Scarlett Johansson doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands these days. In addition to welcoming her first child this summer—a few months shy of her 30th birthday—she’s set to release four major films this year. “I’m looking forward, not back,” says Johansson from Paris a day after the baby announcement. “I’m excited about accomplishing some big creative and life goals this year. I feel very positive about the future.”
Johansson has already overcome many of the hills and valleys of a long-term acting career, one of which was conquering the Great White Way. She won a Tony for her performance, opposite Liev Schreiber, in a revival of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge in 2010. But that wasn’t enough. She tenaciously returned to Broadway in 2013 in the notoriously challenging role of the sexpot Maggie in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
“After my first time on Broadway, I decided I wanted to keep doing projects that I didn’t know how to do,” she told The New York Times last year. “I’m finally at a place in my life where I feel comfortable not anticipating the result. I’m comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
That discomfort may have led to mixed reviews, but it’s also led to more risk-taking. Next spring, she’s set to film her first feature as a director, an adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel Summer Crossing, about the romance between a 17-year-old WASP and a Jewish parking lot attendant in the summer of 1945. Johansson came across the source material at an airport bookstore and fell in love with it while reading it on the plane.
“I knew instantly it was the right project for me,” she says. “It was the first time I felt so strongly about pursuing an adaptation. I’m attracted to the themes of the book—the loss of innocence of a young woman, the failure of the American dream for many after World War II.”
Johansson wrote a treatment on her own and then cowrote the script with Tristine Skyler, a fellow child actor who had grown up in New York, graduated cum laude from Princeton and had written an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar that Johansson particularly responded to.
“It was important for me that my partner was a New York native,” says Johansson, who has not yet made any casting decisions. “I just want to work on things that are really hard,” she has said. “And when I’m not working on things that are really hard, I want to hang out with people I like to be with, and that’s it.”
One person she especially likes to be with is 32-year-old French creative agency manager Romain Dauriac, the father of the child she’s expecting and to whom she’s now engaged. She has described her divorce from actor Ryan Reynolds as “a very lonely thing. It’s like the loneliest thing you’ll ever do, in some ways.” But that doesn’t mean she’s not willing to take the plunge again.
“I’ve had a fair amount of time to process the experience and go forward,” she has said. “I continue to get to know myself better as I get older, and that helps me in my relationships.”
Getting to know herself better has also helped her career, which over the last year has more than fulfilled the promise she showed almost two decades ago opposite Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. In Spike Jonze’s Her, she accomplished one of 2013’s most spectacular cinematic feats. Even though she never appeared on-screen, she turned the voice of an operating system into a fully formed, three-dimensional character.
“You know, I gotta hustle,” Johansson told an interviewer in the fall. “Pretty soon the roles you’re offered all become mothers. Then they just sort of stop.” This month, in Under the Skin, she plays an alien seductress with a predilection for picking up hitchhikers. The film—in which Johansson shows more skin than ever before—has already proven divisive on the festival circuit, which doesn’t seem to bother her. She also reprises the part of the slinky Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff) from Marvel’s The Avengers in the sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier before starring opposite Robert Downey Jr. in Jon Favreau’s comedy Chef. Lucy, which premieres in August, is one of those Luc Besson action flicks with Morgan Freeman in the vein of Taken. Next on the docket: two additional installments of the Avengers series.
Johansson also made waves earlier this year on the international political scene. After eight years as an Oxfam ambassador, she stepped down in January when the antipoverty group expressed criticism of SodaStream, an Israeli-owned company, for operating a factory in the West Bank. Johansson, who had been working as a representative for SodaStream and starred in the company’s first marketing campaign, disagreed with the backlash.
“I don’t feel the same pull to stay relevant,” Johansson says of the boldness that seems to drive her recent decisions. “I think I’m less concerned with impressing others and more focused on what feels authentic.”