Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Frankly, Scarlett doesn't give a damn about the sex

  • Print

NEW YORK -- In a decision that will make many a man sigh unhappily, Scarlett Johansson won't be bringing sexy back to Broadway.

The actress with the pouty lips and gentle curves that GQ magazine once called "Babe of the Year" is determined to be a more naturalistic Maggie the Cat in a revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that opens Jan. 17.

That's the same role Elizabeth Taylor embodied while virtually purring in a satin slip. And her successors -- Anika Noni Rose, Ashley Judd and Kathleen Turner, among them -- all played it to variously breathless, sexy degrees.

But Johansson talks about how she approached the predatory feline of Williams' classic Southern play sounding like the way she herself would prefer to be described.

"I think her sexuality is often overplayed and over-appreciated. It's such an unimportant part of this story," Johansson says one recent morning during rehearsals.

"I mean, it comes with the circumstance, of course, and the setting and the words -- that's already there. There's no need to drape yourself all over the stage and roll around in a satin sheet."

If that puts a dent in the box office, so be it, says the four-time Golden Globe nominated star of Lost in Translation and The Avengers. Quips Johansson: "There's always the half-price ticket line."

The new production is led by director Rob Ashford and co-stars Benjamin Walker as Maggie's drunken, disinterested husband, Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy and Debra Monk as Big Mama.

"It's really a beautiful play, really a perfect play, I think," she says, smouldering even though she wears a demure dark pantsuit and striped top. "If the play fails, it's our fault."

Johansson arrives for her morning interview already tired, having woken before dawn to appear on the Today show. "If I have any more coffee, I'll explode into another stratosphere," the actress warns.

Johansson, 28, has already proved she has the acting chops for Broadway, having won a best featured actress Tony Award in 2010 in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge opposite Liev Schreiber.

It was a victory from a stage novice that silenced critics who had moaned about movie stars with dubious skills showing up in Times Square simply to sell tickets. Johansson insists she had nothing to prove.

"I'm just happy the stage door is still open and I can walk through it," she says. "I was just happy to survive the run, really. Honestly. I expected to be lambasted. I knew that was a possibility going into it. But that's OK."

She has thrown herself into her new role, seeing Maggie as "a force of nature" and having "an almost divine determination." Ashford says Johansson came into rehearsal the first day already having memorized her lines, impressing her co-stars.

"She loves the work, she loves creating the characters," he says. "She's an actress. She's not a theatre star or a movie star. She's an actor first and so she's both, therefore. She can do both, as she's proven."

Johansson has avoided as best she can seeing other actresses play Maggie, although she was in the audience to see Judd portray her opposite Jason Patric in 2003.

She has managed to avoid ever catching Taylor in the 1958 classic film, except for a few minutes. It happened while she was looking up a Marlon Brando film online and YouTube recommended a clip from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

"I clicked and watched a couple of minutes and I realized it was a terrible idea," she says. "Not saying anything about the film, it's just a different version of the story."

She and Ashford are after a more naturalized take. To that end, Maggie will be trying to seduce her husband emotionally, not physically. "What we've set out from the beginning is to take these characters off these pedestals where they've been placed and try to put them back in the play," Ashford says.

OK, then what about the poster for the show, which features a reclining Johansson, lips slightly apart, loosely wrapped in white material and looking almost post-coital? Ashley sees not sex, but ache. "I think it's her longing," he says.

Johansson had been looking for a way to return to Broadway since A View From the Bridge closed. She sifted through new scripts and classics, searching for something meaty.

"I think after doing View, I realized that I didn't want to work on anything that wasn't challenging in some way and that brought me into a whole different world. I didn't want to do an easy job," she says.

"One day I was daydreaming and remembered Cat and thought, 'I should read that again,"' she recalls. "It was just terrifying. It was the first thing I felt that way about in the couple of years that I'd been looking."

The actress was raised in New York and she and her mother often made their way to Broadway, seeing Gypsy, Secret Garden, Carousel, My Fair Lady with Richard Chamberlain and Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman, among others. Will mom be happy her little girl is back where they shared memories? "I hope so. That's what we all hope, anyway. That mom will be happy," says Johansson.

Though A View From the Bridge was her Broadway debut, she had one other stage credit -- in an off-Broadway play in 1993 called Sophistry with Ethan Hawke where she had only one line. (She still remembers it -- "Mom, something smells, something smells.") Of her subsequent success, Johansson laughs: "Yeah, moving on up."

After tackling Miller and Williams, is there any stage star she'd still love to portray? Of course: Johansson points to Sunset Boulevard. "Someday I want to play Norma Desmond," she says. "But everybody does."

The actress, who is rebounding after her divorce with actor Ryan Reynolds and the illegal leak of intimate naked photos, says she tries to live as normal a life as possible.

"It's hard to keep your private life private because people are very prying and they have ideas of your romantic life or the kind of crazy lifestyle you live or whatever," she says. "I live a relatively low-key lifestyle."

That means that Johansson can sometimes be found in Midtown doing something quite unglamorous. Like curbing her pets. "When you've got two dogs, you pick up their poo," she says, laughing.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 G8

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Selinger addresses stadium lawsuit

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose cools off Thursday in water at Omands Creek Park-See Bryksa 30 day goose challenge- Day 25– June 21, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google