Manhattan native Scarlett Johansson may not be playing a true superhero in the new Marvel film, “The Avengers: Infinity War,” which just opened in April. After all, her character, Natasha Romanoff (aka Black Widow), is merely a highly trained spy and assassin without any real superpowers. But there can be little argument that the 33-year-old actress is an actual superwoman when it comes to theatrical prowess.
The daughter of Bronx-born Melanie Sloan (also Johansson’s manager for many years) and Danish-born architect Karsten Johansson, she is now one of the 10 highest-paid actresses in Hollywood. Johansson also has a slew of awards on her mantel, including a Tony Award for her work in the 2010 Broadway revival of “A View From the Bridge.” On a social note, she dates one of the hottest men in television (“Saturday Night Live” star Colin Jost); and is a loving mother to her 3 ½-year old daughter Rose Duriac. (Johansson is divorced from both Rose’s father, businessman Romain Duriac, and her first husband, film actor Ryan Reynolds).
She has literally appeared in dozens of films since making her big-screen debut at age 9 opposite John Ritter in the 1994 film “North.” And while she has had the good fortune to work with several acclaimed directors, from Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” “Match Point”) to Ethan and Joel Coen (“Hail, Caesar!”), one of her most notable films was Sofia Coppola’s 2003 “Lost in Translation,” in which she played an unhappy Yale philosophy student in Japan who makes a strong emotional connection with a washed-up movie star, played by Bill Murray.
But it’s the role of Natasha/Black Widow—which fell into her lap when Emily Blunt had to drop out of 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” and which Johansson is now playing for the sixth time—that the superstar truly treasures.
“I really like playing Natasha. It’s been such an interesting journey to take a character and peel the layers back and be able to, as you do in life, grow with this person,” she says. “It’s a character that’s really enigmatic and has an amazing origins story, so there’s a lot for me to play off of.”
As Johansson also notes, it’s a role that has allowed her to expand her horizons, as well as the film industry’s perception of her. “I think for such a long time, I felt kind of pigeonholed as this ingenue. Maybe that was just a literal reflection of my life at that time. I’m a very curious person, and the Marvel universe has opened up so many opportunities for me to stretch myself in ways that I never thought would be possible,” she says. “I don’t think I have seen a film of this genre where the female characters’ sex appeal sort of came second. When you have a sexy secretary, or a girl swinging around by her ankles in a catsuit, you know that’s innately sexy, but the fact is that the characters in these films are intelligent, ambitious, motivated and calculated to some degree.” Johansson readily admits she has some mixed feelings about her ingenue/sex symbol status. “There was this label put on me early in my career as this bombshell,” she says. “Although I think it’s been flattering to be considered someone who is sexy, there’s something very confining about that. It implies that your strength comes from your sexuality. One reason I like playing the Black Widow is that the physical part of this role was something I’d never gotten to experience. That was something that pushed me out of my comfort zone.”
Indeed, there are areas in life where Johansson feels extremely comfortable—and others where she does not. She has little trouble being politically outspoken, as was evident when she got angry in January at the organizers of the Time’s Up movement for supporting James Franco (who has been accused of sexual harassment) at the Golden Globes. “I grew up in a household that was politically conscious and where it was just understood that it was important, that it was our responsibility,” she says.
Conversely, Johansson prefers to keep her private life to herself. She has had little to say about her two divorces and has yet to publicly comment on her romance with Jost (whom she met in 2006 during her first stint hosting “SNL” and began dating in 2017). Nonetheless, the pair has been seen openly everywhere in New York, from trendy Upper East Side eatery The East Pole to the skating rink in Rockefeller Center to a recent “SNL” after-party at Dos Caminos.
“I don’t talk about my personal relationships: It ends up kicking you in the face,” she states.“But I’ve read a lot of things about myself and think, ‘Wow! That girl sounds really saucy.’”
Only a small section of “The Avengers: Infinity War” was shot in the Big Apple, but wherever she happens to be filming, New York is never far from her thoughts. “I’m a New Yorker. It’s something that follows you,” says Johansson. “It’s an inherent part of how you approach life in general, being a city kid. I carry it with me whether I’m aware of it or not. How I function in other cities, how I problem-solve, how I get things done, how I communicate: It’s all the product of growing up in a city where anything is possible,” she says.
That may explain, in part, why Johansson has no intention of resting on her laurels. “My experience has been that with every risk, there’s a loss and gain. I get a lot of power from taking risks and bracing myself for the outcome,” she notes. “Every day, I’m learning more about my job and my boundaries—how far I can push them, what makes me comfortable, what makes me uncomfortable. And that curiosity helps me figure out how to refine my performance, how to find my kind of natural rhythm.”
Nor is she concerned about aging. “It’s a great thing to get older and learn. I don’t feel bound by how many years I’ve lived,” she proclaims. Now, that’s what you call a super attitude!