Not a muse 

Her bio would call her an actress, singer, and humanitarian. Magazines and cynics might label her a media creation, even an urban legend (remember the one about her and Benicio del Toro getting it on in an elevator?). But Scarlett Johansson might just be all of these things while still holding something back. For example, she’s a lot more articulate and composed than the bad-girl rep might lead you to believe. Her classy interview conduct, in fact, is closer to a screen legend of yore than a pop-culture starlet. Johansson also knows you know who she is, that you’ve already judged her. She likes to say, “of course,” as in, “but you already know that,” when referring to her personal life. In other words, she doesn’t need to tell you she’s engaged to Ryan Reynolds; Us magazine already took care of that. More astonishingly, the 23-year-old actress manages to be everything you think of her, but sound nothing like that person. She speaks fast, which means her deep, sexy voice isn’t quite so deep and sexy in person.

Johansson’s latest movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, is her third team-up with director-writer Woody Allen in three years. Their collaboration has become so frequent that Johansson has even been called Allen’s muse.

“I don’t think that Woody sits at home with, like, a thing of chow mein and a typewriter thinking, like, ‘What is Scarlett doing now, and how can her life sort of inspire this tale?’” she says, laughing.

“Every single junket that we’ve done so far, we always get the muse thing, and we always say no, it’s not that way — and I don’t think it is that way,” she continues. “I think I’m fortunate enough to fit into the young girl part of the story, just the same as Judy Davis … or Dianne Wiest would fit into certain parts. I think Woody, as well, appreciates how wonderful it is to work with your friends. We always have a great time when we do it.”

The day before our chat with Johansson, Allen explained to a packed press conference how his non-muse came into his life and why he just can’t let her go. “I had Kate Winslet for Match Point to the last week in pre-production,” he said, a role that, in a pinch, went to Johansson — an actress Allen says he didn’t know from a hole in the wall. “I thought she was too young to play the part; she was only 19 years old at the time. `But` … I had to get somebody fairly quickly, and I knew that
Scarlett was a great actress and a beauty. I hired her and became totally captivated by her. I thought she could simply do anything. Whenever there is a part that fits anything she could do, I always call her and hope that she would be available for it.”

Johansson, for her part, seems more willing to pin the success of their collaborations on Allen. “He writes such fantastic female roles, and the most exciting part about reading the script is getting to see what our parts are in the film, what we are going to be doing next,” she says. “He has such an appreciation and understanding for the intricacies of the female mind. I think he would say that we’re a superior species or something. He really loves women and the way we think, and it’s always some inspired character.”

In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Johansson plays Cristina, an American girl on vacation in Spain with her best friend, Vicky (Rebecca Hall); both are seduced by a Spanish artist (Javier Bardem). It’s better than the abysmal Scoop — Allen and Johansson’s last collaboration — wonderfully marrying drama to comedy as only Allen can do. It also features an onscreen kiss between Johansson and co-star Penelope Cruz, an event that has generated more press than it probably deserves.

“Somebody said to me, ‘This has been billed as Woody Allen’s steamiest film,’” Johansson says, smiling incredulously. “I’m like, wait a minute — Woody Allen’s steamiest film? Those words together are so ridiculous. You’d think it was `Bernardo` Bertolucci or something.

“From all the press that we got out of this one kiss or whatever, you’d think that it was some crazy X-rated movie,” she continues. “It’s funny that people are so conservative that it’s
ridiculous.”

One can blame this hoopla on America’s puritanical hang-ups, but nobody would’ve cared about the kiss if it was between Cruz and, say, Hall. But Johansson the media creation — the wild child, the Hollywood slut who makes out with anything and everything — makes the same-sex kiss sound filthier than it actually is. Actually, it’s pretty tame and, if anything, kind of
beautiful.

Next up for Johansson is Frank Miller’s The Spirit in December — she lights up when discussing it — and He’s Just Not That Into You a few months later. She’s also got plans to record a second album (despite the fact that nobody listened to the first one), her first short film is set to debut, and she aspires to apply those directorial talents to the big screen. And there are, “of course,” the numerous charities she works with. One wonders why she pushes herself so hard since, you know, she’s probably cutting into the time she could be spending getting photographed by paparazzi.

“Well, it’s not like I’m a trauma surgeon or something like that,” she says, laughing. “There are more stressful jobs, obviously. I’m working on things that I love. I’m like any artist. I’m productive, and this is what I do. This is what I do for a hobby. It’s what I do for a living. It’s what I do.” •

Vicky Cristina Barcelona opens Friday. Check film listings for show times.


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