While it’s set to be one of the biggest films of the year, Scarlett Johansson admits she initially thought of turning down the chance to star in the new blockbuster Avengers Assemble.
“A lot of the time these superheroine characters are relying on their sexuality and being posy and sexy as opposed to being a badass,” she says.
“Those characters are so silly and I don’t have anything to contribute to that. But my character, Black Widow, has this dark past, so why not celebrate that?
“When I met with Marvel they agreed that there’s not really been a good female superhero movie and they wanted to get away from that overly sexy superheroine thing.”
In the film, the 27-year-old plays a spy called Natasha Romanoff – better known as Black Widow – who joins the world’s superheroes to defeat an evil demi-god.
Directed by Joss Whedon, the $220 million blockbuster is based on the Marvel comicbook series and also stars Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk.
“One of the most challenging things about the role was the physical part of it,” says Scarlett. “I’d come in and see Jeremy with ice all over his body and then I’d need an ice pack too for all of my injuries.”
Johansson also spent months training to get in shape for the role and to ensure she could squeeze into her character’s trademark catsuit.
“Everybody’s crazy about this costume,” she laughs. “As an actress you’re always training to either lose weight, put on weight or change your body. But since I wasn’t an athlete growing up I was never aware of what I could be capable of. It’s kind of fun to discover that.”
While it’s been a rough 12 months for Scarlett – she and fellow actor Ryan Reynolds divorced last year – she radiates an aura of cool self-assurance when we meet. Of Dutch and Polish descent, she made her big screen debut at the age of just nine in the 1994 comedy North.
It was four years later that she landed her break-out role starring alongside Robert Redford in the Horse Whisperer. Since then she’s worked with some of Hollywood’s biggest directors, including Woody Allen, Sofia Coppola, Brian De Palma and Cameron Crowe.
But, perhaps more than any actress on the planet, Scarlett is best known for her striking good looks.
“I think that’s just a by-product of being curvy,” she sighs. “I never think about it, except when I get constant questions in interviews about sexuality. I really have nothing to say about any of that stuff because it’s so boring.”
Incredibly, despite a career stretching back 18 years, Scarlett admits to still getting nervous when appearing on set or on stage.
“I always feel it’s good to be unsure of myself as an actor, otherwise you get lazy,” she says. “You have to believe that you can do it and that you’re the right person for the job, but I think it’s good to not always know how you’re going to do it. The fun part is figuring it out.
“I was very fortunate when I was a bit younger to be the ingenue and to play characters that were very much in transition. I was in transition in my life as well, being a young woman. I feel that I’m now moving into a phase where I’ll be playing more dynamic characters... grown women. For example, I want to someday play Norma Desmond [a character from the film Sunset Boulevard]. That’s my dream role.”
Perhaps this is why Scarlett has become more selective about the roles she takes. For example, in her next movie she’ll be going completely against type to play an alien in Under The Skin, while next year she’ll portray actress Janet Leigh in the film Hitchcock, alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins as the legendary director.
“I did a play in New York,” she explains, “and after that experience I realised I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t challenging in some way. So I just waited to find the right thing. I’ve been really lucky as it felt as if the right things came to me. With Avengers I’ve been working with this amazing cast and getting to work with the director Joss Whedon was a dream come true.”