“I THINK I UNDERSTAND MY EMOTIONAL STATE and MY COMPLEXITIES NOW IN a MUCH CLEARER WAY.” —SCARLETT JOHANSSON
However you feel about Scarlett Johansson as an actress, a movie star, or a celebrity—and she is, at this stage, most definitely all three of those things—this much is undeniable: she has a certain appeal. She is tremendously talented, to be sure, but never seems to transform into a black hole of tetchy method madness. Her beauty, too, isn’t hesitant—on screen, she is a focus magnet—but neither is it inaccessible. In the decade since her breakthrough in Sofia Coppola‘s Lost in Translation (2003), her precocious ingénue halo has also quietly dissipated, and she has grown into a woman who clearly contains multitudes: she’s a Woody Allen muse and a superhero, with the gravitas (and the smoky timbre) to sing an album of Tom Waits songs and a face that is frequently used to sell luxury goods. And though she has grown up in front of the world and survived a mélange of public relationships and paparazzi-stalking and phone-hacking, she seems neither vehemently overprotective of her privacy nor a compulsive over-sharer. But in an era when the notion of an actor’s appeal has been reduced to a metric of success typified by sets of quasi-sabermetric floating numbers—and it’s worth noting that by those measures, Johansson is considered among the most successful people on the planet—she has somehow managed to remain above and beyond it all, doing different things, occasionally pleasantly weird or challenging things, and deftly hop-scotching around all of the landmines, integrity and soul intact.
Johansson’s inherent appeal—as such things are wont—has kept her busy over the last couple of years and, in fact, comes into play in very different ways in a trio of new films. In Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s recently released feature-directorial debut, Don Jon, she plays a sweetly romantic, movie-obsessed Jersey girl with big hair and a bigger heart, whose budding relationship with film’s titular GTL player (Gordon-Levitt) is impeded by his more advanced relationship with porn. In an interesting sort of mirroring, Johansson tackles the other side of the intimacy equation in Spike Jonze‘s Her, a near-futuristic love story due out in December in which she voices an artificially intelligent computer operating system that both entrances and enlivens a lonely writer (Joaquin Phoenix). And in Jonathan Glazer’s dark new sci-fi tone poem, Under the Skin, an enigmatic film that divided audiences with its minimal dialogue and unconventional arc when it screened last month in Venice, she plays a gothy seductress from another world who lands in the Scottish Highlands and summarily lays waste to her prey in a way that makes Ben Kingsley’s combustible, erratically violent character in Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2001) seem like an almost affable houseguest.
In addition, Johansson has two other movies in the offing, her Iron Man 2 (2010) director Jon Favreau’s comedy Chef and Luc Besson’s Lucy, and she will reprise her Iron Man/Avengers franchise role as cagey Russian spy Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow, in a couple of new Marvel Universe installments, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Next summer, Johansson will also direct her own first feature with an adaptation of Truman Capote‘s Summer Crossing, based on an early novel concerning a summer romance in New York City that Capote began in the mid-1940s but ultimately set aside. (It was eventually discovered amongst his papers and published in 2005.) And if that weren’t enough, she also recently got engaged to her boyfriend of roughly a year, Frenchman Romain Dauriac. (She was previously married to actor Ryan Reynolds; they divorced in 2011.)
Director Darren Aronofsky recently spoke with the very busy 28-year-old Johansson, who was on the beach on Long Island on a brief break between films.
DARREN ARONOFSKY: Where are you?
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: I’m at the beach, actually. How about you?
ARONOFSKY: I’m in the dark editing room I’ve been in for the last four or five months. So beach versus dark editing room …
JOHANSSON: Well, you know … It’s where your passion lies.
ARONOFSKY: And you want to direct …
JOHANSSON: I know. I don’t know what I’m thinking. I’m actually thinking about having the first-ever outdoor editing bay.
ARONOFSKY: Smart idea. So I’ve given some thought about how to do this interview.
JOHANSSON: I’m just going to answer “yes” or “no” to every question.
ARONOFSKY: I was actually thinking about make it multiple choice. Just remember: “D” will always be “All of the above.”
JOHANSSON: I’m getting bad SAT flashbacks. What did you get on your SATs?
ARONOFSKY: You really want to have this conversation?
JOHANSSON: Did you go to Brooklyn Tech or Bronx Science?
ARONOFSKY: I didn’t get in to either of those schools. [Johansson laughs] I went to a real public school that you didn’t have to take a test to get into.
JOHANSSON: So what was your SAT score?
ARONOFSKY: I really have no idea. You go first.
JOHANSSON: I think the way it worked when I took them was that they were out of 1,600, so maybe you’d get a 1,240 if you were a smarty-pants. I got a 1,080, which was pretty low. But that was probably because I didn’t answer half of the math questions.
“I JUST DIDN’T THINK THAT I WOULD BE ABLE TO STAY IN THAT KIND OF TWISTED FRENZY THAT A LOT OF ACTORS FEEL THEY NEED IN ORDER TO WORK.” —SCARLETT JOHANSSON
ARONOFSKY: I heard that they might be getting rid of the SATs. Someone was telling me that their son was working for a company that’s making computer games that provide some type of personality feedback. It’s actually very relevant to Her, which we’ll get to in a moment, but essentially, the idea is that you play the video game and then, based on how you negotiate different problem-solving exercises that you have to do to get through it, a more street-smart score is generated.
JOHANSSON: What is the game like? Do you get to drive a little car and go through different lands?
ARONOFSKY: I didn’t get the details, but it sounded like a great idea. I was like, “Why didn’t that happen when I was in school?”
JOHANSSON: I know.
ARONOFSKY: But it sort of relates to Her, which I saw two days ago. You’d never worked with Spike Jonze before this, had you?
JOHANSSON: No, I hadn’t, but I knew him a little bit through Bennett [Miller]. I’d always admired his work, though. I read the script because I knew that he wanted to do a work session on the character. I like doing voice work, and I’ve also become increasingly interested in pushing different parts of performance, whether it’s a physical thing or a kind of vocal nuance, so this seemed like it would be an interesting thing to at least talk about. We met and did a work session, which was supposed to just be a lunch and a read-through, but we ended up working together for nine hours—which was great, but I was exhausted at the end. I remember the two of us eating hummus in his kitchen … I was like, “Is this what the process is going to be like?” [laughs] Of course, I didn’t know whether what I brought to it would work for him because he’d already shot the film and had to fit whatever it was that we did into what he’d already shot. I saw a couple of his takes with Joaquin [Phoenix], and did a little bit of work there. But what I thought was going to be four days of recording turned into a really involved process. At times, I would even record with Joaquin, who really made himself available in an amazing way.
ARONOFSKY: Was he in the room with you or was he on the phone?
JOHANSSON: He was in the room. So we did several sessions with him. Then sometimes I would do sessions with Spike where I would act opposite him, or I would act opposite the playback just to see how that was. But it was a very different experience from being on set.
ARONOFSKY: Were you in a recording studio or in, like, a home studio type of thing?
JOHANSSON: We were in a recording studio in Hollywood.
ARONOFSKY: So what did you find most useful: working with the director, working with the actor, or working by yourself?
JOHANSSON: I think they all brought out different things. When I was working opposite the playback, I had this sort of empathy for the performance in a different kind of way—I was experiencing it almost as I would imagine somebody who writes music might feel as they looked at an image. There was something poetic about it. And of course, working with Joaquin, there was a dynamic where we were discovering different parts of this relationship. He’s so natural and so intuitive, so it was fun to bounce the ball back and forth and see where the scene went—and it was different every time because I was working with his live performance. And then with Spike, he is such a sympathetic character as a person—so soulful and sensitive—that the familiarity that grew between us affected me in a very different way. It’s hard to tell what ended up in the final film, but I think all of those ways of working were useful in some way.
ARONOFSKY: Did you think about what you were going to do with your voice in terms of what artificial intelligence might sound like? Or was the goal always just to be as present and natural with the performance as possible?
JOHANSSON: Well, one thing that Spike really emphasized was the fact that the character, Samantha, is really experiencing everything in the moment because she’s developing, so she doesn’t have any preconceived ideas of anything. Even her programming is not really preconceived—she has no opinion on anything until she forms it right then, in the moment. So Spike just wanted it to have a real levity and, I think, a curiosity. He also wanted that level of depth. So more than just the tone of the voice, which was ultimately sort of unimportant. With her, it was about finding the shape of things and building this character that’s almost a babe—but just fresh out of the package in every way.
ARONOFSKY: I love how the film deals with relationships in this setting that is just slightly in the future. Even though the film takes place in the future, and Samantha isn’t human, the kinds of conversations that occur between your character and Joaquin’s character are the kinds of conversations that everyone has in relationships. It was just such a spectacular way to think about romance and love—and as people grow apart or become dependent on each other, how honest conversations break down and start to get filled with dishonesty. Despite the futuristic setting, it was an interesting way to comment on what relationships are like in the contemporary world.
JOHANSSON: It’s funny because everybody seems to have a very different reaction to the futuristic part of it. Spike was describing the reaction of a friend of his who had seen it, and he said that person really focused on the kind of apocalyptic feeling of the movie.
ARONOFSKY: I actually found it relieving it wasn’t another sci-fi apocalypse film. There have been so many films about what happens once humanity melts down. But to look 15 or 20 years in the future and to imagine, if everything continues to go pretty well, how people might be communicating and hanging out and relating to one another, is very different.
JOHANSSON: There’s nothing Jetsons-y about it.
ARONOFSKY: No. It’s actually very close to the world we’re living in now. The only difference is that instead of people staring at screens … Actually, it’s not much different. If you walk down the streets of New York today, people are lost in text … I mean, I’ve already almost been run over by three different Citi Bikes because people were texting and riding.
JOHANSSON: How do you feel about the Citi Bikes?
ARONOFSKY: You know, I’m a big New York City biker, so I was all excited for the Citi Bikes, but I didn’t realize they were going to be billboards—they’ve all got these huge ads on the sides. So I was a little upset by that. But I’ve used Citi Bikes a few times. I signed up and there is not a better way to get a across town during rush hour. So I’m pretty happy with it—although, I think it’s more dangerous now. It used to be dangerous to bike in the city because no one cared about bikers, but if you kind of knew what you were doing, you were fine. Now, though, it’s much more dangerous because there are so many people out there who don’t really know how to bike in the city, and there are people who are riding around like they’re in the suburbs. So it’s crazy. I wonder what the casualty reports and the injury reports will look like.
JOHANSSON: First of all, I’m terrified to ride a bike in a city—and I grew up riding bikes in the city. I’ve just heard enough stories—I have enough friends who’ve been hit by taxicabs and things. Then, you know, there’s also the bike messenger who is definitely riding with a purpose and wants you off his fucking bike path.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF MOMENTS ON STAGE WHERE YOU THINK, ‘IF ONE OF MY BOOBS JUST FELL OUT RIGHT NOW . . .’ SCARLETT JOHANSSON
ARONOFSKY: That’s the guy I always get behind. I always get behind the guy with one gear. That’s the guy I’m going to follow.
JOHANSSON: Yes, you have to ride the wave of the fixed gear—you have to just sort of catch that wave and ride it. Otherwise, you wind up riding behind somebody who has no idea how to ride a bike.
ARONOFSKY: And there are a lot more of those people out there now.
JOHANSSON: Yeah. I mean, as a bike rider, I’m somewhere in the middle—and I don’t like to be put in the middle. I’d rather be really good at something or not do it at all … [laughs]
ARONOFSKY: Let’s talk about growing up in New York City. You grew up in Manhattan, right?
JOHANSSON: Yes, I’m from Manhattan.
ARONOFSKY: What school did you go to?
JOHANSSON: I went to Professional Children’s School from eighth grade until I graduated.
ARONOFSKY: What did you do before eighth grade?
JOHANSSON: Before that, I went to P.S. 41 in Greenwich Village on 11th Street.
ARONOFSKY: That’s the in-demand school right now.
JOHANSSON: No way! When I went there, the Village was a bit different. I grew up in, like, a middle-income housing development in the West Village that’s now, of course, been turned into condos.
ARONOFSKY: Not that artist colony with clear-bottomed semicircular balconies, right?
JOHANSSON: Westbeth? No. I lived in this development that was, like, a bunch of brick buildings on the west side around the West Side Highway, on Washington below 14th Street.
ARONOFSKY: The city has changed.
JOHANSSON: It has changed. When I went to the public school—especially at the one that’s now so in-demand—it was really diverse. I mean, it was in-demand back then, but that was because a lot of the artists in the neighborhood had kids who went there. This was in the pre-Sex and the City days …
ARONOFSKY: So when you were in elementary school, Giuliani was mayor?
JOHANSSON: Dinkins, and then Giuliani.
ARONOFSKY: So you weren’t alive when Ed Koch was mayor?
JOHANSSON: [laughs] I was really young when he was mayor. I remember Ed Koch more from his People’s Court days, Darren.
ARONOFSKY: He was quite a character. But I’m kind of getting a picture of the New York City you grew up in.
JOHANSSON: My most vivid memories of New York are all throughout the ’90s. That’s when I was in my prime—you know, 11 or 12 years old, owning the street.
ARONOFSKY: What do you think of the various political races that are going on in New York City right now?
JOHANSSON: Well, as you know, I’m a Scott Stringer supporter.
ARONOFSKY: Oh, that’s right, you told me about that. He’s now running now against [Eliot] Spitzer.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, for comptroller.
ARONOFSKY: I thought that Stringer’s comment about when he found out that Spitzer was running was really funny. I read in the paper that his mother was one of the first people to call him when it was announced, and was like, “Oy …”
JOHANSSON: I don’t think anybody ever cared about the comptroller position as much until Spitzer came into the race.
ARONOFSKY: To be honest, I still don’t know what the comptroller does.
JOHANSSON: It has to do with finance and where money is allocated. But don’t ask me—I failed the math section of the SATs, remember? But since Stringer backed out of the mayoral race, that one has become a little bit of a clown show.
ARONOFSKY: Back to Scarlett in the city. Do you remember the first time you started to become aware that there was this thing called acting that you could possibly do?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, I remember it vividly, actually. It was when I started making films. I did my first one when I was 8 years old—it was a Rob Reiner movie called North . But even before then, I was a big song-and-dance type of kid—you know, one of those kids with jazz hands. I liked to improvise and do weird vocal exercises. I was a major ham—if you can believe it, Darren.
ARONOFSKY: Well, you got it out of your system.
JOHANSSON: That’s right. [laughs] And then puberty hit and I crawled into a dark, cold shell and never left. But I took acting classes. My brother did Little League, and I took acting and singing and tap and all that shit. Then I got into auditioning. There was someone in my older brother’s class who was doing some commercials and theater, so my mom took me to that kid’s agent because I loved musicals. They didn’t want me, though. I was devastated. I thought it was the end of my career.
ARONOFSKY: Did you cry?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, I cried. And that’s when I realized that by crying, I could get whatever I wanted …
“I WAS ALWAYS TERRIBLE AT COMMERCIALS BECAUSE MY VOICE WAS SO DEEP. AT THE AGE OF NINE, I SOUNDED LIKE A WHISKEY-DRINKING, CHAIN-SMOKING FOOL.” —SCARLETT JOHANSSON
JOHANSSON: But after I was rejected by that agency, I remember standing outside in Greenwich Village with my mom—I think we were on Houston or something—and she was saying, “Do you really want to do this? You’re so devastated.” And maybe it was the rejection or whatever, but I really wanted to give it a try, and she supported that. So I finally ended up finding an agent who did want me, and I began auditioning and started to book work-films, in particular. I was always terrible at commercials because my voice was so deep. At the age of 9, I sounded like a whiskey-drinking, chain-smoking fool. Wasn’t going to sell Jell-O with that voice, you know? But when I was about 12, I was working on The Horse Whisperer . I’d made probably five or six movies at that point—I was doing a lot of really emotional work—but I remember finding that place of realizing, “Oh, wait, I can manipulate this thing that I’m doing.” I could start to see the colors of the scenes and to understand the nuances of what went into giving a performance. It was this realization that acting was more than just this natural thing—that it was something that you could craft.
ARONOFSKY: I read something about your mom being a big film freak. Was that a big influence when you were starting out?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, definitely. My mom showed me a lot of movies when I was a kid—all of the movies that she loved. She loved musicals. She loved all those Elia Kazan movies. And then her passion really lies in those political thrillers from the ’70s and those [John] Cassavetes movies. She’s still an avid film consumer—she sees everything. But she’s a baby boomer, so the ’70s is her period. I’ve got to say, there’s nothing quite like watching Network  as a 9-year-old …
ARONOFSKY: You think about how sanitized so many films are today compared to how they were back then … I was just showing my 7-year-old Close Encounters of the Third Kind , and just to see this [Steven] Spielberg film where all of the characters are talking over one another … You just would never see that in a movie today, where people are actually having conversations over one another and through one another, and lots of other different things happening in a scene. It just feels like making movies now has become so much about boiling everything down to making a single point in every scene. Do you feel that as an actress?
JOHANSSON: Well, recently, I worked a couple of days with Jon Favreau on a project that he’s doing called Chef, which he has written and directed and is also starring in it. But it was so interesting because I had just done the Captain America sequel, which is so much about what you’re talking about—getting to the point of each scene and being really clear, especially because a lot of the information that’s important to the plot in those big action films, all the tech jargon and stuff, can sometimes be very complicated and difficult to understand. So each scene on a film like that gets boiled down to that one final moment of, “This is the end, unless we do this …”
ARONOFSKY: There’s a puzzle of a plot point that leads to the next puzzle of a plot point.
JOHANSSON: And it doesn’t mean it’s bad—it just means that it’s definitely squeaky clean. There’s no overlapping, that’s for sure. The studios require you to oversimplify things, even if the audience doesn’t care. It was funny, though, because I worked with Favreau before, on Iron Man 2, and, of course, he has done a lot of big films since Swingers . But then to go from that to working with him on this small independent film, where it was me and Jon and John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale …
ARONOFSKY: So it was not a fun set at all.
JOHANSSON: [laughs] Yeah, everybody was just a big old boring theater actor. But working with Jon in this very different context and being able to do all this delicious work that was messy and fun was great because, in that kind of scenario, the scene sort of finds itself and the point is made in an organic way. We even improvised—and improvisation has never been my strong point. But like Her, it really pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a way that was exciting.
ARONOFSKY: I’d think you’d be great at improv. You’re hilarious.
JOHANSSON: But when you have to be hilarious with people like Jon Favreau and all those guys, it’s different—those guys are all ridiculous. They’re absurd. Leguizamo, Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman—everybody’s brain on that movie was just much bigger than mine, so I just sort of sat there and sponged it up.
ARONOFSKY: Tell me a bit about Don Jon. I’m a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s work. He’d always told me he wanted to direct, but how was it working with an actor as a director? I guess you’ve done it a few times now. But do you find that directors who are also actors have something different to offer you?
JOHANSSON: Um … Well … You know …
ARONOFSKY: It’s a trick question.
JOHANSSON: Yes, they’re better at it. [laughs] No, it’s funny because I was also working with Joe as an actor in the film, so that added even another layer of complexity to the relationship. But he was pretty great at balancing it all. I’ve worked with some other actor-directors who I think maybe have had a harder time doing that …
ARONOFSKY: Because they’re thinking about the camera?
JOHANSSON: No. They just might have been overly critical of their work or have had a more difficult time gaining a perspective on their performance as an actor. But for some wonderful reason, Joe just seemed to shift from one chair to the other in a very easy way. He was very relaxed but engaged and had a real command of the set—which is very important for a director because I think it made everybody feel safe. So I loved working with him. I was also fortunate enough that I got to see the development of the project with him, because I think I was the first person who read the script.
WITH HER, IT WAS ABOUT FINDING the SHAPE OF THINGS AND BUILDING this CHARACTER THAT’S almost A BABE—BUT JUST FRESH OUT OF the PACKAGE IN EVERY WAY. SCARLETT JOHANSSON
ARONOFSKY: He just showed it to you as a friend? Or was he trying to engage you early in the process?
JOHANSSON: I actually didn’t know him before, but he’d written that part with me in mind, and so I was the first place that he went with it. Then, once I committed, he developed the project around us doing it together.
ARONOFSKY: And then what’s up with Jonathan Glazer?
JOHANSSON: [sings] What’s up with Glazer? [laughs]
ARONOFSKY: This guy makes one of the best first films I’ve ever seen with Sexy Beast, but it’s been such a long time since he’s done a film. When do we see the film that you did with him?
JOHANSSON: Spike actually saw Under the Skin with me a few weeks ago—they’re looking for a distributor. I’m so curious to see how people will react to that one. Of course, I saw the film knowing what happens, but watching it feels like you’re strapped to a runaway train going 400 miles an hour toward an asteroid or something. There’s this feeling to it of perpetual forward movement. It’s a crazily anxious movie. My manager, Rick Yorn, was like, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since I saw that. It’s affected me for life somehow.”
ARONOFSKY: Well, I believe it. Jonathan Glazer has the power to do that.
JOHANSSON: Yeah, he’s pretty incredible. It’s so funny because when you meet Jonathan, based on his work, you expect maybe that he’ll be a kind of dark horse who has these strange ideas … But I’m sure that a lot of people think this about you, too.
ARONOFSKY: Tell them how wrong they are about me, Scarlett. Spread the word.
JOHANSSON: I’m here today to tell all the Interview readers that you’re a big ol’ pussycat. Everybody’s got their quirks, though, and Jonathan is such a sensitive, engaged, funny person. But then you see the film and you’re like, “Jesus, is that what’s in his mind all the time?” I actually wanted to ask you about that, Darren: I know what you’re like as a person, but do you have the kinds of things that we see in your movies going on in your mind all the time?
ARONOFSKY: Well, I think that when I was a younger filmmaker, I was pretty obsessed and possessed by the material. But as you get older, you have other things going on if your life. I think it’s important to take a break. The film I’m probably the least obsessive about was The Wrestler , and I had tremendous success with it, which showed me that maybe you don’t need to be completely obsessive about things—although, it is important to be obsessive and 100 percent focused in the moment. You probably go through a similar thing when you’re performing on stage, where you have to just be there in the moment. But I’d imagine that you’d also probably need to be somewhere else, too, when you’re doing a run of 200 shows—otherwise, you’d probably go insane. That’s the thing I’ve never understood about theater—and probably why it requires such great discipline from actors. I don’t know how you can relax when you know that you have to go on every day to do that two-hour thing of going to certain physical and emotional places. To somehow then separate yourself from that and have a life and relax and breathe seems extraordinarily difficult to me. How do you do that when you’re working on stage? How do you find refuge?
JOHANSSON: Oh, man … I don’t know. I mean, the thing is, much like you described, I always thought that I had to get into some twisted, complex emotional place to work from. But I thought that if I became more aware of myself and more active in my choices, then I might be able to find a place of refuge in myself, because I just didn’t think that I would be able to stay in that kind of twisted frenzy that a lot of actors feel they need in order to work.
ARONOFSKY: Olivier versus Hoffman. That’s the famous conversation.
ARONOFSKY: That part of the process has definitely changed for me. I did used to believe that you needed to maintain a certain state in order to do certain kinds of work—and you can definitely get results from that. You can get a certain type of passion. But I remember working with Ellen Burstyn on Requiem for a Dream  and watching her do some incredibly difficult things both physically and emotionally—things that were just completely out there. When you called action, she was the character. But when you said cut, she would, for the most part, break out of it. She would keep one foot in it because she knew we were probably going to have to do another take. But you’d call cut and she would just suddenly become Ellen again. That’s when I sort of saw that working that way was a possibility—that you could be completely focused on something, but then also have the ability to step out of it.
JOHANSSON: Different things work for different people. One thing I’ve realized, though, is that the work that I’ve done on myself outside of my work as an actress has really allowed me to open up my mind. I think I understand my emotional state and my complexities now in a much clearer way, and I can put them to rest in a way that there’s almost a catharsis that happens through the work, where I can do it and then find myself again. Especially in theater, where you’re doing something like eight shows a week, giving three-hour performances each time, and the work is agonizing and there’s never a moment to rest. I would just perish if I wasn’t able to meet my boyfriend for dinner afterward, or meet a couple of friends for drinks, or get up the next day and go to the gym, or see my dad, or just do those everyday things. That makes it seem like it’s an easy thing to do—which it’s not. There are times in the middle of the run where you’re going, “Wait a minute—there are three months left?” And then you start to calculate how many hours that is of being on stage and things like that. But then once you get out there, it all goes away. What’s funny is that you can sometimes give some of the best performances when you’re so reluctant precisely because you have to dig deeper with every show.
“JONATHAN [GLAZER] IS SUCH a SENSITIVE, ENGAGED, FUNNY PERSON. BUT THEN YOU SEE THE FILM AND YOU’RE LIKE, ‘JESUS, IS THAT WHAT’S IN HIS MIND ALL THE TIME?'” —SCARLETT JOHANSSON
ARONOFSKY: Does your mind ever drift while you’re on stage?
JOHANSSON: Yeah, all the time.
ARONOFSKY: I don’t want to be getting into your head or anything, but if I had to perform on stage every night for months at a time, I’d imagine that at some point I’d just walk into the audience and start hugging people or something.
JOHANSSON: Oh, there are plenty of moments on stage where you think, “If one of my boobs just fell out right now …”
ARONOFSKY: [laughs] What would you do if that happened?
JOHANSSON: Or you think, “What if I just started peeing right now on stage? Or vomited on the whole front row?” That would be career-ending.
ARONOFSKY: For some other people, it could be career-starting. A lot of careers have started with sex tapes, haven’t they?
JOHANSSON: That’s true. I took the hard road, I guess.
ARONOFSKY: And now you’re going to direct.
JOHANSSON: Yeah. I’m actually directing an adaptation of a Truman Capote novel called Summer Crossing. It’s ready to go, baby. We’re going to shoot in New York next summer.
ARONOFSKY: You wrote the script with Tristine Skyler?
JOHANSSON: We wrote it together.
ARONOFSKY: You know I’m friends with her.
JOHANSSON: I think I remember her telling me that.
ARONOFSKY: How do you know her?
JOHANSSON: I ended up reading some of her material. I read an adaptation she did of The Bell Jar and some other works of hers. And then it just so happened that I met with her. We have a lot in common. She also grew up in New York. We have a lot of similarities in our origin stories and some of the same friends. She’s a wonderful writer. It was so great to bounce ideas off of her. This was a project that I’d been developing for such a long time that to finally be able to take the treatment that I’d written and flesh that out into a full-length script was amazing.
ARONOFSKY: Are you going to act in it as well?
JOHANSSON: No, thank god. I’m going to keep the people from having to witness that. It would be a nightmare. I would need you to come and co-direct it for me.
ARONOFSKY: Is it a period piece?
JOHANSSON: It is. It takes place in New York in 1948.
ARONOFSKY: Of course, because I guess Truman Capote wasn’t really writing about 2014, was he?
JOHANSSON: [laughs] No, it was contemporary to that time. The setting is an aspect of the story, but I don’t want it to limit us. I don’t want it to look like one of those postcard movies, where everybody looks costume-y. I hate that stuff. But I’m excited.
ARONOFSKY: So you’re getting time off from the Marvel Universe to do that?
JOHANSSON: No, I’m making the Avengers sequel first. Got to squeeze that in. We’ll be shooting that in January.
ARONOFSKY: So back to Cleveland?
JOHANSSON: I think we’re taking it to the streets this time, I think we’re going overseas. That’s the word, at least.
ARONOFSKY: We could get into trouble for revealing that.
JOHANSSON: I don’t even think you should say that I’m doing [The Avengers: Age of Ultron].
ARONOFSKY: You’ll definitely get in trouble for that. So back to the gym then.
JOHANSSON: Well, we just finished [Captain America: The Winter Soldier], and then I’m working with Luc Besson this fall, so I’ll be in a semi-decent shape already.
ARONOFSKY: What are you doing with Luc Besson?
JOHANSSON: We’re doing a film called Lucy. It’s one that he wrote that has been developing for 10 years or something. I wouldn’t say it’s science fiction, but it’s definitely a thriller. I play a character who, throughout the course of the film, begins to use a greater and greater capacity of her brain. We’re shooting that in Taipei and Paris.
ARONOFSKY: I’m sure some people in China might get offended, but my friend’s dad, who is a big Chinese scholar, always says that the best Chinese food is in Taiwan … I’m sure there will be more message board comments about this than anything we’ve said so far—even The Avengers. They take their cooking very seriously over there.
JOHANSSON: That’s what I hear. I’ve been to Shanghai before, which has it’s own cuisine. Obviously, every area has it’s own specialty.
ARONOFSKY: It’s worth a flight to Shanghai while you’re in Taiwan, you have to try some hairy crab.
JOHANSSON: I don’t know …
ARONOFSKY: Trust me on this. It’s called hairy crab. They’re not really hairy, but they kind of look hairy. I had it and it was remarkable. They’re only available for a few months out of the year, but you’ll be over there at the right time. You’re going to Taiwan during hairy crab season, so you should be happy.
JOHANSSON: That’s not a sentence you hear every day. What’s so great about hairy crab?
ARONOFSKY: The sauce, if you must know. You dip them in a sauce. Well, first, the table is covered in tons of paper because it’s a huge mess. But it was some type of dipping sauce that was amazing … I have very fond memories of it.
JOHANSSON: Do you have to peel the crab? Or do you eat the whole thing like soft-shell crab?
ARONOFSKY: I think the meat is inside. You don’t need to eat the hairy part. You just kind of suck the hairy part.
JOHANSSON: I hope that’s the cover line.
ARONOFSKY: It will be the pull quote. I didn’t say my SAT score, by the way, but I’ll tell it to you right now. It was 1,360.
JOHANSSON: You suck. Damn it.
ARONOFSKY: I’m sure it’s worse than Bennett’s though. It’s not a very good score for a director.
JOHANSSON: Well, now I feel like a big dummy with 1,080.
ARONOFSKY: That’s a pretty good score for someone who went to Professional Children’s School, I’m sure.
JOHANSSON: They have a very high rate of drug … I mean, Ivy Leaguers! A lot of the kids that went to our school were also Juilliard students. [both laugh] A bunch of pot-smoking, Beatles-listening …
ARONOFSKY: Did you actually have a camaraderie with the kids in that school? Or was everybody off on their own trip?
JOHANSSON: No, I had a good group of friends in high school.
ARONOFSKY: Did you have a prom?
JOHANSSON: I went three years in a row, actually. It was never fun.
ARONOFSKY: Those kinds of things are always a letdown. When you look forward to something like that, it can never really hold its muster.
JOHANSSON: Did you go to prom?
ARONOFSKY: No. I was backpacking around Europe at the time. I got out of high school as quickly as I could and sort of disappeared for a while.
JOHANSSON: After that 1,360 score, you decided it was a good time to leave?
ARONOFSKY: High SAT scores don’t work well in Brooklyn high schools.
JOHANSSON: Really? Why not?
ARONOFSKY: You don’t fit in too well.
JOHANSSON: You could have gone to Hunter College High School.
ARONOFSKY: I didn’t get in to Hunter.
JOHANSSON: That’s not true!
ARONOFSKY: I didn’t. It was the hardest school to get into.
JOHANSSON: I didn’t get into NYU’s film school. I still have the rejection letter.
ARONOFSKY: That’s worth putting on the internet.
JOHANSSON: I know. I was actually at the inauguration in 2009, and my brother Hunter came with me. He’s involved in city politics, so he knows everyone at the administrative level. Anyhow, we’re there freezing our asses off, and my brother was like, “Scarlett, that’s the president of NYU standing right in front of us. Do you want to tell him?” And I was on the absolute verge of going up to him to tell him. But then I realized that it might prevent me from one day getting one of those degrees they give you.
ARONOFSKY: If you talked badly to him? Or because you didn’t get in?
JOHANSSON: If I talked smack to him.
ARONOFSKY: Oh, no. He might have actually thought about righting his university’s ways by giving you an honorary degree.
JOHANSSON: Well, I just want to put that out there—that I’m available.
ARONOFSKY: That you’re available to accept any and all post-graduate degrees?
ARONOFSKY: I think your SAT score might actually prevent that from happening.
DARREN ARONOFSKY IS THE DIRECTOR OF PI (1998), REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000), THE FOUNTAIN (2006), THE WRESTLER (2008), AND BLACK SWAN (2010). HIS NEXT FILM, NOAH, WILL BE RELEASED IN MARCH 2014.