Scarlett Johansson first came to attention playing the daughter of
Sean Connery and Kate Capshaw
terrorized by Blair Underwood in Just Cause
(1995). Having made her stage debut at
age eight in 1993's Sophistry
at Playwrights Horizons Theatre,
the young player also studied at
the Lee Strasberg Institute. Her screen debut in
Rob Reiner's disastrous North
(1994) was less than memorable, but Johansson has maintained an even career, impressing with her fully-realized characterizations in nearly every showing.
She got noticed as one of Eric Schaeffer's
wise charges in If Lucy Fell and
took a co-starring role in the
understated independent Manny & Lo
(both 1996), a perfect vehicle for the
actress to prove her talents. Johansson's
finely crafted portrayal of Amanda (Manny),
a rather sensible 11-year-old
who escapes from a foster home
and runs away with her 16-year
old sister Laurel (Lo)
earned her critical praise and
led directly to her casting in
the high profile but disappointing
1997 release Home Alone 3
and the highly-anticipated romance
The Horse Whisperer (1998).
In the latter, Johansson
landed the coveted role of Grace,
a youngster who suffers a physically and emotionally
debilitating riding accident. When
her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) turns
to a horse trainer
for assistance, romance blooms, and as Johansson
turned what could have been little more than a
two-dimensional plot device into a full-fledged
character, an actress bloomed.
All but disappearing after this film-saving turn,
the performer re-surfaced three years later
in the independent favorite Ghost World
(2001), starring alongside Thora Birch
as the more pragmatic of two best friends
who have just graduated from high school
and are making plans for the future amidst
their own adventures, both real and invented.
Snarky but somehow sweet, her Rebecca
didn't get the screen time and controversial
storyline of compatriot Enid (Birch)
but nonetheless impressed in her smaller role.
Later that year, she played a young Hungarian girl
left behind when her refugee family flees their
homeland in a Cold War political climate
in An American Rhapsody and earned
even more indie cred as a piano-playing teenager
who catches the attention of a crafty
barber (Billy Bob Thornton) in the Coen brothers'
acclaimed period noir The Man Who Wasn't There.
Taking a break from this more heady material, Johansson
would next battle giant spiders in the
surprisingly fun sci-fi
comedy Eight-Legged Freaks (2002).
Johansson's true breakout performance
would come--like gangbusters--in Lost in
Translation (2003), writer-director Sophia Coppola's
wonderfully romantic film about Charlotte,
an emotionally adrift young married tourist
in her 20s, left to her own devices in Tokyo
while her self-involved photographer
husband is on a shoot, who meets and forms a
deep, complex relationship with Bob Harris
(Bill Murray) an equally
disaffected 50-something Hollywood actor.
The actress--only 18 during filming--is a
revelation in the picture, displaying a rare, multi-layered
chemistry with Murray
despite their age difference. Their rapport, a first tenative,
then confident and cozy and then suddenly
awkward and sexual, fuels the movie and carries
many scenes completely without dialogue. Her subtle yet knockout
performance, wildly praised by critics, was
posied to rocket Johansson to new career heights.
Hot on the heels of that role, Johansson
also dazzled audiences in the indie
Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), a
speculative account of the life of Griet,
a 16-year-old girl who appears in Johannes Vermeer's
(Colin Firth's) most famous painting.
As a result of her two strong 2003 performances,
at age 19 Johansson received a pair of
Golden Globe nominations--one for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Drama (for Girl With a Pearl Earring) and another for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
(for Lost In Translation).
Johansson's next vehicle, made before her big breakout,
was the limp teen caper movie The Perfect Score (2004) in which she played the thrillseeking, daddy-loathing member of a
gang of high school students plotting
an ambitious scheme to swipe the key
to the SAT exam, and she voiced Mindy
in the animated The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
(2004). She was better served with a pair of
challenging roles released simultaneously
at the end of 2004: first, she added depth to
her supporting role as the daughter of a
middle-aged ad salesman (Dennis Quaid)
who becomes involved with her
father's new young boss (Topher Grace)
in writer-director Paul Weitz's
adult comedy In Good Company; next, she played the
headstrong teen Pursy Will,
who returns to her late mother's home
to unexpectedly share it with a pair of
booze-soaked intellecutal boarders (John Travolta
and Gabriel Macht) for the Southern-influenced
character drama A Love Song for Bobby Long.
In both films Johansson's potent combination of adolencent freshness and wise-beyond-her-years maturity helped breath a compelling realism into her roles.
Johannson next tried the sci-fi
action genre with director Michael Bay's The
Island (2005), playing Jordan Two Delta,
a woman living in an orderly envrionment in
a post-Apocalyptic world hoping to win
relocation to the only remaining pure
bio-zone on the planet, only to discover her world is a facade for a more sinister scenario.