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Scarlett Johansson finds herself on a new stage -- Broadway

BACKSTAGE

The experienced film actress but theater neophyte is starring in Arthur Miller's 'A View From the Bridge.'

January 31, 2010|By John Horn

The more Johansson thought about the offer, though, the more she wondered if the distance from her adolescence had brought a more meaningful -- and informed -- point of view. That Schreiber would be on stage with her was critical too.

"Somehow, I probably had a better perspective than when I was 18 or 19," she says. And her friends encouraged her to say yes, even if she would be making her professional theatrical debut playing a vital part in a landmark play -- on Broadway, no less.

"I wanted to be a little bit scared," says the actress, who just released the album "Break Up" with Pete Yorn. "It would be a real challenge, but in the best way."

Unlike with any movie role, Johansson had weeks of rehearsal with Schreiber, Jessica Hecht (as Eddie's wife, Beatrice), Michael Cristofer (Alfieri) and Corey Stoll (Marco). Mosher says she had "the whole New York thing down -- not just the accent, but the attitude and the energy," but needed to learn that "you have to act with your whole body" and never play the role exactly the same way twice.

Johansson says that she needed to figure out how to play to a theater, not just a room; rather than waiting for feedback from a film director, she had to sense how the audience was reacting.

"It's so unfamiliar to me, so I put up a wall there," she says. "I can sense the audience, but I didn't yet have the relationship with them in the same way I have a relationship with a camera, which is funny. When you're doing film acting, it's very hard to have a perspective on your performance -- that's why you need a great director, a second pair of eyes, that you trust and is following your story."

Inside a theater in the middle of a performance, that role shifts to the audience, her fellow actors and Johansson herself. And along the way she has found herself examining her acting habits, "some of the things that have been limiting me."

Equally complicated was trying to sort out Catherine's emotions. "It is a lot to cover," the actress says.

Catherine is incredibly loyal to her uncle and isn't initially sophisticated enough to know that Eddie doesn't exactly have her best interests in mind. At the same time, Rodolpho's arrival -- and a pending new job in a plumbing office -- awakens in Catherine new feelings about herself, her future, her independence.

Those feelings

"I've never spent so much time feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed -- all of these emotions we are supposed to avoid," Johansson says. "There were days when I had this realization -- and this is going to sound corny -- that it was so challenging and so rewarding. It was a whole new world."

She and Schreiber spent much of their rehearsal time sorting out their characters' bond. "They have this incredibly complicated and touching and perhaps inappropriate relationship," she says. At first, "it's pretty innocent," and then there's the play's famous kiss. Unlike a movie set, however, the actors could spend days -- if not weeks -- figuring out how to stage a scene. "In the film world, we would have about 15 minutes to solve these problems. And if we didn't, it would cost us thousands of dollars."

Johansson is the latest Hollywood star to make his or her way to Broadway. The trend -- which has helped sell tickets to plays, including "All My Sons" with Katie Holmes -- has opened film actors to criticism as carpetbaggers.

Johansson knows those shots are part of the deal. "Yes, of course I am going to be on the hot seat," she says, imagining what her detractors might say. "Who the hell do I think I am coming up here? I've got no formal training, and I haven't been pounding the pavement on 42nd Street.

"At first," she continues, "I felt a little self-conscious about it. But Liev told me, 'The audience wants you to succeed.' I actually never think about the financial part of it -- the pressure to sell tickets. I only promise to show up on time and do my part. And I just hope I will have the opportunity to do it again.

"I am learning," she says, glancing at a note on her dressing room mirror reminding her to twirl in one scene. "I'm learning each show, more and more."

john.horn@latimes.com

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