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Black Widow attacks

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photo: Marvel Comics/Walt Disney

Over the years, we’ve seen Scarlett Johansson undergo a series of transformations. She first drew attention as a 14-year-old ingénue in The Horse Whisperer, then enchanted us as Bill Murray’s muse in Lost in Translation, before Woody Allen transformed her into a sultry temptress in Match Point and later in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Recently, her career suffered a partial meltdown, only partly salvaged by her turn as Black Widow in Iron Man 2, while her private life came unraveled following her divorce from Ryan Reynolds. The split left Johansson adrift and in disarray.

But the 27-year-old’s world is spinning in a much smoother orbit of late.  Her new film, The Avengers, directed by Josh Whedon, sees her reprise her role as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, the ultimate female superhero who fights alongside a star-studded cast that includes Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Chris Evans (Captain America), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury). Never has Johansson looked as sexy as she struts about in her catsuit with considerable conviction and enjoys a spectacular series of fight scenes that even Jason Statham would envy.

In the meantime, Johansson has also found love and security in the arms of a hotshot New York ad executive, and has never looked more stunning or glamorous than she has of late, with her new swept-up blonde look and strutting the red carpet in a variety of low-cut outfits. Is this the beginning of a bright new chapter in Scarlett’s life?

“You go through different parts of your life where you feel more grounded than at other times,” she observes. “I’m enjoying the films I’m working on now and the direction I’m heading in. I feel I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’m happier and more patient now.”

Johansson’s work in The Avengers will go a long way into rebooting her career and firmly establishing her as one of Hollywood’s top sex symbols.

Scarlett, what was it like putting on the bodysuit again and reprising your role as Black Widow in The Avengers?

I love her, but not the costume. Black Widow is an iconic figure–the first female superhero. It’s been interesting for me to draw on her history and be able to define her in a modern setting. Josh (Whedon, the director of The Avengers) wanted to make sure that we stayed true to her origins and I enjoyed being able to capture something of the enigmatic and no-nonsense sides to her personality. When she launches into action, she’s all business. She’s like a machine you set into motion and she’s very hard to stop.

Didn’t you feel sexy wearing the bodysuit?

It may look sexy on the outside but it’s extremely hot and sticky on the inside. In between takes, all our costumes are unzipped and some air conditioning venting unit goes in. Everyone in the cast had various things that we needed to do to feel comfortable. We would sit around trying not to think too much about how hot it was in our suits and not sweat too much in a warehouse which had no air conditioning and then forget all that once the cameras started rolling and we all had to look badass. Then Josh would call “Cut!” and we’re all like “Aarrrgh. God, this thing is so hot, get it off me, it’s awful!!”

Do you have to get yourself into a kickass mode to be able to do the action scenes and all the stunt work?

It was a mental challenge knowing that you’re going to get the crap kicked out of you on the set doing the stunts, and you’re also acutely aware that if you make a mistake doing a stunt it’s going to hurt a lot! That was the hardest part of the shoot for me, preparing to do very tough physical stunts every day and not worrying about getting bruised and battered a bit. I spent a lot of time training to get ready for the film.

Did the guys you were fighting against take extra care during your fight sequences with them–or was it all out warfare?

It was basically all-out fighting and I felt like they were trying to kill me for six months. I had to ask one guy to take it easy on me because I was getting the crap kicked out of me and I didn’t want to wake up completely black and blue the next morning. Nobody took it easy on me on the set and it was hard for me to keep up with the boys at night because they liked to play hard and I had to remind them that I needed my beauty sleep!

You’re part of a very impressive cast that includes Robert Downey Jr., Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, et al….

The cast is insane! When do you ever get to see this group of actors come together in this kind of fantasy world. And I definitely feel like it’s the grounded nature of this film. I think that’s a throwback to what people loved in Iron Man, the original. But it’s with a sci-fi infusion of escaping into this ultimate “other worldly reality,” but have it still be heartfelt and sincere.

You did a lot of advance training to get ready for The Avengers. Were you happy with the results?

Yes, I’ve never been fitter in my life. I had a fantastic trainer and even though sometimes you want to eat a box of cookies I actually enjoyed most of the healthy foods I had to survive on. I ate a lot of salmon and kale and a lot of good stuff that made me more conscious of eating the right foods and taking care of your body that way.

This movie will do a lot to add to your sex symbol image. How do enjoy that kind of image?

I don’t think very much about that. It’s something that’s really not part of your world and exists only as a media perception. But it’s an image you can have a certain amount of fun playing with even though you don’t want to let that define you. You also know that it’s a very fleeting kind of thing so you might as well enjoy it rather than spending time worrying about the attention.

Do you ever feel restricted in any way that directors often cast you in sexy roles?

I don’t think that’s true. I haven’t really played that many sexy characters except maybe in Match Point or Black Dahlia. But the characters I play aren’t really traditionally sexy. I think it’s probably a reaction to the fact that I’m curvy and confident about it.

You’re playing Janet Leigh in the new film about Hitchcock. Is it fun being able to play an iconic Hollywood figure like that?

As I get older, I’m looking at roles that move away from that kind of ingénue mould and are more based on women that are more experienced. That’s refreshing for me. It’s nice to be able to kind of transition into that. I never wanna play something I’ve done before. I wanna be able to just have everything be hard in some way. Otherwise, what’s the point?

You tend to cut a very glamorous figure when you’re on the red carpet.  Do you feel comfortable in that image?

I don’t lead a very glamorous life in private. I enjoy promoting my films and I get to wear some fabulous outfits for the red carpet but in my everyday life I like to be more casual. So that image is really a character I’m playing when I’m selling a beauty campaign and I’m a canvas for the designer’s idea of beauty. You have to allow yourself to fit into the look that the designer is striving for and capture the kind of beauty that an advertising campaign is trying to project. It’s a face you put on when you do that stuff. It’s nice for a little while and then you wash all the glamour away when you get home.

What defines happiness for you?

It changes. It depends on where I am in life and whether I’m overworked or underworked. Sometimes when I’m working on something really impossible, my idea of happiness is to do absolutely nothing.

You’ve been an actress for nearly 20 years and you’ve been in the limelight for your entire adult life. How do you think that’s affected you?

You become a bit wary about how much of your private life becomes public knowledge. But you learn how to adapt and not stress yourself too much.  I like being challenged by the projects I’m working on now but I don’t let them overwhelm my life. I have a better balance on things now.


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