Scarlett Johansson’s voice is even more striking in person. Gravely and low, it’s part of her trademark sultry image, and the long days of doing press for Don Jon at TIFF only made it more noticeable. Yet, as this directorial debut from Joseph Gordon-Levitt addresses, Johansson is much more than some silver screen babe. Having started working in front of the camera at the age of ten, she beat the odds and has made a long, successful career in Hollywood. And with two films at TIFF this year (Don Jon and the sci-fi thriller Under the Skin), it’s clear her career is still in full swing. At a roundtable during the festival, Johansson talked about what drew her to Gordon-Levitt’s film, being objectified in the media, and her plans to direct.
The Loop: You’ve been acting for some time. Do you feel like a veteran on the set?
Scarlett Johansson: I’ve been doing this forever. I remember when we switched to digital, and I still miss the sound of film cameras. There’s some internal part of me that responds to that rolling sound. But I have to say, I love my job more now than I ever have.
Why is that?
Because I have a greater understanding of my work and a greater appreciation for it. I feel most confident now. At the same time, I never lose the enthusiasm I have for working. It’s been 20 years, but I still have those moments when I walk around a set going: “Wow! We’re making a movie!”
Don Jon has been praised for the way it addresses male-female relationships, and how it subverts your image as a sex icon. Did this play into you taking the part?
I never thought about that, actually. I was excited to collaborate with Joe [Gordon-Levitt] because of the conversations we were having. It was more than just the objectification of women or men, but the ideals we place on one another in relationships; the boxes we try and squeeze each other into and how we grow from that. Those conversations were so interesting to me, that’s what excited me about doing this film. And being able to play a character who has a lot of conviction. I felt I was really able to lift her off the page. I was one of the first people to read the script, too, so I really had that opportunity.
Yes, but Joseph said he wrote this film for you because you’re so much more than a pretty face.
Sure, I’ve been a victim – if you want to say that – of objectification, but no more than anybody else. I don’t feel I’ve been particularly effected by that any more than others who are in the spotlight. Or anyone, really; all you have to do is go out to a nightclub and you see it happening right away. It’s not always the case that a man is trying to get to a woman’s brain first! But I think it’s something that I’ve been able to use to my advantage, while trying to avoid getting pigeonholed.
No spoilers, but you are “The Girl” at the beginning of Don Jon, but then the film goes past you. Was it fun to act in an unconventional romantic comedy?
Yeah! These characters are perfect on the page, but if Joe wanted to show the growth of his character, my character had to be the antithesis of that. I’m a foil for Don’s journey, but I didn’t want my character to be the absolute worst. I wanted the audience to be sympathetic to her. And you have to be sympathetic to your characters to play them, that’s what makes a performance work and be enigmatic.
The film also takes place in a very particular world, which is most easily described as a Jersey Shore-type setting. Did you prepare for the part in any way? Were you hitting the clubs incognito?
I mean, I know that person. Well, that makes me sound like I’m generalizing people. But I know that style, the mannerisms, the whole look – down to her watch! I know it so well from just being on the East coast and living in New York. Plus, I have a terrible staring problem, so I absorb all kinds of things and steal them. I’ve been waiting to play this part. I’ve been gathering nuts for sometime.
Do you have any plans to direct?
I do. I’m directing a film next summer, which is an adaptation of a Truman Capote novella called Summer Crossing. It’s something I’ve been working on for about six years.
Don Jon hits theatres Friday.