Scarlett Johansson talks about movies, music and being young in Hollywood

By Sandy Cohen

LOS ANGELES – Life is good for Scarlett Johansson. The actress and aspiring singer just recorded her debut album and has a calendar full of film projects that will keep her busy for months.

At just 22, Johansson has already taken direction from Robert Redford, Brian DePalma, Christopher Nolan and Woody Allen, with whom she’s currently working for the third time. She’s shared the screen with John Travolta, Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi and Hilary Swank in roles that have seen her as an outcast, action star and little girl lost.

In her latest project, “The Nanny Diaries,” opening Friday, Johansson stars opposite Oscar nominees Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti. Set in her hometown of New York City, the film tells the story of a 21-year-old college grad who learns what money can and can’t buy when she takes a job as a live-in nanny for a super-wealthy couple and their son.

Speaking by phone from Barcelona, where she’s shooting Allen’s latest film, Johansson talked with The Associated Press about music, her movie career and how she avoids the pitfalls and paparazzi that plague her Hollywood contemporaries.

AP: Are you Woody Allen’s new muse?

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Johansson: We both kind of think that term is so bizarre. You know, it’s not like I come bring him inspiration when he’s got writer’s block at 3 in the morning. We like to work together. It’s an easy working relationship and a really nice friendship, so it works out. But I don’t know if it goes much further than that.

AP: What attracted you to “The Nanny Diaries”?

Johansson: Shari (Springer Berman) and Bob (Pulcini) were attached to it … had written the script, and I was a big fan of “American Splendor.” So I met with them … and we just got along incredibly well. The three of us spent hours talking about everything, and we have sort of similar upbringings, and we’re all from New York. That’s what attracted me to the project to begin with. Of course, (also) just the opportunity to play somebody who was a girl who I very easily could have been friends with or known. I felt like I’d never really had the opportunity to play someone that I could so easily relate to, someone my own age. I just really loved the script. I thought it was clever and funny and a nice opportunity to do kind of a broad comedy. It all was very attractive.

AP: How did you like working in your hometown?

Johansson: New York is such a great city to shoot in. … It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to shoot at home and it’s just so much fun. It’s wonderful to be able to just see your friends after work, to be able to go home and sleep in your own bed. It’s just such a pleasure.

AP: What about this album you’re releasing? It’s all Tom Waits covers?

Johansson: I’ve always been a huge fan of Tom Waits and I had this kind of golden opportunity to make an album however I wanted and it’s kind of a dream chance. … Originally I thought that I would do an album of standards and I wanted to include a Tom Waits song. And I don’t know, I thought maybe everybody does standards, and so, I see Tom Waits as being kind of a composer of modern standards and so it seemed appropriate that I could interpret his songs. Obviously, it’s not an album where I’m trying to sound like him. It would be impossible. He writes such beautiful songs and incredible melodies and they’re so cinematic and kind of open-ended so I felt like it would be something that I could be inspired by.

AP: Has music always been an interest of yours?

Johansson: I actually started acting because I wanted to be in musicals when I was a little girl. That’s where my dream career was going to be when I was 8 years old, like the young Cosette in “Les Miserables.” Then I started making films and I never ended up doing musical theater. Of course, by the time I turned 13, I kind of buried that part of myself. You know, it’s always been there. I’ve always loved to sing and I’ve always loved music and listened to lots of music and all kinds of music.

AP: Unlike some of your contemporaries, you’re not a famous partier and haven’t been arrested for drunk driving. How do you stay on track?

Johansson: I don’t think necessarily that there’s trouble looming around the corner for everyone involved in this industry. … I have a really wonderful family that’s very supportive. Luckily I never really struggled with any kind of, I don’t know, image problems or addictions. You know, I think it’s not just people in Hollywood … It’s kind of part of just growing up and growing up in the world that we live in today where everything is so available and so fast-paced. It’s hard I think for a lot of youths to avoid these pitfalls. Obviously the availability of whatever it may be, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or partying or whatever, is dangerous for people who are prone to addiction or that kind of lifestyle. I’m just fortunate enough to never have had that inclination. I guess I attribute that to my parents and friends and the way I was raised.