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Staying professional, not getting personal

Scarlett Johansson sits down for an actual interview after dealing with a fabricated one in a British magazine.

December 28, 2008|Lisa Rosen

Scarlett Johansson's every move seems to make news, even when the news is made up.

A few weeks ago, Cosmopolitan UK published a cover story featuring a number of quotes from the star of movies such as "Lost in Translation" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" about her recent marriage to actor Ryan Reynolds. Problem was, she never said them. The interview hadn't taken place; the writer had invented the quotes and folded them into a previously published American Cosmo story.

Johansson had just returned from a foreign press tour flogging her new movie, "The Spirit," to learn that she had apparently divulged information about her September marriage to Reynolds. "I read the article, and thought, 'What the . . . ?' " recalls the actress, who has long made it a point not to publicly discuss her private life. "We dug a little deeper, and it got even weirder. The story was written by someone with a pseudonym; they don't know the real writer. It was bought by this agency that sold the same story to half a dozen tabloids."

Sitting over a late breakfast at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood, nursing a cold, she shrugged off the bizarre event. "I'm pretty sure there's a statement and an apology" forthcoming, she says, which she planned to accept. (Later in the week, Cosmo UK published that apology on its website, to be repeated in its next published issue.)

After this real interview, she was heading off to tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" before the "Spirit" premiere. That evening on the program, Leno made mention of her cold. She joked that she had caught it from "Spirit" costar Samuel L. Jackson, which added to the cold's value. Leno then riffed that perhaps they should sell the famous germs on EBay, at which point he handed her a tissue, she blew her nose, put it in a plastic bag, zipped it up, and autographed it. The whole bit was a setup, unless Leno happens to store plastic bags and pens under his desk. She mentioned that the auction would benefit U.S.A. Harvest, a charity that she supports. By the next day, that tissue was a hot topic online.

But back at the Chateau Marmont, no bombshells or tissues were dropped. She had come to the hotel solo, dressed in jeans and red Converse sneakers, and otherwise layered against the rainy weather outside. Reddish hair down, with little makeup, she looked lovely and acted courteously, apologizing for not shaking hands because of her illness.

Talking with her brings to mind a line about another great-looking movie dame, Jessica Rabbit; Scarlett Johansson isn't bad, she's just drawn that way. Like Mrs. Rabbit, her ripe looks and a voice like scorched velvet have a strange effect on those around her.

It's a sad state of affairs when a young actress is notable for not behaving like an idiot, but it must be said that for all her paparazzi appeal, she doesn't lure it with wildly inappropriate behavior.

"I don't know when that became a standard for young people." She adds that she and her friends go out to dine and dance like anyone else, "but we're all responsible young adults, within reason I suppose, and that should be the norm. I think that is the norm, really, but maybe it's not just interesting."

While that tissue gag may be a momentary gross-out, it also raised $5,300 for U.S.A. Harvest, and raised more awareness through the hundreds of articles written about the event.

In addition to working with them, she also serves as an ambassador for Oxfam and the Red organization. And during her European press tour, she stopped off in Oslo to co-host the Nobel Prize concert to honor former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. "How many opportunities do you have to meet the Nobel Peace laureate?" she asked.

Born to act?

Despite her youth, the 24-year-old is hardly an ingenue and believes she's been an actress from birth. "I was a real ham when I was a child, one of those jazz-hands kids," she says. She took voice lessons and started studying at the Lee Strasberg Theare and Film Institute at age 7. She booked her first film job, on "North," a year later, and hasn't stopped working since.

She caught the industry's attention at 12, when she won the role of Grace in Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer." "That was a huge break for me. Every girl from 11 to 16 wanted that part," she says. Roles in "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Ghost World" followed. Starring roles in "Lost in Translation" and, 10 days after that wrapped, "Girl With a Pearl Earring," cemented her status. She was nominated for Golden Globes for both performances, winning a BAFTA for the former. "Translation" was also notable because at age 17 she was playing a married woman in her 20s. "I've always played older than my age," Johansson points out.

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