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Lost in Translation - 'If it wasn't Bill Murray, then she wasn't going to do it'



Feature by: Jack Foley

SCARLETT Johansson may be portraying a young twenty-something tourist trying to establish where her life is headed, in Lost in Translation, but in real life, the future couldn’t look brighter for the jovial 19-year-old.

The New York-born actress has been making movies since the age of ten, and has already appeared alongside the likes of Sean Connery (Just Cause) and Robert Redford (The Horse Whisperer), but 2004 could well be her biggest year yet.

Back-to-back roles in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Peter Webber’s Girl With a Pearl Earring have catapulted her into the limelight, and she was one of the undisputed stars of last year’s London Film Festival, when she visited the capital to promote both projects.

And it’s clear from spending time in her company that she has all of the credentials required for success.

Friendly, courteous and demonstrating a refreshing willingness to answer questions, she possesses a maturity which belies her age, and has that special something which makes it easy to understand why so many directors are clamouring to work with her.

Lost in Translation is already a strong Oscar contender and places her alongside Bill Murray, as one of two tourists who form an unlikely relationship at crucial stages in their lives.

But while the film was written specifically with Murray in mind, Johansson wasn’t far behind when Coppola came to casting for the role of Catherine - and she immediately leapt at the opportunity.

"Sofia and I met in a restaurant," she explained at the London press conference.

"I heard she had a hankering for a meeting and I couldn’t say no. So we met in a restaurant, in New York, and she basically explained to me that she had this idea that was shaping up into some script, that it was definitely going to be with Bill Murray, and if it wasn’t Bill Murray then she wasn’t going to do it.

"She said it would also take place in Tokyo and this seemed like two very appealing things - Bill Murray and Tokyo - so I said send me the script when you’ve finished it, and, sure enough, not that much later, a little mini-script came and I knew right after I finished reading it that it was a project I wanted to be a part of.

"It was such a beautiful, beautiful script. I had nothing to say about it really, everything was there. It was 75 pages, it was short, and a lot of it was visual, I mean the dialogue between Bill and I is pretty much he’ll have one line and I’ll have one line, like a ping-pong, and it just read so well, like a really great novel. When I finished it, I was happy and I was sad and I just knew, I knew I could play the part."

During the subsequent shoot, art had a habit of imitating life, with Johansson forced to come to terms with the vastly different Japanese culture in between takes.

But while Tokyo proved to be a challenging environment, she maintains she loved the experience and is grateful for the opportunity to sample it.

"I was really tired the whole time I was there," she explained, "as we were shooting a week of days, then a week of nights, then a week of days, and I felt very discombobulated while I was there.

"Ironically, I was also staying at the Park Hyatt Hotel while we were filming there, so it was a very surreal reality, going downstairs in my pyjamas for rehearsal, and so on.

"But it felt like fun for me, and the days that I had off, which was just one day a week unfortunately, I just tried to do what everybody else was doing – I’d go shopping and eat out, and try to walk around, but I couldn’t even do anything that touristy, because I was so involved in what we were doing."

Johansson also remains proud of the movie which has resulted, and has many favourite scenes, including the karaoke sequence, which was largely improvised.

But her absolute favourite is the scene which takes place between the two characters towards the end of the movie, when they speak honestly, for the first time, about their feelings, while chilling out in Murray’s bedroom.

"It starts off with us watching TV trivia and then pans over to the window and ends up with us lying on the bed and falling asleep," she explains. "It’s so telling, it’s really the one time when our characters are really honest.

"You know, there are the jokes about his mid-life crisis, ‘Have you bought your Porsche yet?’ and so on, and I have that self-help tape, but it’s the one moment where we’re trying to figure out exactly what it is that’s missing.

"And not just that, but Bill really is so evasive. With my character, I’ll say things like, ‘I really like you’ and ‘I’ll miss you’, and he’s just like, ‘Okay’; and it’s sort of the one moment where he really makes an effort to connect and I think it’s really touching."

It is moments such as this that help make the film so memorable; both funny and poignant, throughout.

But with Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring behind her, Johansson intends to keep busy and will next be seen in The Perfect Score, alongside Erika Christensen, and A Love Song For Bobby Long.

She is currently filming A Good Woman, in which she will portray Lady Windermere, and she has also being lined up to star in the Weitz brothers’ next project, Synergy.

It is little wonder, therefore, that she remains perfectly happy with how her career is shaping up, and when asked about her growing status as ‘a sex symbol’, remains remarkably down to earth about such perceptions.

"I guess that it’s appropriate timing," she laughed. "I’ll be 19 in a couple of weeks, so I’m legal now! [Laughter].

"So it seems quite appropriate, becoming a young woman. I’m comfortable with my own sexuality and all that sort of thing, so it’s nice, you know, it means I can borrow lots of designer dresses and that sort of thing. There are lots of perks."

And bearing in mind the buzz which is currently surrounding her, it seems only appropriate to round this feature off with a comment from Lost in Translation’s producer, Gary Katz, who, upon being asked where he saw Johansson’s career being in five or ten years, commented:

"When we started this film, she had a great career already. I had been a huge fan of a film that she had done when she was 10-years-old, and she’s made a lot of movies since then, with people like Robert Redford.

"Now, of course, I’m just happy we’re seeing her at this press conference, because it going to be difficult to get to see her because she’s working so much.

"She’s pretty discerning in terms of her taste, and takes risky, or interesting, or challenging material, and I think that says a lot, and will pay off for her."

Given the quality of roles and the strong compliments being paid to her, it’s difficult not to agree.

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