Unveiling Scarlett Johansson’s Artistic Mastery: A Journey into Her Compelling Portrayals of Emotionally Complex Women

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From the very beginning of Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” we encounter Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole, a woman in her thirties who favors pastel sweaters and describes her Instagram bio as “mom, wife, actress, in that order,” seated on the couch inside her divorce lawyer’s office. Before long, she will delve into her own story, a six-minute monologue that is both raw and precise: the tale of someone not truly listened to for months, perhaps years (and a scene that might make a reappearance during award show broadcasts). But first, Nicole is just a woman on a couch—looking weary in a wrinkled button-up shirt and a self-cut hairstyle—waiting. When her lawyer (Laura Dern) finally strides in, perfectly coiffed but apologetic for looking “lazy,” Nicole glances down at her shirt and sighs. It’s a small moment but one that makes this exhausted mother, wife, and journalist feel seen.

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Johansson also felt a strangely intimate connection when Baumbach handed her the monologue during a fall 2017 lunch. “It was the first piece Noah gave me, and it felt familiar in some way, but not because of what I was going through at the time,” the 34-year-old actress, who was then navigating her own divorce from French curator Romain Dauriac, revealed. “But perhaps because of how I grew up and the dynamics between my parents—or maybe because I know women who have devoted themselves to your partner’s vision and then stepped out of this decades-long relationship feeling almost like a ghost.” She added that she had been in that place herself, and the authenticity in Nicole’s story excited her. She said, “I didn’t hesitate at all, because I knew I’d have the opportunity to say those words.” “Noah told me about that monologue, and I thought, ‘Well, damn, here we go.’ Did I ever think, ‘No, I’m okay—let another actress have that’? No way.”

Johansson recounts this saga from London, where she is preparing to film “Black Widow” in May, a film in which she stars and executive produces. Just over a week ago, Forbes honored her as the highest-paid actress for the second consecutive year, with her 2019 earnings reaching $56 million. She has just returned from Venice, where “Marriage Story” premiered to critical acclaim. At this point in the narrative, audiences will also find her in “Jojo Rabbit,” Taika Waititi’s heart-wrenching satire on the Holocaust, delivering the emotional punch of “Life Is Beautiful” with a touch of the quirky charm of “Moonrise Kingdom.” When you put it all together, it’s clear that Johansson is at the top of her game.

“I’m in a good creative phase,” she admits, acknowledging that “everything goes up and down, and sometimes you’re riding a wave, and then that wave settles, and you’re waiting for another wave.” Reviewing her career trajectory to date—with memorable roles in films like “Lost in Translation” and “Match Point” (earning her Golden Globe nominations), along with a Tony Award-winning performance in the Broadway play “A View From the Bridge”—it’s hard to discern a decline, though there have been some.

After being cast in roles that sparked controversy, such as “Ghost in the Shell” and “Rub & Tug” (she withdrew from the latter amidst controversy; the project is currently in limbo), Johansson told a reporter that “as an actor,” she could play “any person, tree, or animal.” (She later clarified that statement, saying that in an ideal world, art should not be influenced by political correctness.) Two days after our conversation, she again made headlines by defending “Match Point” director Woody Allen, who faces accusations of sexually abusing his adopted daughter (an allegation he consistently denies). For her credibility, critics of Johansson will find issues in her current films, both drawn from the most authentic wells in her personal history.

“It’s funny because I’ve never played a mother before.”

In 2017, on an episode of “Finding Your Roots,” Johansson learned that her mother’s uncle and two teenaged cousins perished in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Waititi of Jojo Rabbit drew inspiration for Johansson’s character based on his own Jewish mother, as well as “all the great single mothers I’ve ever known,” he said. In the film, her character serves as a beacon of goodness and hope in a world falling apart. “I wanted to show a woman who, despite all the craziness going on, can still focus on giving her son a chance to be a child,” Waititi said. Johansson, who shares a 5-year-old daughter named Rose with ex-husband Dauriac, is genuinely “a silly, fun goofball,” he added.

“It’s funny because I’ve never played a mother before,” Johansson said, “and now suddenly I have two consecutive films where I have kids around eight or nine years old. Actors will go wherever they need to go, whether they live there or not, but [these roles] resonate more deeply with me because of my personal experience.”

Four years before Scarlett Johansson was born in New York City to Danish architect Karsten Olaf Johansson and producer Melanie Sloan, the film “Kramer vs. Kramer,” starring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman as a frosty divorcing couple locked in a bitter custody battle, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. A few years earlier, the film adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s miniseries “Scenes From a Marriage” was attributed to causing a historical surge in divorces in Europe. When Johansson was still a teenager, her parents divorced. What “Marriage Story,” a contemporary exploration of the legal system, makes clear is that the sense of entanglement Streep depicted in “Kramer” still exists, even in a supposedly progressive relationship.

“Laura [Dern’s character] has this great monologue about this perceived equality,” Johansson said, “where the mother is the Virgin Mary, and God is up there, and not even doing that damn thing. It gives you second thoughts about what true gender equality looks like and whether that’s feasible or not.”


Baumbach didn’t know Johansson was about to go through a divorce when he invited her to lunch on that fateful day, but crafting a character with her image in mind helped him feel confident to explore things he might not otherwise. “On paper, a seven-page monologue in a script seems daunting,” he said. “But I felt excited at the thought that it was her.” Advertising a divorce-themed movie while celebrating a new engagement might seem a bit challenging, but Johansson, who got engaged to Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost in May, has handled it with grace.

“My compartmentalization skills come in handy when it comes time to do things like that,” she laughed. “Clearly, I’m very happy and content in my personal life, but I’m also a sum of many parts and can approach different parts of my story as well as how I got here. It’s all valuable.”

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