From a distance, fans may think Hollywood is as cliquish as a high school cafeteria: action- star jocks sitting at one table, drama nerds at the next; red carpet leading ladies seated far away from the back-of-the-class goof-balls. That world doesn’t really exist, but even if it did, Scarlett Johansson would be a table- hopper: a tough-kid tomboy, ridiculous comic, gorgeous world traveler, badass action hero, and sexpot, all at once–and always a woman everyone, everywhere, would like to sit down with.
So I do just that. Fresh off her Glamour photo shoot, Johansson has shed the metallic Lanvin you see on the cover and changed into an unpretentious sweater and jeans. You don’t have to squint hard to see the fearless New York City theater kid who grew up singing show tunes and tap-dancing in her living room with her twin brother, just a few blocks away from the downtown Manhattan photo studio where me meet up.
The famously husky, grown-up voice that she’s had forever (see her breakout childhood roles in Manny & Lo and The Horse Whisperer, and of course 2003’s Lost in Translation) makes so much more sense now. Today Johansson is defining adulthood on her own terms: She has bounced back from her 2011 divorce from Ryan Reynolds, gotten engaged to French journalist Romain Dauriac, moved on from being managed by her mother, learned to embrace her status and the “Sexiest Woman Alive,” and begun to find a new niche as a kind of bombshell everywoman: from the loud-“tawking” Jersey girl of last year’s Don Jon to the dream-girl operating system of Spike Jonze’s award-winning Her. In this spring’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she’s trotting back out her tough femme fatale, the two-pistol-toting Black Widow–a character so popular that she may be the first female superhero in years to get a major film, beating out Wonder Woman to the (ahem) punch.
But since Johansson never strays too far from her indie roots, she’s pulling a doubleheader right now, starring in Under the Skin, a thriller in which her character picks up pedestrians on the streets of Glasgow, Scotland. Some of the men in the movie were actually real passersby–and made the final cut. The secrecy of filming with the non-actors was uncomfortable for her: “I don’t like the feeling of knowing something that somebody else doesn’t,’ she tells me, growing suddely a little awkward. It’s a moment that will echo in my mind a few days later, when the internet is ablaze with news that she and Dauriac are reportedly expecting their first child. Johansson really is in a new phase of her life. Listen in as she opens up about how she got here, and what matters now.
The last time Glamour interviewed you for a cover story, you said that when you turn 30 you might open a bakery. You turn 30 this fall. Where’s the bakery?
Oh! What’s that Les Mis quote? “I was young and unafraid–and dreams were made and used and wasted….” [Laughs.] My job still excites me. I couldn’t have foreseen it being so exciting for so long, being a jaded 20-year-old, or whatever.
So no bakery, then?
I mean, I have a couple of side projects. But no bakery.
What are the side projects?
Well, I’m developing a film to direct. And I’ve often thought it would be fun to have a restaurant or food store.
And you’re also still singing and making music in addition to the acting. I hear there’s more music on the way? Yeah. I formed this girl band called The One and Only Singles with a group of friends of mine. Dave Sitek [of TV on the Radio] produced a couple of songs for us. The idea was to do a sort of über-pop band: Bangles-esque, Go-Go’s feeling.
So are we gonna get more music soon?
It’s funny, I did a song last year that my friend Josh Ralph wrote for a documentary called Chasing Ice, and the song was Oscar- nominated for Best Original Song. This year a song I performed for Her, which Karen O cowrote and also performs, was nominated. Every single you record, you get a nomination. That might be the [closest to an] Oscar nomination I ever get! Your Captain America costar Chris Evans says you’re a karaoke ringer. What’s your go-to song? It definitely changes, depending on what phase I’m in in my life. The past couple of years, I’ve been really into Fleetwood Mac.
Like, depressing divorce-era Fleetwood Mac? Or fun?
Either way! I do “Second Hand News” or “Dreams.” Every once in a while, I pull out “Landslide.” Not a dry eye in the karaoke room. You seem destined to be the voice in a Disney musical– Oh, that’s my dream! I loved Frozen! Have you seen it? That’s like, a life goal, to be the voice in a Disney movie. Can someone make that happen?
We’re on it. Lately in Hollywood, guys like James Franco or Joseph Gordon-Levitt are directing and launching TV shows and recording albums and writing books. But it seems to me that many women–you’re one notable exception–are less likely to branch out.
Definitely. I think, in an actress’s career, there’s probably a sense of urgency to stay relevant, to stay the object of desire, or to stay in the spotlight. Your career is much shorter, in general. Male actors can work forever and ever and continue to be leading- man-material. For actresses, it’s much harder. Young actresses think, OK, I’m gonna make hay while the sun shines…later on, I’ll direct a film when my acting career slows down. But you’re going for it anyway by directing an adaptation of Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing. It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long– since I was, like, 12.
In Hollywood, have you ever had a mentor?
I didn’t really have a mentor growing up other than my sister, but when I was a little girl I wanted to be like Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. She had both a fragility and a strength that I was in total awe of. Other than my mother, I think she was the picture of femininity to me.
You’ve said that you felt stuck in a moment in time, playing young women.
It’s been a long transition. When I made Lost in Translation, I was 17, and now I’m 29. I played somebody in my early twenties in that film, but I was still 17. I think I’ve been “in my twenties” for, like, over a decade! That’s a normal side effect of being a young actor. You’re captured in a certain time of your life, and it’s hard for people to move past that.
Like everyone, you’ve had ups and downs. What’s been the toughest moment of your career?
Well, before I did Iron Man 2, I had sort of reached a plateau. I was no longer an ingenue, which I was happy to shed the title of. But I was also only 25. And I had played that kind of “girl in transition” for a while. I didn’t want to do that anymore. A lot of actresses in their early thirties had this plethora of opportunities, and for me, it was just kind of dry. I needed something on a bigger scale. But finding what that was that would still have the integrity was hard. Tell me about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Are you going to be kicking more ass? So far, the guys have had the fun. Yeah, the Black Widow kicks ass in Winter Soldier. I had some pretty rad fight sequences in Avengers, but a lot of fighting in Winter Soldier is hand-to-hand. It’s brutal, street- fighting style… such a weird thing: I kinda got career-sidetracked in the superhero lane–happily! But I never thought I’d have, like, sports injuries.
Gotta ask: Why do you hate the nickname ScarJo?
I associate that name with, like, pop stars. It sounds tacky. It’s lazy and flippant. And there’s something kind of violent about it. There’s something insulting about it.
You don’t hold back. It seems like you’ve gotten more comfortable with your sexiest-woman alive status over the years. True?
You have to figure out a way to use that to your advantage. You have to take a look at the George Clooney method or Matt Damon method. It’s much easier to swallow when you can be cheeky than if you fight against it. Actresses get stupid questions asked of them all the time. Like, “How do you stay sexy?” Or “What’s your sexiest quality?” Ridiculous things you would never ask a man because they’d just walk out of the interview. As I get older, I am more comfortable with myself, my body, my image. Plus, it’s probably gonna fade in the next couple years. I should just relish it now, before people are like, “How do you hold on to your youth?” Or “How do you avoid wrinkles?”
I think you’ve got a few years before that. When you were starting out, was there another young actress you admired?
There were actresses that were a few years older than me, like Kirsten Dunst. She was a great kid actor and continues to be a strong talent as an adult. She was very natural, and even as an adolescent, she had a commanding presence.
Have you ever gotten a great piece of advice at work?
I remember Laurence Fishburne once asking me at eight years old if I wanted to be an actor or a movie star. I said, “Both.” It took me several years to understand what he was trying to help me to think about. Of course, a kid wants it all, but I later realized that I wanted to the work. The work is what’s important.
We’re near your old public elementary school, P.S. 41, in Greenwich Village. You were a theater kid from early on, right?
Yeah. I was a musical theater buff. I took tap dance and singing and all that. We did Oliver! And the musical theater director gave my twin brother, Hunter, the part of Fagin, the big part. He did a great job. He had a beard and everything. He was so cute.
Do you have a special connection with your twin?
[Nods.] I mean, we’ve been together since the womb. We’re very protective of each other. I think that has to do with us being twins but also our upbringing: My parents got divorced when we were 13. There was a lot of movement. A lot happening. And I was working. My parents were on either coast, and our next older sibling is five years olden than us and was in college while we were still at home. We had to stick together and be each other’s constant in an environment that was really changing a lot.
You brought up divorce. You voiced the artificial intelligence operating system in Spike Jonze’s Her, and I was wondering what it was like to work on a film that’s about moving on with your life after heartbreak, after your own divorce from Ryan Reynolds.
When I started to talk with Spike about the film, we shared our relationship experiences. We talked about what it feels like to not have something work and what that does to your sense of self.
How are your different now?
I think I know myself better. I feel I know more of what I need in a relationship, what I want in a relationship. And I know I have more tools to communicate, not just with my partner, but with myself. That’s not necessarily any reflection of who I was married to or what was happening in my marriage, but really where I was in my life. When I was first married, I was much younger. And I have had the opportunity now to work more on getting to know myself. I think that makes you a better partner and somebody who is able to work with somebody and stay in a relationship in the not-romantic moments. I have more patience with myself I have more patience with my partner. I think that just comes with age, probably.
So the plan is basically that once you get through this crazy year of work, you and Romain will figure out a wedding date?
Yeah, I guess so. We’re just going with the flow. I’ve never been one to do a full-on themed wedding. I don’t care about that stuff.
The two of your are splitting time between New York and Paris. What’s a typical weekend in Paris?
Well, he loves art, so we might visit some of the galleries or go to a museum. That’s his true passion. I like to experience that with him. I guess part of the wonderful thing about living in Paris is how people take their time with things. And I like to feel no pressure on the weekends in Paris. Sunday, most things are closed in Paris, and there’s something wonderful about that. So I’m much more comfortable just spending the weekend in my bed.
Has Paris changed your sense of style?
Yeah. Because I have more competition! The nice thing about being in Paris is that you know everybody’s looking at what you’re wearing: You have an audience, you know? New York is about street style that’s functional. A Paris look is not functional! It doesn’t matter if your shoes are comfortable. Here [in New York] you can still wear your Nikes. In Paris you suck it up. You hobble around. Although my girlfriends in Paris and I decided we’re adopting the trend of athletic streetwear ’cause we got sick of it. I was like, “I am sick of not feeling my big toe after two hours of dancing!”
So you go all out in your sneakers?
Yeah. Flyknits or old-school Reeboks–and we don’t care. If the whole flock of girls is wearing it, the guys have to accept it. So we just wear it with confidence. Here’s the thing: When you’re dancing your pants off, nobody’s looking at your shoes.