Scarlett Johansson in 'A View from the Bridge'
I was nervous that if I was absolutely panned, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to try the stage again and I would have hated that."
At 25, Scarlett Johansson is at the peak of her game in Hollywood, boasting a resume peppered with must-see films (Lost in Translation, Match Point, this summer’s Iron Man 2), a celebrity husband (hunky Ryan Reynolds) and a guaranteed spot on any and every “sexiest” list. So why’s she spending the cold (cold!) winter on the Broadway stage living out the human heartbreak of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge? Turns out the native New Yorker is living out a long-brewing dream. And the dream only got richer last week when Broadway’s toughest critics fought their natural instinct to send movie stars running back to the Hollywood Hills and instead welcomed the stage neophyte with open arms. In fact, the way things are looking, Johansson might find herself back at the Tony Awards this year, where she first appeared in 2004 to present the award for Best Actress in a Play, this time as a nominee in that very category. Broadway.com chatted with the down-to-earth Johansson about her new career as a lady of the stage.
Congrats on your amazing reviews! Did you read them?
I read a couple that were very, very kind and lovely. I still have to go out there every night until April 4, so it’s hard for me to soak all of that up. I’m just happy. Everybody’s worked so hard for this production and has really given 110%. It’s nice to see that recognized.
Broadway critics haven’t been so nice to film stars who’ve recently made the leap from the screen to the stage. Were you nervous?
More than anything, I was nervous that if I was absolutely panned, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to try the stage again and I would have hated that. I was also concerned that people weren’t going to be able to hear anything I was saying, but I learned that I have a little bit of a booming voice, so that quickly melted away that concern! Of course, I had a certain wariness going into it, but we’re all actors, you know? Either your kind of presence translates to the stage or it doesn’t. It’s up to the theater gods, I guess.
So this isn’t a Broadway drive-by? You actually want to have a stage career?
I would love to. The theater community has been so gracious and much more supportive than I ever could have imagined, myself being a cynical New Yorker! When we first started, I said to Liev, “I’m so nervous. I don’t know how I’m going to relate to the audience. I don’t know how they’re going to relate to me and how this whole relationship works!” And he said, “What you’re forgetting is that they’re excited to be at the theater. They want the show to be great.” I guess I forgot that. People are here for the excitement of live theater, to see some of that magic that happens. It was very helpful for me to hear. I realized, “You’re right. Maybe they don’t want us all to fail.”
It seems like Broadway has always been on your to-do list.
Well, I’ve loved theater since I was three years old or whenever… since I could see over the seat in front of me.
What was your first Broadway show?
I don’t remember my first, but I must have been really little. I loved musicals. I actually started acting because I wanted to be in a musical. I saw Carousel, Oklahoma! and The Secret Garden… I must have seen Les Miz a zillion times!
Who took you to all these shows?
My mother. She was such a theater junkie. When I told [A View from the Bridge director] Greg Mosher that I had seen the Anthony LaPaglia version of this play 11 years ago, he said, “You were just 12 or 13!” I said, “I know, but I was there!”
And musicals were your thing?
Yeah. I can’t remember exactly what got me wanting to do musicals. But then when I turned pre-pubescent and anxious and paranoid and introspective in a really awful way, I became very self-conscious and suddenly realized I didn’t want to do musical theater.
But weren’t you talking to Andrew Lloyd Webber a few years back about playing Maria in The Sound of Music in London?
There was a moment, until I said, “What am I thinking?! I don’t want to do musical theater!” It’s just not my thing. I’m a musical junkie, but I don’t have that kind of discipline. I have such huge admiration for those actors that can do it. They’re like the ultimate triple threats to me!
I thought we’d see a musical in your future. I’ve heard your albums. You definitely have a singing voice.
No. I mean, I would love to do a musical film. That would be something that would be a lot of fun for me. I love all of those Rodgers and Hammerstein movies and I love what’s happened with the revival of musical film recently. It’s really fun and exciting. But eight shows a week? Oh my God, no way! That’s a lot of Throat Coat tea!
Your friend Hugh Jackman [Johansson’s co-star in Scoop and The Prestige] is working on a new Carousel movie. You could be his Julie Jordan!
There you go! He’s perfect for that movie. All right, make it happen. Get Hugh’s people talking to my people!
So what’s it like to be a part of the Bridge acting family, led by Liev Schreiber? How does it compare to your film experiences?
I’m over the moon about it. It’s just been so much fun for me. I can really bunker down and get my hands dirty. There’s been a lot of room to play and try things and embarrass yourself and be terrible but then find something brilliant in it. There’s so much life in that experience. And then going out with everyone after the show, being able to analyze each show we’ve had, find things to work on… I like to multitask; the more you pile on me, the better. I do well under pressure. If I can remember 16 notes and try to apply them all in one performance, it makes me feel alive. I love that. In film, you don’t spend the time to explore the plight of your character and analyze it in the same way. It’s so much more immediate. Here, night after night, you have another chance to make it work.
Let’s talk about your Brooklyn accent. How did you nail it? Growing up in New York, you probably knew a few chicks who talked like that.
Definitely. I grew up here, so it’s easy for me. My mom’s whole side of the family is from New York, though they’re Jewish so it’s a little different from the Italian Brooklyn accent. I guess it’s just in me. I think it’s something you absorb.
Are you taking it offstage?
Oh my God. You should hear me! I’m such a dork. My family’s probably so sick of me. Somebody will say, “Did you see that package that just arrived?” And I go, “Whataya talkin’ about? Where?!” It’s terrible. Especially after an after-show glass of wine! Then it really sticks around longer than it needs to.
You’ve been in a movie every year since you were eight years old. Is it weird to have footage of your entire childhood like that?
I don’t know. I’d rather see films that I did when I was 10 than awful family photos. At least with the films, you can be kind of sentimental, like “I remember shooting that scene,” or “I remember loving that costume and wanting to take it home.” But with embarrassing family photos, you just want to burn them. Luckily, when I was a kid, there wasn’t the perverse fascination with child actors that exists now. I was able to film something and then go back to my school and play in the neighborhood with my friends. I had a regular life. I didn’t have to worry about some paparazzi posting my dodge ball game on the Internet. I feel fortunate to have missed that.
You still do a good job of keeping your personal life, and especially your life with your husband, private.
Yeah, as much as I can. I hate that stuff. I’m just an actor for hire. I’m not a spokesperson for any particular kind of lifestyle. I’m a private person. My family, my friends—they’re very sacred to me. My ideal would be to be completely anonymous and then get to work on fantastic projects that are absolutely rewarding. I want to live that Philip Seymour Hoffman lifestyle. You see him and admire him, but you don’t know what neighborhood he lives in, you know?
Your film career is so diverse, from romantic comedies to costume dramas to action flicks to Woody Allen. How do you decide what to do next?
I try to work on projects that I would pay to see. It doesn’t always work out, of course. Sometimes you think you would pay to see something and then you realize when you see it that you wouldn’t pay for it. But I try to do stuff that I think is interesting and exciting. I recently did the Iron Man sequel because I loved the first Iron Man so much. I would have done [director] Jon Favreau’s catering if he asked me to! You just find little things that excite you and try to give it a whirl.
What’s the best thing about being on Broadway?
Hmm… the best thing is probably eating dinner at 11 o’clock. [Laughs.] I’ve always wanted to eat dinner at 11, but can never somehow justify it. It's a perk. Probably not so great for the metabolism, but you make some sacrifices.
So you think we’ll see you around these parts again?
If the demand is there, I’ll be there! God yeah, I would absolutely love it. This is a dream job for me.
See Scarlett Johansson in A View from the Bridge at the Cort Theatre.