A siren of the silver screen, Scarlett Johansson has stunned Sofia Coppola and served as Woody Allen’s muse. Now the famed actress is on a “psychotic” quest-embodying Janet Leigh for the film Hitchcock–and returning to the great white way in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.
Did you watch Hitchcock movies when you were growing up?
I did. My mom was a huge movie buff. We had the whole collection. Of course we watched Psycho, but I was always terrified of it. Strangers on a Train, I loved that one. And Vertigo, which I never understood until I got older. We did, we watched a lot of Hitchcock movies.
How did you prepare for one of the most iconic scenes in movie history?
Hmm, how did I prepare? Well, I just prepared myself to get very, very wet…she says with a glimmer in her eye! We only had the luxury to shoot the scene for a day, and everybody was feeling very nervous because it involved water and nobody wants the actor to get wet. They were concerned with modesty and all these things—but I don’t care about any of that stuff and Janet Leigh never did either. You have got to be brave, get into the shower, and face Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock jabbing you in the face with a 12-inch kitchen knife, you know—
Wow, that sounds dangerous.
But that’s what he does! As much as Anthony Hopkins is a pussycat, he’s terrifying. Maybe I watched Silence of the Lambs too many times when I was a kid. Maybe I was having some flashbacks. So I didn’t need too much preparation for the scene.
What about Hitchcock’s famously lewd behavior with his actresses. Does the film address that?
Oh it does, it goes into the many perversions of Hitchcock. We get to see the mind of Hitchcock. That’s really what the film is about: his struggle at the twilight, or in the autumn, of his career. He had all this success, like North by Northwest, and everybody was looking for him to have another huge hit like that. And he found this pulp novel that kind of allowed him to explore all his perversions. The film is based on many of those. I play Janet Leigh, who we were talking about before, who was married to Tony Curtis with two children. She couldn’t be a victim like some of his other actresses were—like Tippi Hedren and Vera Miles.
When you say victim, is that to suggest they never recovered?
Well, Tippi Hedren—I actually read an article about her recently and in this interview she said that she never felt that her career recovered after The Birds. And I also think that Vera Miles was in a similar situation after Psycho. Hitchcock would put them on this kind of a contract and they could just never leave. He would keep them on episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the case of Psycho he cast Vera Miles as a really dowdy kind of a character when she was really supposed to be his leading lady. And when she decided to get pregnant and have a family, he never called her again. It seems that he held it against her forever. Fortunately my character never fell into that trap. And if Janet always stressed that she had a fabulous relationship with Hitchcock, it’s partly because there was no threat of this sort of situation happening again. They were able to have fun, a sort of flirtatious-platonic relationship.
Which one hears was the only kind of relationship he ever had with women.
Well, he was married. He was married to Alma, who developed all of his projects with him and was the real power behind a lot of his films. She was very creative herself, but she was also the creature behind the mask. The strong woman behind the brilliant man, that sort of thing.
But he never fell in love with another woman or had affairs. He stayed true to his wife.
I don’t know whether he ever had any affairs. Some people say he was gay.
François Truffaut, who interviewed him at length, suggests that he married at 25 still a virgin…
It’s funny because I spoke to Anthony about that and about this idea that he could be gay and I think Anthony definitely took that into consideration when he was developing the character. And of course you see the affection between Hitchcock and Alma. But at that point in time, their relationship, I think, was mostly platonic. Though I don’t think Hitchcock ever crossed the boundaries, physically anyway. Who knows?
Have you always been conscious of your sex appeal?
I think all little girls are aware of their sex appeal, I think probably more so when they’re pubescent. I mean I remember being an extremely flirtatious little girl. I liked boys. I think I was also inspired by certain films I watched when I was a girl. I loved Judy Garland and I loved these Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and I had this idea of romance—the dream girl getting the dream guy—and all that stuff.
Have you ever been in a musical?
No, I’ve never been in a musical.
Well, you should. Aren’t you a singer?
I would love to do a musical. I think they’re difficult to pull off nowadays. But they can work. It would be nice to do a new musical.
In what way would it be new?
I don’t know. I think the idea of people sort of breaking out into song just in the middle of chatting—we’re not capable of accepting that kind of fantasy anymore. Maybe a new musical could be a sort of exceptional visual experiment that doesn’t follow the traditional guidelines of the love story. Maybe it’s something dark or otherworldly. A musical project? Maybe…who knows!
Are you on vacation in Paris or have you decided to live here for good?
I’m living and vacationing here all at once. Then I go back to New York to start preparation for a play in the fall. But I’m convinced it will be the death of me. So I’m going to spend a couple of months mourning the loss of my existence.
Your theatrical existence?
No, not even theatrical. It’s just that the last time I found my way onto Broadway it was such a fresh and amazing experience…For this play, it’s going to be hard to live that many weeks in a state of embarrassment and regret and self-loathing and desperation and all the things the character has gone through. To live that eight times a week for two hours each time and then all of a sudden Monday comes around and you find the theater closed—you say to yourself, Oh, what is different about today? Oh, right, I haven’t been in an emotional turmoil for 24 hours. So, I get a break from this, like, pulling at whatever you can to get where you need to go in the moment. I think it’s just not a natural state to be in, to constantly dig up what stirs and disturbs you and air it all out for everyone to see, so to speak. So the preparation for such a project is like you have to have a huge surgery or something and you’re going to be out of commission for six months. It’s a big pill to swallow. A big, wonderful pill.
What’s the project?
We’re doing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I’ll be wearing the very same outfit I wore for the shoot, in a white version.
Are you from the South?
No. I’ve always loved Louisiana and loved that Cajun culture. I love Tennessee Williams and I think I always felt somehow like I was supposed to live in New Orleans. Maybe I’m nostalgic for a time I never lived through.
Ah, I almost forgot. What makes you so goddesslike?
What makes me so goddesslike? Posing for you! [laughs]
I don’t believe you… but thanks anyway!