Scarlett_Johansson; Marriage_Story, Photo: Armando Gallo
  • Golden Globe Awards

Nominee Profile 2020: Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”

Scarlett Johansson is having the type of year that, even in an actor’s wildest dreams, seems preposterously beyond reach. In June 2019, Avengers: Endgame, a capstone in the commercial juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, nudged past James Cameron’s Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all time, with a $2.8 billion worldwide box office haul. Now, in addition to delivering a strong supporting turn as a single mother struggling with a bigoted child in the waning days of World War II in Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, nominated for Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, Johansson received some of the best reviews of her career and notched her fifth Golden Globe nomination, and first since 2005’s Match Point, for her work in Marriage Story, a complex, multilayered divorce drama from writer-director Noah Baumbach.Johansson portrays Nicole Barber, an actress undergoing a split from her New York theater director husband, Charlie (Adam Driver). When Nicole takes a television pilot job in Los Angeles, what begins as an amicable parting of ways turns increasingly contentious, with the couple carving out hard lines in a bicoastal custody battle over their eight-year-old son.Marriage Story came together for Johansson during the combined 10-month shoot for Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Baumbach had approached her in the fall of 2017, wanting the now-35-year-old actress specifically for the starring role opposite Driver, who had already appeared in several of his films, and not knowing she was undergoing a divorce in real life that would mirror some of the movie’s most significant thematic explorations. Rather than worrying it would leave her too raw, however, Johansson leaned into the challenge.“It actually worked out great because as he was writing this piece over that period of time, he would send me pages and check in with me,” says Johansson to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “And it was great because it gave me something to anticipate that I knew would be meaty and challenging in a different way than the Avengers stuff is challenging – because that definitely has its own challenges as well.”“What ultimately makes this film so touching, I think, is what remains between the two characters, which is a lot of love,” she continues. “I think there’s a lot of anger and frustration and disappointment that the characters feel, and they have a lot of resentment for different reasons. My character has really made a lot of her choices dependent on uplifting her husband and fulfilling his dream. That gave her a lot of satisfaction for a long time, but at some point, she needed it to be reciprocated because she also felt empty and had dreams that she wanted to be fulfilled. And when it wasn’t reciprocated, I think she felt a lot of sadness and resentment. Still, these people have spent 10 years together and they have a beautiful child that came out of this love. So, I think while they understand that maybe they don’t belong together anymore, they don’t see necessarily their marriage as a failure. I mean, they produced something incredible together, right? They made this beautiful boy, and now they are just struggling with co-parenting and what that means, and how to separate and do it in a mindful way. So yes, it’s painful, but I also think life can be so many things at one time. I mean, so many painful moments are also hilarious because the irony of life is so funny sometimes. I think that’s something that Noah always is curious about in his films, and that’s why I think he and I connect on a creative level – because we see the humor in also very tragic things.”Johansson was interested in a career in the arts from an early age – and a serious one, too. Eschewing adolescent commercial auditions for musical theater, she quickly graduated to feature films, with roles in movies like North, Manny & Lo and, yes, Home Alone 3. The well-received drama The Horse Whisperer, opposite Robert Redford, represented a turning point, cementing Johansson’s desire to continue acting like an adult – and also someday direct. Then, 2001’s black comedy Ghost World, opposite Thora Birch, brought attention that led to award-nominated lead performances in Girl With a Pearl Earring, A Love Song for Bobby Long and of course Lost in Translation, which would further set the stage for her work with name-brand filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, Michael Bay, Brian De Palma, and three collaborations with Woody Allen.“I continue to understand my job on a deeper level as I get older,” says Johansson, reflecting on this moment. “I guess I’ve put in more than my 10,000 hours’ worth and I feel like I have muscles that I’ve earned from just a lot of work. I’ve spent a lot of time not getting stuff right, and (now I) know what feels right to me and have more confidence in my instincts about things. I feel I know myself better as a person, and that’s also helped me as an actor because I have so many more choices available to me emotionally. So, I think it’s a job that just gets better and better – for me, anyway.”And it’s made for a storybook 2019 for Johansson.