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INT: Scarlett Johansson

09.14.2006
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Only 21 years old, Scarlett Johansson has already had the opportunity to work with several legendary directors, including the Coen brothers, Woody Allen and, umm, Michael Bay. This week she adds another to her resume with her latest project, Brian De Palma’s noir-ish crime drama, THE BLACK DAHLIA. Based on James Ellroy’s acclaimed novel, DAHLIA delves into the underworld of old-school Los Angeles , where crooked cops, studio bosses and mafiosos often mingled together behind the scenes.

Last week Johannson stopped by the Millennium Biltmore in downtown Los Angeles for a press conference to promote the film. Here are some excerpts.

Scarlett Johansson

How deeply did you delve into this character with your director, Brian De Palma?

We talked about the character in regards to different scenes and that kind of thing, but Brian has a real respect for the time and space that an actor needs to prepare for something. He was never overly personal about where I was getting my inspiration from or anything like that and always very supportive if I felt that I needed something more. We could be wrapping up the whole set, and I would say, “Brian, I think that I need to do that take again.” He'd be like, “All right, boys, bring everything back in.” He was really good about that, but we never went too much into depth about the character, no.

How were you able to create this character?

Luckily I had what a lot of actors don't have which is the source, having the book. I mean, you read a script and you interpret the character's emotions through their actions and their words, but I had the perspective of Bucky's character looking in on Kay. So I really used that as the beginning source to find the character.

Was the film actually shot in Los Angeles?

We filmed it in L.A. and we filmed it in Bulgaria as well.

What was shot in Bulgaria?

We shot most all of the interiors there. Dante Ferretti had built the sets and he actually built the Chinatown set there. He had built the apartment there that they find. He built the interior of the house there and the boxing ring and the police station. A lot of it was just
there.

What preconceived notions of De Palma did you have prior to getting involved with the project? Do you have any theories of own in regards to the murder of the real-life Elizabeth Smart?

Well, when I had become involved with the project, and I was originally excited just hearing that Brian had a film that he was directing with two female roles. I've always wanted to work with him and have been a huge fan of his. I met with Brian. I had read the script and was very attracted to the character of Kay. So, I met with him and I tried to convince him that I could play this character that I'm completely physically wrong for and he bought it. So that was good.

I never have any preconceived notion of people because I find that they always prove you wrong or are surprising. I expected a certain kind of darkness about him, a certain kind of roughness about him I guess, and I was surprised to find out that he's a very funny guy. He's very funny. One thing that didn't surprise me about Brian is that he's really cut and dry. He's never going to beat you around the block regarding anything and he's never wishy-washy about anything, which is such a relief. As far as my own theory, I had read The Black Dahlia and that seemed like a palpable story. I don't know though. I mean, that seemed to be…I felt that was interesting and was definitely a candidate for the truth, but who really knows.

What input did you have as far as the look of your character is concerned?

Well, I mean, as far as the physical appearance of the character I really wanted her to look nothing like Hilary's (Swank) character or the Dahlia. So we thought that we would dress her in cream and beige and things that were soft because Hilary's character is so kind of hard and really a glam vixen…getting to play a woman during that period and the makeup and the hair and the costumes and the cars and the sets was all very glamorous and fun and I've always kind of had an affinity for that period. I got to wear a lot of beautiful vintage pieces and they built a beautiful wardrobe for me. So that was a lot of fun.

Were you able to identify with the struggling actresses portrayed in this film? And did this film make you sentimental for a Los Angeles that no longer exists?

I have a lot of friends who are very talented actors and musicians who struggle. You have a one and a million chance here and all you have to do is come to L.A. and everyone is trying to get involved in the industry somehow. Any time that you are involved in a field that's revolving around vanity of some sort with a high rate of failure it can breed a desperation in people that doesn't always have a happy ending. I think that kind of ambition with no end can really make for a lot of nastiness.

And of course, luckily, I mean for myself I've been constantly surprised at my luck. It's really unbelievable especially being surrounded by a lot artists who struggle and watching them struggle. I feel very, very lucky. As far as L.A. at that time I feel very sentimental about it. I read a lot about the industry at that time and watching several documentaries about Hollywood at that time. It's so very different now than it was then. I think that there is a certain sort of decency and class that's somehow been eliminated over time. I don't know. I think that it makes you sentimental when you read different autobiographies of actors at that time and how exciting it was that actors came together and they talked about the method and they talked about the work that they were doing, and just the amount of available and incredible actors at that time it just doesn't seem to be the same now.

That's not to say that I don't like L.A. I do. It's very nice here, of course. The weather is lovely and all of that stuff, but I think that people…look, even being in this hotel that's such
a beautiful hotel it's just rare to find these gems that have been preserved. It seems like people are always bulldozing over beautiful storefronts and restaurants and houses and things like that to make way for whatever is popular now, things that are bigger and better and more modern and all of that stuff. I think that's also true of New York too. It's sad I think.

What was Bulgaria like?

Sofia is a city that at one time was a real jewel of Eastern Europe, but it has been trampled on so much throughout every war. It's been bombed. It's been taken over. It's been given up. I mean, it's really been just harassed and of course seeing remnants of the communist regime there it's interesting the kind of buildings that they have there. It's like you're almost in a time warp or a kind of broken city somehow. What's interesting also about it is that the youth there, they have a lot of very promising sort of creative outlets there. There is music and dance and art.

There are a lot of young people there who are very enthusiastic about life, and some of them are wanting to join the EU. Others are very much against it. There is a real kind of passion there right now and so in some ways it feels very sort of forward thinking and then in other ways it's like being in a time warp. There are a lot of strange things like if you go to the markets there, there is all this Nazi paraphernalia that you can buy. It's really interesting. It's very strange, very strange.

Can you related to the experience of a producer trying to make an actress do something she doesn’t want to do?

I've been lucky. I mean, of course every actor has had a casting that has gone awry and you leave and you go, “Oh my God, that was the absolute worst.” Luckily I've never been approached in that way because when I was auditioning, mostly, I was so young. I was like 12 and 13. So luckily I never had anything like that to deal with, but I do love to audition still. I find it to be incredibly challenging and I'm always up for a challenge in that way, but no casting couch stories for me. No.

Do you still have to audition for any roles?

Occasionally, yeah. It's rare, but it does happen and I like it. I always like cold readings and all of that stuff. I think that it keeps you on your toes. I mean, after all I'm an actor for hire and so I will never turn down the opportunity to audition for something.

Never?

No, not if it's something that I feel that I want. If I want a role and they say, “Well, we're only auditioning people.” I will say, “All right. I'm going to get this part.” That's the mentality that you have to have. It's like, “All right, fine. Test me. I got it.” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It's still fun to do that.

There’s a lot in the book about your character’s relationship with Bucky (played by Josh Hartnett) that didn’t make the film. Was any of it shot and subsequently cut?

No, it never was. It was never filmed. It was never in the script. I mean, the book is so - there is so much information in it that I felt Brian just had to get rid of some of the stuff. There are so many stories going on that he felt he had to narrow some of it. I mean, also,
the marriage and all of that stuff, it's great to read that, but I think that in the film it would be too much of a side story. After all this isn't a film about this relationship. That's an aspect of it of course, but I think that to get too involved in that would've been a mistake. People would’ve said, “What the hell? Is this a movie about a relationship? Is it about a murder? Is it about this man's fight for justice?” Already there is so much going on so that was never a part of the screenplay.

You have another upcoming project that’s based on a book: The Nanny Diaries. Can you talk a little about that?

I mean, it's a great read and it's a fun book. It was wonderful to shoot in New York of course, being a New Yorker. The directors were also New Yorkers – Berman and Pulcini – who are just fantastic New York filmmakers and documentarians. It was all New York based crew and it was wonderful to shoot there. I think that it's going to be great. I loved American Splendor. They of course wrote the script and they're wonderful writers. They're a husband and wife team and it was amazing to work with them and I think that it's going to be great. So we'll see. Hopefully. We had to compromise a little bit for the cinematic ending and so forth, but it's true to the book and the authors I think were just thrilled.

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at thomasleupp@joblo.com.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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1:37AM on 09/14/2006

Short

the murder of Elizabeth Short, not Elizabeth Smart. Smart was the 14 year old girl that was kidnapped, and then found.
the murder of Elizabeth Short, not Elizabeth Smart. Smart was the 14 year old girl that was kidnapped, and then found.
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