The female-led superhero pic snared the biggest North American start since the COVID-19 crisis began, and the largest since Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in Dec. 2019. Overseas, the film earned $78.8 million from 46 territories for a worldwide theatrical debut of $158.8 million.
And, while Black Widow’s star Scarlett Johansson is one of the highest paid female actors ever in Hollywood, she’s an old-fashioned movie star with a modern twist. She confesses to “bawling her eyes out” whenever she hears screen legend Judy Garland sing in The Wizard of Oz—yet, she’s been doing a major turn in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, playing a character who finally has her own movie, Black Widow. Born and bred in New York, Johansson likes to “live a low-key lifestyle and keep her private life private” and quietly married SNL’s Colin Jost last year in her hometown, but admits, “After we got engaged, we went to London where Colin filmed Tom and Jerry, and I filmed Black Widow. So, with that and the pandemic, for the first two years of our lives together, we didn’t see many of our family and friends.”
The mother of young daughter Rose, via her second husband Romain Dauriac, Johansson was also briefly married to Canadian actor Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds. While Jost, who she met while hosting SNL, is her third husband, Johansson (36) honestly admits “a committed relationship takes work.”
But, in spite of her character Charlotte questioning her identity in Johansson’s breakout performance in Lost In Translation—“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be”—she has always and clearly known she wanted to act and sing. In fact, her debut performance on Broadway earned her a Tony Award. Now with Black Widow, she enthuses, “I’m excited for people to finally get to see it as we actually finished shooting in 2019.”
Although, she faced much rejection early in her career, Johansson talks to us about her mother’s encouragement, and how her new Black Widow film performance is about women inspiring other women.
What’s this standalone film about?
Black Widow is a film about survival, about self-forgiveness, and also about women motivating and lifting up other women. Topics that are so key today.
Your character has played a major role in 7 Marvel movies, following her evolution from a morally ambiguous Russian assassin to a world-saving Avenger—what initially attracted you to Natasha Romanoff?
I really loved the Marvel universe when I saw the first Iron Man (with Robert Downey Jr.), so when I met the Marvel people, there was the Natasha/Black Widow character, along with Wasp, the Blond Phantom, Scarlet Witch, and some other female characters, and I felt I could fit into that universe. For me, Black Widow has been a deep, very textured, character. Just an all-round, great character, a woman who has a very different take on life, with her dark past.
Because your character Natasha got killed off in Avengers: Endgame (2019), what’s your character leaving behind in this prequel?
In ways, my character is handing the baton over to Yelena, played by awesome Florence Pugh in this film, which possibly sets up a new female storyline. The progress in the character within the Marvel universe has been super rewarding. I was 23-24 when I began playing Black Widow in Iron Man 2, now I’m a mom with a daughter in my mid-30s. I see a parallel in my personal growth and that of my character. This film is a culmination of that growth.
How young were you when you started to perform at home?
I loved to sing and dance growing up. My mom tells me I said I wanted to be an actress when I was like three. And, with my mother being a film buff, I watched a lot of musicals with her—Rodgers & Hammerstein, all kinds of musicals, Auntie Mame. I was enthralled and I had a big imagination so I escaped into that world.
How much of a fan are you of Judy Garland?
Huge. I remember being inspired by watching Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. I watched that movie over and over again in wide-eyed wonder. And, to this day, The Wizard of Oz, also with Judy still makes me cry, especially when she sings that signature tune, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”—it’s guaranteed to bring tears.
You booked your first gig for a commercial as a kid, but how did you deal with rejection?
Yeah, I booked that commercial early but didn’t get another one. And because I was auditioning as much as I was early on, you get rejected a lot. I remember I got turned down for a kid’s role in Jumanji. Basically, they’d tell me my voice was too deep, and I was this small, blond enthusiastic kid but when I opened up my mouth they thought I sounded too old. I went to visit Pixar, hoping that they’d use my voice for a cartoon. But I guess Princesses didn’t sound like me, hah! [laughs]
How did your mother keep you going at it?
I so wanted to be an actor but I’d get overwhelmed—I was bad at improv and at selling myself. One day, I was with my mom, bawling my eyes out, in the subway in New York. She gave me some tough love, essentially saying, “Fuggedaboudit!” She said she didn’t want to take me on auditions anymore if I was getting that upset. But I begged her, “Please, I want to act. Don’t take it away from me.” I so wanted to do plays, and perform in musicals.
So, when did your career pick up for you?
It really turned when I just went out for films, and I found they loved little ole me with my deep voice. I feel blessed but I found a niche in independent film—which is more forgiving than mainstream film—with directors like Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze. Plus, my mom helped me just stick to it, and I was also pretty competitive, having a twin brother and all. [laughs] And, maybe, deep down, I thought when they turned me down, it was their loss.
What do you remember about your adult breakthrough role in the indie, Lost in Translation (2003)?
I’d met Sofia Coppola before, and she was a big fan of an early movie I did called Manny & Lo. I committed to the project even before Sofia had finished the script, because I was also such a huge fan of Bill Murray. The entire shoot was short about 26 days, so we worked really intensely, I was still only 17, playing an older character, and in the big city of Tokyo so my mom came with me. And I needed her because it was kind of isolating working such long hours in a country where I also didn’t speak the language.
How amazing was your Broadway debut, A View from a Bridge, in 2009, and then earning a Tony Award?
[laughs] I hadn’t done theater since I was a kid, and I’d never had an experience on Broadway, so I never really thought about the Tonys. But I soaked up so much being on the stage every night which was an awesome, challenging experience. It was hard but so rewarding because every night is different, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. I was also working with Liev Schreiber who’s such a powerful actor. And, just being at the Tonys was so unexpected and emotional.
For someone who’s always thought of herself as an actor-for-hire, it was everything you dream about.
Could you explain what you’ve meant that playing a superhero put you in touch with your physical side?
Physically, the Black Widow role was a gift. I was 23 or so at the time, and it did show me a path to the physical side of acting, which I never would have had. I learned the basics of a lot of different martial arts, and how to understand stunts, how to fall and not hurt yourself, about wirework and the incredible discipline it takes. That was the first time I had to do combat training, wow, it was grueling. I got the role 5 weeks before we started shooting, and had to transform myself, so it was incredibly intense. And worth it.
How closely do you feel your 2019 movie Marriage Story with Adam Driver rings true to life?
Even though separation and divorce for anyone who’s been through it is heavy, the film felt liberating. As an actor you feel invigorated by stories that are real, complex and surprising. It’s like going to the gym where you do a heavy workout but then feel a rush of endorphins afterwards.
Divorce is a very relatable experience, all that heartbreak and sorrow is there, but there’s also a lot of love in what remains between the two characters in this story, and I was very proud of it.
How was balancing motherhood, initially for such a busy actor?
As most moms would tell you, the love just shocks you. But we all soon find out how rewarding and exhausting motherhood is. With Rose, I did the whole bit, and I loved it. And, I’m still doing it because she comes first.
Will you be allowing young Rose (7) to watch Black Widow?
I tried to watch Star Wars with her, but the second the storm troopers appeared, she was out of there. We barely made it through Back to the Future, because trying to explain the time changes was hard. So, we’re mostly sticking with fun animated features right now. And, we sing the songs together. I just think that she’s still too little to make it through a movie like Black Widow.
Speaking of singing, what does music mean to your life?
Well, growing up, I sang because I wanted to be in musicals, like I saw myself as Cosette in Les Miserables. And, mom took me out for a lot of musical theatre roles. But then film acting took over, so I put the singing part aside. But then the opportunity to do my own record came up, and in 2008, I released “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” which had one original song and, most importantly, because I’m a huge fan, ten cover versions of Tom Waits songs. I was also blessed to have collaborations with people like David Bowie and members from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was pretty amazing. Today, I’ve got Sing 2 coming up, and I love all sorts of music. [laughs] Especially, from animated movies.
Saturday Night Live has played a key part in your life, having hosted it six times, so what wouldn’t we know about hosting it?
As much of a blast as it is, it’s intense. Whether you’re rehearsing a skit or a song, doing a promo for the show, and then you’re also prepping your monolog—the host is pulled in so many different ways and it’s exhilarating, but it takes a lot stamina because you’re doing a full week of hard work.
What did you say in that shoutout to the show and Colin in that Christmas episode?
I said something like, “I just want to say that this show means so much to me. I have so many friends here and I met the love of my life here. Merry Christmas.”
The truth is hosting the show is one of the most rewarding experiences, I’ve had in my career, because when the show is good, it’s really good. And, it’s a wonderful collaborative feeling, working with these very talented performers, actors and comedians.
What’s your take on marriage in general?
My experience is that being in a committed relationship takes work—because it’s kind of easy to just leave a relationship when it gets uncomfortable. But when it works it’s worth it.
Ashley is an award-winning journalist/author/blogger who has written for Playboy, Toronto Star, Movie Entertainment, Sports Illustrated, Maclean's and others. He's interviewed various "leaders" in their fields, including: Oscar winners (Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Lawrence, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda, Mira Sorvino, Geena Davis, Anthony Hopkins); Grammy winners (Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Ice Cube, Pete Townshend); MVPs in sports (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky, Kobe Bryant); and, business leaders (Amazon's Jeff Bezos). He has an upcoming novel, REJEX, coming out on Pulp Hero Press. And he has written several episodic TV shows, appeared on CNN, and blogged for Mademan, Medium, GritDaily and HuffPost.