Don Jon's Scarlett Johansson is no shy bombshell
TORONTO—The world has been watching Scarlett Johansson for decades, but what we didn’t know is that she’s been watching us back for at least that long. At a media day during the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, Johansson told a roundtable of assembled journos that her character in Don Jon is one that she’s been “waiting for ages” to play. As a New Yorker, she added, she’s spent a lot of time “gathering nuts” for this role. But how, the Georgia Straight asked, does one of the world’s most recognizable actors get away with anonymous public people-watching?
“Oh, I have a terrible staring problem; I observe all kinds of things,” she said. “In fact, I’m doing it right now.”
I believe her.
In Don Jon, which opens Friday (September 27), Johansson stars opposite first-time writer-director Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He directs himself as the title character, a weekend lady’s man who is also addicted to web porn and whose expectations of women begin and end with what he knows from the Internet.
Johansson plays Barbara, a Five Boroughs beauty whose vinyl nails, “perfect 10” physique, and faux-virtuous marriageability wouldn’t have seemed out of place on The Sopranos. After meeting at a nightclub, Jon takes the bait, seduces Barbara, and decides he’s “in love”—until his expectations (and hers, as well) get in the way of real life.
Although Don Jon is a rom-com at heart, it also has interesting things to say about how pop-cultural representations of intimacy between men and women—whether through porn or the more mainstream genre of Hollywood romantic comedies—warps our ideas of what a romantic relationship should look like. So did Johansson take the part of Barbara as a way to comment on, and possibly subvert, her own status as a silver-screen sex symbol?
“Are you asking me if feel objectified? I think that, sure, I’ve been a ‘victim’ of that, if you want to call it that, but only as much as anybody else,” she answered. “I don’t feel particularly singled out as more than any other person. All you have to do is go out to a nightclub to see that happening every day. A man is not always trying to get to undress a woman’s brain first.”
Johansson added that women aren’t necessarily in it for the conversation either. Still, she said, she has never been afraid to use her status as what she calls a “sexiest whatever label you want to put on it” to her advantage, especially in the advancement of her career. More important is the job of figuring out how to avoid being pigeonholed.
“I don’t want the work I do to feel like a reaction, that all I’m doing is trying to get away from [something],” she said. Instead, Johansson is most comfortable these days taking chances in the roles she chooses. Barbara is a departure for her in the sense that the film, at a certain point, moves past her role as the object of desire.
“It would be such a waste to just continue to do the same thing and not take a risk,” she said “I don’t have anything to lose, really. Even if it doesn’t work out, the gain if it does is so much greater. Taking those risks is something I feel more and more comfortable with.”