Scarlett Johansson: Scandinavia is part of my heritage
The star never forgets his Scandinavian roots.
Danish was her parents secret language
“Jeg elsker dig.” The Danish words for “I love you” are the ones that most Americans with Scandinavian roots can say. And this is also true of Scarlett Johansson. “The only words I can say are jeg elsker dig,” she says. “My parents always used Danish as a secret language, so we kids wouldn’t understand what they were talking about.”
What do her Scandinavian roots look like? In her case, several countries are involved. Her grandparents were named Ejner and Hedda Bainkamp Johansson. Ejner’s father was called Axel Robert Johansson and came from Sweden. His wife was Danish.
“Granddad came from Denmark where he was a well-known cultural personality. And my great-grandfather came from Sweden. Hence the name Johansson,” Scarlett, who holds both a US and Danish passport, explains.
“My father and half brother Christian and I have been to Copenhagen, and we also went to Legoland. Copenhagen was a fun city and good to walk around in. I also visited Stockholm a few years ago. I would love to go back. I really feel that Scandinavia is part of my heritage.”
One of the hottest young actors
The first time I met Scarlett Johansson, she was 14 years old. She had a leading role in the Robert Redford movie The Horse Whisperer and did very well acting with Kristin Scott Thomas. Scarlett is now 31 and one of the hottest young actors in the USA. Unlike many actors who enjoyed big success at an early age, she has managed the transition to adult roles without becoming insufferable.
“I have always worked with the things I wanted to work with,” she says. “I am not a spoiled New York brat. I haven’t made any horror films. I have always wanted to do things that seem different.” And she has certainly done that. Over the years, she has mostly appeared in indie movies such as Ghost World, Lost in Translation and Under the Skin.
“When I was fighting Frank Grillo in Captain America, he really beat the crap out of me”
Enjoys doing her own stunts
However, in recent years we have seen her several times as the karate kicking Black Widow in the Marvel movies Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The role includes a number of hair-raising stunts, something Scarlett enjoys but that can also have their downside.
“When I was fighting Frank Grillo in Captain America, he really beat the crap out of me,” she says. “But I want to do as many of my own stunts as possible rather than leaving everything to the stunt guys. And it is always fun to compare bruises when you have finished.”
Rumor has it there will be a movie based on the Black Widow in a few years.
“She has a rich past,” Scarlett says. “She comes from a very dark background. She has been forced to become more human. Now she has feelings. I don’t think she sleeps so well at night. She has never made active choices. She has been a gun for hire. I am really looking forward to following how she develops, if they do make a movie about her.”
The Marvel movies have been Scarlett Johansson’s route into big blockbuster movies.
Elegantly avoids personal questions
“I have been really lucky,” she says. “I have always been busy making good movies, something I have actively aimed to do.” Scarlett is seen in movies and in commercials without ever giving the impression of compromising on her integrity on either a personal or artistic level. She always elegantly avoids questions about her private life. She did that when she was married to Ryan Reynolds, and she does it now that she and her husband Romain Dauriac have become parents. However, she is happy to talk about work.
“The script is always the most important thing,” she says. “If I fall for it, I say yes. Ghost World was the exception. The manuscript was so pared down that I did not understand it. But then I met the director and he explained it to me, and I then said yes.”
One of Scarlett’s most notable roles was in Sofia Coppola’s multi-award-winning Lost in Translation. There, she played a young woman who encounters a lost and jet-lagged American movie star played by Bill Murray in a hotel in Tokyo. “I had never been to Tokyo before, and the experience I had was very similar to the way Bill’s character experiences it in the movie. Charlotte, whom I played, was more lost in her own life than in Tokyo. And the things I experienced in the city helped me capture the mood.”
Every movie has its own challenges
Are there any similarities between the movies she has made? She thinks for a moment. “They all had their own special challenge. I always look for challenges – the idea that I can do something, that I can play a certain character, to keep the character enigmatic for a while.”
In the odd but fascinating science fiction movie Under the Skin, Scarlett played an alien who had come to Earth to prey on people but who suffers qualms of conscience. She did her first nude scenes in the movie. “I did it to test my own boundaries and to see how secure I am in myself,” she says. “So every movie has its own challenges.”
Dislikes the gossip
Another challenge for her is to become more comfortable with contemporary social media. “I am not on Twitter and things like that,” she says. “I hardly know how to use a cellphone. That kind of technology is not my thing. This doesn’t mean I am not curious. If my friends find some juicy gossip on the Internet, I want to know what it is all about immediately.”
However, she has difficulty with the obsession with celebrities she often encounters, not least in the American gossip magazines.
“That is unpleasant,” she says. “With me it started when I had made my breakthrough. Now I appear on the cover of all the gossip magazines in stores and people seem to think that ‘as we have made you into a star, we are entitled to know everything about you.’ Which can be incredibly frustrating. What is private is private.”
Family: Husband Colin Jost, a son, and daughter Rose Dorothy from a previous marriage. Father Karsten Johansson, mother Melanie Sloan, three siblings and a half brother from her father’s first marriage.
Lives: New York
Text by Gunnar Rehlin