She plays Bill Murray’s young lover in Lost in Translation, and an artist’s model in Girl with a Pearl Earring: but that’s just the start. SCARLETT JOHANSSON is a teenage prodigy who has Hollywood in the palm of her hand. Words: Tim Abrahams

or a brief moment. Sofia Coppola breaks out of her melancholic stupor. For once she seems less like an extra from one of her own films and more like a bona tide director. She is sitting in the corner of a room in the Dorchester hotel. remembering the first time she saw

Scarlett Johansson perform on screen. ‘She was kind of

smart-ass but she also had this strange wise look in her eyes.‘ It was in the charming feminism-by-the-back-door road adventure Manny and Lo. a kind of pre-teen Thelma and Louise. that (‘oppola heard that voice. remembering it years later when she was casting Lost in 'lranslarion. a film about a mismatched romantic pairing who spend a bizarre week together in Tokyo.

The next day. the woman with that strange. wise look in her eyes is sitting in the same hotel room. Trim fingers are divesting pistachios of their shells and flipping them past her big. wide lips. Scarlett Johannson. all grown up. is trying to work out how old she was when she made the film that garnered her the youngest nomination ever for an Independent Spirit Award at Sundance. ‘I was 12 when the film came out. So I must have been ten when it was shot.‘ She sounds like an art-house Drew Barrymore whose self- destruct mechanism hasn’t kicked in yet. And although she‘s only 18. judging by two films out this month. she is good. Like old—style. screen actress good.

Scarlett Johansson is not conventionally beautiful but she has an air of purpose and stillness that is rare in real life but doubly so in the world of film. It‘s not that you can't see her turning tip to cattle call auditions when she was a kid. It‘s just that you can‘t see her doing it ever. She is resolutely tin-cute. and could do eltin but only if you meant it in the Scandinavian folk-tale way rather than a Liv Tyler way.

‘Iivery time I would come out of the auditions I was really upset. overwhelmingly so. because I did not want to do that kind of thing. I knew at the age of eight that I didn‘t want to be selling soap powder. At that age. you know what makes you happy and what makes you sad better than when you grow older. You are at your most instinctive when you are young.‘ Johansson says in her deep. trademark growl.

'All the casting directors would always ask me if I had a sore throat. I was this cute little kid with this deep voice.‘ She exaggerates the register of her voice to Brian Blessed- esque proportions. ‘Buy Jell-O. it tastes good.‘

She’s quick-witted. a bit sarcastic and oddly old before her time. You can’t imagine anyone pushing Johannson into anything ever. even if one of the most familiar factors in the whole child star cliche is the pushy parent. She admits that her mum did take her and her three siblings (she has a twin brother) to a theatrical agency when she was eight.

‘Some kids just know.’ Mrs Johansson‘s daughter shrugs. Precocious doesn‘t even begin to describe Johansson. who has come a long way since she made her big screen debut in Rob Reiner's sugar sweet turkey North. It was in Robert Redford‘s The Horse Whisperer (1998) that she proved that she had big league potential.

‘I wanted to impress Robert Redford so badly. so I put all my effort into it. I really looked at it as being a job where other people‘s careers were at stake.‘ Working alongside Robert Redford. Kristin Scott Thomas and Sam Neill. she realised that her job had the potential to be an art form. ‘When I did Horse Whisperer I figured out how to manipulate my emotions. I know that it sounds scary and that I was only 12 but I did. I learned how to make myself vulnerable.‘ She has developed from child star to the knowing ingénue with astonishing speed. In Ghost World

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little character comedy about a teenage pregnancy. a runaway and a kidnap.

Manages to prowde an air of authenticity to the troubled young girl stereotype amid healing closure down on the ranch.

A small town guy tries to kill his wife and gets it wrong in this masterful Coen brothers film. Johansson provides ennui and fellatio.

Johansson offers the tantalising promise of escape to Bill Murray. who plays the part of an ageing film star.

‘The biggest . . nastiest . . . mutant spider mowe of all time!!!!' said the tagline. Apart from that other one with John Goodman in.

8—22 Jan 2004 THE LIST 23