Ahead of the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron this month, we here at The Indiependent are celebrating by looking in depth at the most defining achievements of it’s spectacular ensemble cast. Today, we’re focusing in on the career of the franchise’s leading lady, Scarlett Johansson. A starlet if ever there was one, Johansson is arguably the closest thing we have to a modern-day Marilyn Monroe; Beautiful, charming, oozing with sex appeal and a sharp wit, she is one of the most watchable actresses of her generation – and talented to boot. Able to play both the most delicate and the most fierce of ladies, here is a rundown of five of Johansson’s most career-defining choices.
Rebecca in Ghost World (2001)
Johansson’s performance in Ghost World is often cited as her breakthrough role. The film – based on Daniel Clowes’ comic of the same name – revolves around two socially outcast girls, named Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson), who are faced with the boredom of summer, after they graduate from high-school. They both dream of sharing an apartment together, to get away from their dreary, humdrum lives. But when they interfere with the life of a lonely middle-aged man called Seymour (Steve Buscemi), their friendship begins to fall apart. Johansson’s performance is terrifically droll, as she plays a fresh-faced, disinterested teenager, trying to break free and become more independent. The contrast between that and Birch’s neo-cool, misanthropic persona as Enid, makes for a really interesting central relationship between the two characters – who are both similar and completely different. The lines of the film are also amusingly relatable, with Johansson’s deadpan quotes including gems like “Some people are okay… but mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody” and “he gives me like, a total boner”. Though the film didn’t bring in huge amounts at the box office, it received widespread critical acclaim and is now considered a cult classic.
Charlotte in Lost In Translation (2003)
Sofia Coppola’s comedy-drama, Lost in Translation is the film that really put Johansson on the map, and signified her capability to progress as a mature actress. Aged only 18, Johansson played the role of Charlotte – a young college graduate who is left to her own devices in a Tokyo hotel room, while her celebrity photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is working an assignment. At the hotel bar, she meets Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an ageing film actor, who is in Tokyo to film a $2 million whiskey advertisement. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, bonding through their trips out into the capital, where they experience the differences between American and Japanese culture – as well as the contrast between their own generations. Johansson really does shine in this film; her fresh-faced curiosity and vulnerability contrasting terrifically with Murray’s older, more complex character. And the subtlety of both Johansson and Murray’s performances are beautiful, as these two strangers connected in their isolation. Both actors won BAFTA awards for their performances, as well as receiving tumultuous critical acclaim.
The voice of Samantha in Her (2013)
For such a radiant beauty as Johansson, it would be easy to play up to that traditional Hollywood star persona all the time, in which looks are key. However, her involvement in projects such as Spike Jonze’s Oscar-winning Her, prove Johansson’s capability to be more than just a pretty face. In the film, Johansson voices Samantha – a Siri-like computer operating system, personified by strangely realistic female characteristics. Samantha is the OS of Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), a lonely, introverted man who works as a writer of love letters. Despite their obvious physical differences, the two fall in love, and must tackle the complications that come from such an intricate relationship. Interestingly, Johansson was not the first choice for the role of Samantha, and was cast during post-production, replacing Samantha Morton. However, it’s hard to imagine how effective the character would be now, without Johansson’s husky, sweet voice at it’s core. Johansson gives real depth and character to this role, which is elevated by the lack of a physical appearance – she makes Samantha seem real, which makes the story and the heartbreaking romance between her and Theodore so much more poignant. Her rendition of ‘The Moon Song’ is also hauntingly beautiful, giving a sense of warmth in some of the film’s coldest, most emotional scenes.
‘The Woman’ in Under The Skin (2013)
Johansson has always possessed the beauty and wit necessary to play a true femme fatale. And, apart from Black Widow perhaps, she has never succeeded in playing to this stereotype better than in Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin. In it, she plays an alien entity who hides beneath a gloriously attractive female body. ‘The Woman’ skulks about Glasgow, hunting for men to consume in the black void that she keeps in her apartment. The film is peculiar to say the least, and quite surreal in some aspects, but Johansson’s central performance is truly mesmerising. Speaking with a distorted English accent, Johansson ingratiated herself into the role with furvour, with many of the film’s key scenes – in which ‘the woman’ is enrapturing her prey – being unscripted, and therefore reliant on her capacity to improvise in character. Seductive, unnervingly mysterious and increasingly perceptive, Johansson’s portrayal of this other-worldly creature is as captivating to audiences as it is to the poor men that she harvests in the story. Accompanied by the colourful noir-like cinematography and Mica Levi’s chilling score, this is an art-house film that is both thought-provoking and spectacular in it’s content.
Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (2010-Present)
With the exception of Lost in Translation, Johansson’s performance as SHIELD Agent/former assassin, Natasha Romanoff (A.K.A Black Widow) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is probably her most infamous role to date. Her portrayal of the character first appeared in 2010′s Iron Man 2, undercover at Stark Industries and going by the name Natalie Rushman for half of the film. Effortlessly badass, Johansson whipped up a storm in her first real scene as the ‘Black Widow’, when she donned the catsuit and kicked, tasered and slid her way through a corridor of thuggish guards. And in subsequent appearances (namely The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier), she has continued to impress with her sultry butt-kicking and titillatingly smart acts of espionage. She has also managed to add emotional depth to the comic book character, holding a painful backstory behind that tough exterior. Her interactions with Bruce, Hawkeye and Loki in The Avengers especially, showcased a certain vulnerability, that Johansson executed perfectly. A female super-hero to be proud of, and a true role model for girls of the world if ever there was one, here’s hoping that one day Johansson will commandeer her own Black Widow movie. But until then, you can see more of Natasha in Age of Ultron.
Other Notable Performances Include: Match Point (2005), Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008), Don Jon (2013) and Lucy (2014)
Words by Annie Honeyball