscreen at least.
“Yeah, but that was the fun part for me,” she says. “In reality I was so broken all the time; ice bags all over my body; covered in injuries. I was never an athlete growing up. I was never sporty. So I had no idea that I was capable of any of this stuff. It was fun discovering how far I could push myself.”
The Avengers – or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble as they’ve bizarrely dubbed the film in this territory – is a huge deal. The cross-pollinated mega-movie has been hinted at in Marvel epilogues for years. Fans will happily tell you that Buffy creator Joss Whedon has produced an experience that was well worth the wait.
At any rate, after many post-credit wait- outs, Johansson has squeezed into a slinky body suit so that her Black Widow can take up arms alongside Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’s Captain America, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.
The very mention of the outfit – even in passing – crumples Johansson anew: “I’ve been talking about that costume for days. Everyone is crazy with questions about that costume. I’m so sick of guys asking about it. The thing is right before we started I was lifting all these weights and eating raw vegan. But the only reason I was doing that was to fix my previous diet because that was a Paleo diet. So I’ve had the extreme of everything. Because when you’re training you rely on your trainer to help you lose muscle and gain muscle and whatever it takes to change your body. So I’m always following some crazy regime. And after lots of fighting and training and raw vegan food you can fit into a cat suit.”
It’s unfair, she says, that her male colleagues, who are all poured into Lycra and tights too, don’t get quizzed about being buff to the same degree.
“Everybody’s costume is revealing. Look at some of the guys. You can see their whole body in some of those clothes. I met with Marvel early on and they understand the pitfalls of the superhero movie better than anybody. They never wanted Black Widow to be eye candy. Those characters are so lame and silly. And I don’t have anything to contribute to a movie like that.
“We all wanted to get away from that overly sexualised thing. But at the same time these characters have to look badass and sexy. And I know that when you wear a cat suit it is what it is.”
At 27, Scarlett Johansson has had enough of being a sex symbol. She is a Hollywood starlet so it’s not so unusual that miles of column inches are devoted to her failed marriage to Ryan Reynolds (2008-11), her rebound relationship with Sean Penn, and her current romance with regular civilian and advertising executive Nate Naylor.
But in recent years, the popular tabloid target ScarJo – as she loathes being called – has threatened to eclipse the astute, naturalistic actor who has been picking up awards since she was 12.
And don’t get her started on men’s mags and sexy lady polls: “I think that’s just an unfortunate by-product of being curvy. I just did an interview earlier today where the interviewer kept harping on about sexy this and sensual that. I really have nothing to say about any of that stuff.
“Guys like all sorts of famous women. It doesn’t mean anything. And it never crosses my mind. Sure it’s probably better than someone saying ‘oh, can you believe how homely she is?’ But I never, ever think about it.”
Born in New York to a Danish architect father and a Jewish film producer mom, Johansson was exposed to cinema early and often. The actor considers herself Ashkenazi Jewish but describes her upbringing in multicultural terms.
“My father is from Copenhagen and lived there until his mid 20s,” she recalls. “So we grew up with a lot of Danish culture. Even though we’re Jewish we always celebrated Christmas alongside Chanukah just because we loved the traditions of Danish Christmases. We’d go to different harvest festivals and churches and all that kind of stuff. And because dad’s an architect he taught us a lot about Danish design.”
It was her film buff mom, however, who took charge of the young Scarlett’s career. At nine, she joined a cast that included Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood and Kathy Bates for Rob Reiner’s North; at 14 she was earning rave notices for her work in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer and by 18, she had won a BAFTA and any number of critics’ awards for a career-making turn as the 25-year-old heroine of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
“I was very fortunate when I was the ingénue,” she says. “I was playing characters that were in transition when I was in transition in my own life as well. I was the young woman going through changes.
“I feel – I hope – I’m moving into a phase where I’ll be playing much more dynamic characters. I just don’t want to be typecast. Nobody does.” There was a sea change, she says, in 2010, following a Tony-award winning stint in A View from the Bridge on Broadway.
“That took about six months of my life,” she says. “But after that experience I decided I don’t want to do anything that isn’t challenging. I’m just waiting until I find the right thing. And that has worked for me. I’ve been very lucky actually. I feel like the right things have come to me at the right time: I’ve been working with Cameron Crowe and Joss Whedon and this amazing Avengers cast and then with Jonathan Glazer, which was like a dream come true for me. It’s paying off to wait it out.”
Can the job really still be exciting when you’ve already worked with Woody Allen three times, escaped the Hulk on a rampage and played opposite the great Spongebob Squarepants?
“Sure it can. I always feel I have to prove myself as an actor. Otherwise I’d get lazy. I don’t think you could do the job if you didn’t feel a little terrified and curious each time. It’s not insecurity exactly.
“It’s just that actors are a funny combination of self-belief and self doubt. You have to believe that you’re going to do it and that you’re the best person for the job. But it’s good if you don’t know exactly how you’re going to do it. The fun part, always, is figuring it out.”
Johansson says she stuck to the Black Widow’s story for inspiration (a) because she never got into comic books or any of that stuff and (b) because most super heroines are not very good; its not a genre that does women any justice. She cites Uma Thurman in Kill Bill as a lone reference point, but otherwise, she says: “I didn’t have anything I could think of to look to for inspiration for it.” Really? But what about these, erm, super super girls?
SQUIRREL GIRLaka Doreen Grant. With the awesome power to control squirrels. She also babysits for Luke Cage’s daughter. But will she get refrigerator privileges? Can you stand the tension?
SHE-THINGaka Sharon Ventura aka Mrs Marvel. Like Batwoman and so many rubbish supers before her, She-Thing was created as a love interest for her male equivalent: “When I was cute and Ben was the only Thing in the world, I liked him. But I couldn’t love him,” she once confided to She-Hulk. No Spanx can contain her.
WONDER WOMANaka Diana of Themyscira aka Diana Prince. Watch out! She’s got a truth lasso and an indestructible bracelet! Megan Fox dismissed rumours that she’d be donning the world’s scantiest stars-and- stripes swimwear, describing WW as ‘lame’. There’s just no way of making an invisible aircraft look anything but delusional.