ESCAPING THE ISLAND
By Brad Balfour
When 20 year-old actress Scarlett Johansson joined director Michael Bay in making The Island, it didn’t seem the pairing would work Though Johansson has been known for starring in quirky small-scale character driven films (such as Ghost World, Lost In Translation and The Girl with the Pearl Earring), Bay had been established as a provider of splashy explosion and car cash laden action flicks with scant story or characterization beyond stock figures such as Armageddon.
Yet, the two came together in a film with both challenging ideas (what if we could make clones to extend life through organ-harvesting) and emotionally engaging characters (two clones — co-star Ewan McGregor and Johansson – fall in love and escape). And even though we don’t get to see her sex scene topless (she declared she wanted to do it nude because that would be more credible), The Island is still rich with scenes of Scarlett, action and ideas worthy of viewing.
This movie contrasts sharply with your other more indie films. How difficult was to do this action-adventure story?
It wasn’t difficult; it was very easy. Every film I have done is very different and I am constantly playing different characters with different kinds of directors. I love genre films, if they are good, they do the trick, and you are removed from your life for a couple of hours; I had just never found one that I thought was good enough you know. You figure if you are going to do an action film, or a thriller or a science fiction film, it had better be the right one cause it is not like you can do tons of them, you know and of course when I heard that Michael was attached to something it was very interesting for me because he does it so well. He is one of about two or three people that can do it really well do it right. So, I figured if you are going to do it you may as well do it right. So, it was easy for me, I was working on [Woody Allen? S] ?Match Point? in London and you know they were shooting in a month and I said sign me up, it was very easy, no turmoil.
What appealed to you about this role?
It was just a really fantastic script – exciting, adventurous, and fun. You know of course when you are reading a script and it says slides down a drain pipe or something you don’t actually think that is ever going to happen until 7.30 in the morning on the day when Mr. Michael Bay says “Just slide down this drain pipe and then we will do it again from another angle and again from another angle.” So, it was a lot of work, as far as playing a character that was innocent, it was delightful, really fun because as an actor, mentally you get into this state of everything being so new – children, dogs, people, cars feeling in love and physical intimacy and all of these things being so brand new so it manifests itself physically, so you get excited. Ewan and I really had a fun time with it, it was very sweet.
What do you like most about the film?
It’s nice because it slowly starts to build, it gets psychologically creepier and creepier as it goes and then once you hit that point where everything is revealed and you see Michael and he’s struggling for his life it’s so horribly disturbing, it’s so, so, so disturbing that from that moment on it just doesn’t stop and that’s the ride that you take.
What about the physical challenges; were there any near-misses as far as the action scenes were concerned?
I almost lost an eye. That was fun. I had a permanently blue knee. That was pretty gross. The problem is that once we were doing this scene where I had to crawl on the sidewalk. There was so much action going on in the background. We were in the foreground and in the background it’s like a car comes in, the SWAT team gets out, there’s an explosion, and things are going on. What happened was I fell to my knees and in that instance, I was like, “Oh, that hurt so badly!” I had to keep crawling because the scene is so organized. It takes 20 minutes to put it all back to place. The first A.D. is screaming at everybody to get in their places and you just can’t take that time. So, you just kind of go through it in agony. And the eye, almost losing my eye, that was really a drag. I wasn’t so [scared]. Ewan was so freaked out that I was going to fall that my knuckles were bleeding from his fingernails [digging in holding me]. I’m saying, “Why are you still holding me? I’m attached to this harness.” And he was like, “I can’t let go. It’s my human instinct. You’re going to fall.” It was really funny. He hated it up there. It was very sweet. At least losing my eye came in time for the holiday season, so I didn’t have a giant lump for the film. I just had it over the holidays. Lovely.
Ewan got to play this other character and meet his sponsor [who paid for the clone to be created]. Would you have liked to play a both your characters [Jordan Two Delta/Sarah Jordan] at some point?
If it wasn’t too unbelievable. But he definitely had a great time with it. It was so fun to watch. Ewan was so funny in that scene because we all hated that character so much. He was so vile and so creepy. It was very funny. And I loved acting with him as that character as well because he was so, so lechy and gross. But [I would have played such a role] only if it were to come up in some kind of realistic [way]. I could never think of a scenario. But it seemed like a good time.
What was it like working with two Ewans – jerk Tom, and naïve and likable Lincoln?
If you see him in “Guys and Dolls” you see how versatile he really is. It’s amazing. I felt so proud of him because he’s incredible. He’s a triple threat, you know what I mean? Singing, dancing, acting. Everything.
What’s it like working with Michael Bay?
He’s lovely. It’s funny because he’s so loud and just boisterous and rude. He’s got the explosions going and you see him as that, and then he’ll come up to you in a middle of a take and say, ‘Hey, you did this really cute thing that I wish you would do again.’ And he’ll get so excited about it. He was so excited that finally toward the end of the shooting that we finally got the meat of it. So, it’s nice to have a director that’s so incredible with the effects call the actual drama of the movie the meat of the story. That’s rare. We had a lot of fun with that because we had a lot of great private moments between the Lincoln and the Jordan characters.
What did you think about this subject matter in our culture–is there a desire to get cloned?
I thought that it was practical regarding the story that we were trying to tell. When you see the people coming in looking to sponsor a clone of themselves that they all look like wealthy businessmen and athletes. And of course, you see Michael [Clarke Duncan] is a football player. It’s people that we think in our rational minds that could afford this $2 million or $5 million policy. I thought that it was very much what it was supposed to be. It didn’t seem radical.
What do you feel the movie is trying to say?
I don’t believe that movies should deliver messages. I never pick films based on whatever messages they’re delivering. I think that when you leave the theater, I think that you question, ‘How far would I go to test fate?’ But after all, when I come out of a film that I’ve just paid $10 to see and spent $15 bucks on popcorn, when I come out of the theater at the end of it, I just want to be entertained. I just want to leave and say, “That was cool. I had a great time. That was a fun experience for me.” I don’t really feel that films necessarily always have to deliver the big picture. That can be so boring particularly if you find it to be offensively preachy. I just hope that people have a great time when they watch it. It’s a trip.
You were filming in London recently – will it be different now after what happened with the bombing; are you worried or concerned about it?
No, of course not. London is a lovely place to be, it is as safe as any and you know the show must go on everybody is trucking along. We are shooting in Central London this week and will be for the rest of the show and I am staying there you know. I was here when September 11th happened, and it was amazing the unity the people had and how wonderful the police and fire departments were and the same in London they were so fast acting. That alone is enough to make you feel okay. That threat is everywhere you go so it is important to not let it change your life.
Are you surprised at how fast you’ve achieved success in Hollywood? And do you read about yourself in the tabloids?
Yeah, it’s very surprising. I never had any expectation. I only hoped and thought when I was younger that I’d like to be a working actor forever. But I don’t think you can foresee something like this hype or success or the fact that Michael could see me outside of a certain category. The fact that he could see me in this was very surprising. It was lovely. As an actor you see yourself in different kinds of roles. You imagine that you can play them. But it’s not always that way looking at it from an industry point of view. I really don’t patronize tabloid magazines, so if I ever read what’s written about me it’s either hearsay or maybe somebody has faxed me the article or something like that. But I don’t think it really does any good. I never respond to any of those things, true, not true, whatever. I find it’s better to avoid it because then you won’t have to be correcting it in the next week’s tabloids. And so, you just sort of let it take its own course, unless it’s horribly and unbelievably untrue and offensive. Then I would… [mumbles inaudibly].
Since you started so young, if you had a clone, what sort of career would you have the clone do in lieu of your acting career? And did you enjoy seeing Steve Buscemi again?
Oh, it was great. I love Steve. He’s so, so, so funny and he’s such a great actor. He cracks me up. It was really great to work with him again and I hope we get to work together again sometime in the future. And I’d just have her (the clone] do simple household tasks, folding the laundry; maybe prance around in clothing so I could see what I might look like. You know, do the grocery shopping, change the toilet paper, things people just don’t like to do.
So you wouldn’t have her lead an alternate acting career so you could switch back and forth?
No, I’d rather use her for my own selfish control.
Who’s the person you turn to for advice in general?
My mother. My mom has seen every single movie ever made, ever. She’s a library of film; she’s unbelievable. She could be a film historian; I swear. She knows a lot about film and has incredible taste. She also happens to be just absolutely adorable, lovely, caring and liberal. And… I trust her. And she trusts me. So, it really makes for a nice professional and personal relationship. She wants me to do what makes me happy. That’s all you can ask for is your parents’ support, and she’s lovely that way.
With everything going on in your life do you feel you’ll know when you’ve reached your peak?
You mean will I know if I’m ever fully satisfied? I don’t know. I hope to always be searching for ultimate satisfaction until the day that I die. Otherwise, gosh, how boring. I mean, it’s good to feel satisfied, but I never want to stop looking or stop being curious about things. I think that you can get to a point in your life where you’re comfortable with that, but I never want to be comfortable like that, not too comfortable. I’m saying that now of course as a 20-year old girl. Ask me in another 35 years and I’ll probably tell you that all I want to be is comfortable. That’s my perspective on it now anyway.
You are working non-stop. You’ve got A Good Woman in September or October, Match Point coming for Christmas, and you are making the new Woody Allen movie now. It seems like you are doing six movies a year… Are you a clone or a robot and do you have some kind of a life?
If I had a clone, I would never do the press junket. No, that way I could sleep in, get my eggs Benedict that kind of thing. But I am definitely going to take a nice long much needed rest after this one I have promised myself that. The problems is once I start to relax for a while I get very anxious and then I have to do something, so I am either going to have to find some different kind of career path or just go to some far away Island and have silent torture sessions of myself about why I am not working. It is hard for me to take vacations.
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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 22, 2005.