Scarlett Johansson was born in Manhattan, New York on November 22, 1984 – on the 21st anniversary of the assassination of JFK. Even though a native New Yorker, Scarlett has a European background: her father is Danish, and her mother has a Polish background. She has an older half-brother who resides in Denmark and two older siblings: Vanessa and Adrian. But Scarlett isn’t the youngest in the family: her twin brother Hunter is three minutes younger! Miss Johansson was named after the Gone With the Wind heroine Scarlett O’Hara while mother Melanie shares the name of Scarlett’s best friend, Melanie Hamilton.
At the tender age of three Scarlett discovered acting and told her mother: “I have a fire in my brain to act.” Ever since she was a child, Scarlett had been fascinated by cinema and the beautiful actresses of days gone by. She watched The Silence Of The Lambs at the age of eight and developed a mature taste in films and a critical eye early on. At the age of seven Scarlett realized that acting could be a real profession. She gained this knowledge by watching films and going to auditions for ads, the latter being a suggestion from a family friend. But they didn’t want Scarlett – only her brother – so she was left disappointed. Apparently, Scarlett did not react well to rejections. She had hysterical fits and once threw a tantrum on the subway. Finally, her mother realized how serious her daughter was and they started auditioning for films. She also enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Institute where she had the opportunity to perform in front of a live audience. Here she studied from ages eight to 11. Before Scarlett got her first film role, she made her professional acting debut opposite Ethan Hawke in the off-Broadway production of Sophistry at the tender age of eight. Her first screen appearances followed in the mid-1990s productions of North, Just Cause, If Lucy Fell and Fall. Her parts in the films were only short, but what is remarkable is that Scarlett, sharing the screen with stars like Bruce Willis and Sean Connery, already showed great potential. She added something to her roles that not many very young actors can: she gave them personality – or maybe just hints of what this child could be if we were to see more of her. And – unlike with the commercials – her raspy voice was helping her to be more than just a sweet child.
Ms. Johansson first gained serious recognition as Manny in Manny & Lo (1996). She played the young runaway orphan with great maturity and professionalism and the performance earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actress – at the age of 12! Scarlett made her breakthrough in Hollywood in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer in 1998, where she played the troubled Grace. Grace lost her leg and best friend in a terrible horse accident and is trying to go on. The film itself may not only have gotten positive reviews but Scarlett’s performance was praised. And it was then that Redford made the famous statement: “Scarlett is 13 going on 30.”
It is certainly this kind of maturity, an awareness of her surroundings and that of other people, that helps her to portray her characters so realistically. After The Horse Whisperer, Scarlett took a break only to come back with Rebecca in Ghost World in 2001. She played the 18-year old eccentric best friend of the outcast Enid when she was only 15. 2001 also marked the year for the release of two other high quality pictures featuring Scarlett: An American Rhapsody and The Man Who Wasn’t There. These three films really improved her reputation as a talented young actress on the rise. 2002 followed with the campy horror flick Eight Legged Freaks. Scarlett also finished high school – she attended Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School – and announced her plan to go to Purchase University, New York to study Film in 2003.
In 2002 Scarlett shot three films – The Perfect Score in Vancouver, Lost In Translation in Tokyo and Girl with a Pearl Earring in Luxembourg. The first to hit theaters was Lost In Translation. It was an instant hit ever since its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where Scarlett won the Upstream Prize for Best Actress. Indeed, her performance was stunning, even more so when you consider that Scarlett was mere 17-years old when she played the newlywed twentysomething. Sofia Coppola’s second film – which was shot in just 27 days with a very limited budget – was praised and loved both by the critics and its audience. It did very well at the box office. Its highest position was #5 and it stayed in the top 20 until at least February 2004. The adaptation of a best-selling novel inspired by Vermeer’s famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, joined the festival circuit months before opening in theaters. Scarlett’s subtle performances in these two films initiated rave reviews and countless of headlines such as ‘Scarlett Fever’. The fact that Scarlett was winning more and more awards led many journalists to believe it was safe to drop the word ‘Oscar’ in their Scarlett-praising articles. Overnight, Scarlett Johansson became the new big star, especially in Toronto, where two of her films were screened. She stunned everyone with her naturalism, freshness and lively interviews. Even though Scarlett welcomed the new attention – focusing on her acting as she realized success would improve her choice of projects – she wasn’t as pleased about being labeled the new ‘It-Girl’. Before success even hit Scarlett, she started work on a project she had set her eyes on in 2000. Finances for A Love Song for Bobby Long starring John Travolta were finally secured and shooting started in New Orleans in summer 2003 and finished before Scarlett set off for Venice and her journey to success. In the midst of the 2003/04 awards season and success of her films, Scarlett traveled to Italy to shoot A Good Woman, an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde play, co-starring Helen Hunt and Tom Wilkinson. Even though working with Sofia Coppola on Lost In Translation did strengthen her ambition to become a director herself, Scarlett rejected her plans to go to Purchase University. She would have had to be there regularly, which would have made it difficult to take on acting jobs. She decided she’d rather just take courses from time to time and learn the rest right there on film sets.
In some ways 2004 started out as a low year for Scarlett. The long overdue The Perfect Score was finally released and neither the critics or audience warmed up to the teen comedy. They just couldn’t help comparing it to the extraordinary cinematic masterpieces known as Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring. Although nominated twice for Best Leading Actress at the Golden Globes, Scarlett ended up empty handed… And she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. After the prestigious award ceremony in February, Scarlett made first-hand experience with awful gossip. It was said that she was making out with the much older Benicio del Toro in a lift. A sarcastic joke she later made to Elle magazine was taken as fact by many and caused scandalous headlines throughout the media. Other stories concerning her love life and her relationship with her mother soon emerged. Clearly, the media wasn’t gentle on this rising star. In 2004 Scarlett also went public with her political beliefs. As a supporter of runner-up for democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean, Scarlett was wearing a Howard Dean badge to the The Perfect Score premiere. When John Kerry ended up being the democrat candidate, she also supported his campaign on several occasions. Obviously, the re-election of George W. Bush as the US president must have been some sort of setback for the opinionated actress.
But then, 2004 also was the year of Scarlett: her work in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring were certainly noticed and honored. For example, she won the prestigious Best Actress BAFTA, the British equivalent to the Academy Award. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (Oscar Academy) invited her to join the organization. With her red carpet style Scarlett brought back glamour from years gone by. Comparisons to Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall were not rare. At the end of the year many magazines named her ‘Best Newcomer’ when citing the best-dressed people of 2004. Aside from the movie world, Scarlett was also active in the fashion world: she signed a contract with Calvin Klein to be the face for their new fragrance ‘Eternity Moment’ and was part of the fall/winter 2004/05 campaign for Louis Vuitton. Her newly found fame also led to more roles: She plays Dennis Quaid’s daughter and Topher Grace’s love interest in In Good Company (shot in spring/early summer 2004 and released in December). After some projects were delayed and caused a free schedule for the summer, her hero Woody Allen cast her in Match Point. Scarlett packed her bags and flew to London to work on the movie in July 2004. In September Scarlett was part of the Venezia jury at the 61st Venice Film Festival and A Love Song for Bobby Long also had its world premiere there. After promotional work for Calvin Klein, a short vacation, getting her tonsils removed and making two appearances at the Hollywood Film Festival, Scarlett started work on The Island in October 2004, the sci-fi thriller directed by Michael Bay, co-starring Ewan McGregor. And somewhere in 2004 Scarlett also managed to contribute voice work to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Talk about a busy year!
Scarlett received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in A Love Song for Bobby Long in 2005 but the award went to Hilary Swank, who was soon to co-star with Scarlett in Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. After finishing work on The Island in early 2005, Scarlett Johansson flew to Bulgaria to work on The Black Dahlia in April. After a long delay, the film finally started production. Woody Allen was so taken by Scarlett’s work in Match Point that he quickly hired the actress for his next film, a comedy titled Scoop. It was also filmed on location in London in June and July 2005. After wrapping up the comedy, Scarlett promoted The Island all over the world, attending premieres and gracing magazine covers worldwide. Unfortunately, the response to the Michael Bay action movie, which opened in July 2005, was a let down – both in the box office and in the eyes of the critics. After months of promoting The Island and filming Scoop, Match Point opened in late 2005. Scarlett received rave reviews for her performance as Nola Rice, an actress struggling with love and passion. The film also earned Ms. Johansson her 4th Golden Globe nomination.
Year 2006 started with a bang for Scarlett. She signed a reported $4mil deal to become the new face of cosmetics giant L’Oreal. Within a couple of months time she also signed on to star in five more films; The Prestige, The Nanny Diaries, Borgia, Amazon and Napoleon and Betsy. Scarlett began filming Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige in January. After wrapping up, she had a well-deserved break from the spotlight before dying those well known locks of hers to brunette and starting to film The Nanny Diaries in April. Borgia ended up getting scrapped but Scarlett soon signed on to star in Justin Chadwick’s period piece, The Other Boleyn Girl. She traveled back to England to work on the film and befriended co-star Natalie Portman. Scarlett Johansson also became more involved with charity causes and raising awareness. When Bono and Bobby Shriver organized the RED campaign with the UK’s Gap, Scarlett was the first celebrity to sign up, wearing RED clothes on the covers of two British magazines. With the releases of Scoop, The Black Dahlia and The Prestige, the RED campaign and more media coverage than perhaps ever, late 2006 turned out to be a very busy year for Scarlett, who was crowned the sexiest woman of the year by FHM and Esquire magazines!
After finishing up The Other Boleyn Girl in late 2006, Scarlett Johansson took her first decent break from acting in five years. “It’s important for an actor to have a life you can draw from,” she explained. Scarlett’s non-filming schedule included a new campaign with Louis Vuitton, a music video for Justin Timberlake and going with Oxfam to India and Sri Lanka to report on tsunami-relief efforts in February 2007. During her ten-day visit, Scarlett learned how investing in education and basic health-care are vital to saving lives and lifting millions of poor children and families out of poverty. She also met Indian women who’ve survived domestic violence and Tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. Scarlett, who has been a long-time supporter of Oxfam, was moved by the organization’s response to saving and rebuilding lives following the 2004 Tsunami. She traveled with the international development organization to better understand the complex issues facing poor communities and how support and funding from the US and other rich nations can help end poverty.
Scarlett spent 33 days in May-June 2007 recording her debut album Anywhere I Lay My Head with TV On The Radio’s Dave Sitek, consisting of Tom Waits covers and one original song. The album was released a year later, in May 2008, and received mixed reviews. However, Scarlett now fulfilled her dream of making an album and braved to perform live in studio on several occasions.
In July 2007 Scarlett traveled to Spain to work on her third project with Woody Allen, this time a drama titled Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The Nanny Diaries opened in August 2007 and received mixed reviews. Even if it was not the greatest film ever, it was nice to see Scarlett carry a comedy by herself. The Other Boleyn Girl received a warmer welcome when it premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2008. The performances by Scarlett and her screen sister Natalie Portman were favored by the critics. Vicky Cristina Barcelona premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2008 and received decent reviews. Scarlett, however, was notably absent from the premiere, which once again caused the media to stir controversy around the actress. Next Scarlett filmed supporting roles for The Spirit (2008) and He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) and fulfilled her long time dream of directing with a short film starring Kevin Bacon for New York, I Love You (2009). Next Scarlett will co-produce Napoleon and Betsy with Emma Watson taking on the role of Betsy, and star in Mary Queen of Scots.
Scarlett has become more and more media shy during the years. She is a private person who prefers to strictly discuss her work with the press, not her private life. She rarely goes out to parties and premieres and speaks out against the invasive ways of the paparazzi. She is not one to discuss her love life with strangers but on May 5, 2008 Scarlett announced that she was engaged to Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds. She is still very much involved with various charities and causes, most notably Oxfam and her support of Barack Obama.
Over the years Scarlett’s mother Melanie Johansson has always been there for her. Scarlett’s parents separated soon after The Horse Whisperer. Scarlett and twin brother Hunter stayed with their father in New York. Yet, when it came to movies her mother was always there, helping out, reading scripts and accompanying her to film sets, such as Lost in Translation in Tokyo. Melanie started working as Scarlett’s manager and she has also co-produced A Love Song For Bobby Long. When Scarlett bought herself an apartment in Los Angeles it was in the same building her mother was living. And whenever the talk comes to her mother Scarlett is full of praise for her loving support – apparently the two are very close.
Scarlett Johansson has sincere love for cinema. She knows what she wants and what she likes and goes after it. She isn’t in the business to become famous but rather to build a lasting career. And yet, in choosing roles she isn’t following a strict career plan but seems to just have a sense for extraordinary roles. So we can look forward to seeing many great things to come from Scarlett, both on- and off-screen!