Scarlett Johansson has a presence on film that is always quiet, bright and compelling. In the 1996 index hit "Manny and Lo", Scarlett played the younger, and smarter, of two orphaned sisters. Two years later at the age of fourteen, she won unanimous critical acclaim for her haunting portrayal of Grace in Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer". This spring Scarlett headlines in "Ghost World", Terry Ziwigoff's eargerly-awaited directorial follow-up to his searing 1994 documentary, "Crumb". "Ghost World", based on Daniel Clowes' cult-classic comic-book novel of the same name, is the story of two girls who are best friends, and the demise of their relationship after high school graduation. Thora Birch, of "American Beauty", plays the outspoken and wacky Enid. Scarlett stars as Rebecca, a hushed and complicated teenager — slightly waspish, sardonic, and ultimately frail. We talked with Scarlett in Phoenix, where she was working on "Arac Attack" '50s-style sci-fi spoof, complete with giant tarantulas. The former child actress, now sixteen, turned out to be quite different from her intense and forceful screen screen presence. Scarlett, the person, is still very much a breezy adolescent, alternatively gregarious and closed. She watches lots of TV, talks to her boyfriend on her cell phone, studies for midterms, and looks mokingly foward to the junior prom.
Barbara: You have a great raspy voice. It's like Lauren Bacall without cigarettes.
Scarlett: Yeah, people always ask if I have a sore throat.
Barbara: You sound sophisticated for a sixteen-year-old. But then, you're a real New York City girl. How do you like Arizona?
Scarlett: I have no idea what's going on here. I just watch TV. I watched Deep Blue Sea last night. Samuel L. Jackson got eaten whole. It's my new favorite movie. And I love Jerry Springer. And Cops.
Barbara: I guess you have a lot of time to kill when you're not shooting. Have you gone out at all?
Scarlett: I went to Fuddruckers today, but that's been about the extent of my clubbing. One night I went to Tempe to play pool with my older brother. He's twenty-four. But apparently no matter what you do here, you have to show and Arizona State ID, or an out-of-state driver's license. I mean I have fake IDs and so do all my friends. But when we got to this pool place, the doorman said, "We can't take out-of-state IDs here, we need to see a driver's license." I said, "So if I don't drive I can't get into anyplace here?" And the guy just said, "Yeah, basically." I did get to go to the mall though.
Barbara: Was your mom supportive when you started in music?
Scarlett: She actually tried desperately to persuade me not to do it.
Barbara: Did you buy anything?
Scarlett: I got a makeup pencil. I have a ridiculous makeup collection. It's totally our of control. Back in New York, I have a kindergarten classroom-sized table covered with cigar boxes full of make-up.
Barbara: Are you more about eyeshadow or lipstick?
Scarlett: I'm an eyeshadow person. But I have massive amounts of everything. I have foundations that aren't even my skin tone so I can match my friends's coloring when they come over.
Barbara: Have you ever seen that Kevyn Aucoin makeup book, where he transforms all these celebrities into someone else?
Scarlett: Oh yeah, the scariest one was Gwyneth Paltrow as James Dean. I was realy shocked. I mean I love James Dean. I think he's one of the most beautiful men ever, but...
Barbara: Who would you want to be?
Scarlett: Maybe Elvis Presley. Or Bob Marley!
Barbara: How did you know that you wanted to be an actress?
Scarlett: I always loved to perform, I just loved to sing and dance and pretend. When I was seven years old or so, someone suggested to my mom that my brothers and sister and I could do commercials. But the agencies were only interested in my older brother, Adrian. I was devastated — but that made me more determined, and my brother saw that. So I did the whole head-shot thing and found a manager...
Barbara: And did you always love film?
Scarlett: My mom always encouraged us to watch a lot of movies. It traumatized me when I was really little — I'm telling you, she let us watch whatever we wanted. I saw Silence of the Lambs when I was like, eight. But I think seeing all those movies really helped develop my interest in film.
Barbara: It seems like you and your mom are really close.
Scarlett: Well, yeah. She's my only connection to real life. My mom and Fuddruckers.
Barbara: Wow. How do you handle school with all the traveling?
Scarlett: I go to a private school, in Manhattan, and I get tutored on the set when I'm working.
Barbara: You're not missing much. High School kind of sucks.
Scarlett: I don't mind school. I have friends there and I take regular classes. I used to go to public school, but when I started working more, they wouldn't deal with my being away so much. My twin brother goes to public school, and so did my older brother and sister. I'm almost out anyway, I'm a junior. I'll make it somehow.
Barbara: Let's talk about Ghost World. You and Thora Birch got to be pretty tight, I heard.
Scarlett: We had some wacky, wacky times. We were sort of a team on that film. Because Terry Zwigoff and Dan Clowes are insane! Of course Thora is insane as well — in a good way.
Barbara: Terry directed Crumb, too. He's got a really twisted way of seeing things. Did you film Ghost World in L.A.?
Scarlett: Yeah, and I was staying right by Universal Studios. One night Thora and I were stuck in my hotel room with nothing to do. So we went over to the City Walk at Universal. We did this weird virtual reality ride where you become a rain drop in a thunderstorm in the city. It was the coolest thing in the world. I went there every day, basically because I had nothing better to do.
Barbara: Between scenes you'd just run over to the amusement park?
Scarlett: Yeah, I tried drag-racing there too, but Thora didn't come with me. I went with my brother.
Barbara: Brad Renfro plays your love interest in Ghost World. Was he your first screen kiss?
Scarlett: God no, the first one was with this boy in An American Rhapsody. The movie sarred Nastassja Kinski, and it was shot in Budapest. I was there for about three weeks, and it was so depressing. I like Chicago as a film location much better.
Barbara: What did you shoot there?
Scarlett: Home Alone 3!
Barbara: With Macaulay Culkin?
Scarlett: No, with this little boy named Alex Linz who is the cutest thing in the whole world. That movie follows me everywhere. Kids still ask me, "Are that girl in the Home Alone 3 poster?"
Barbara: Weird. I guess a lot of kids must have the poster up in their rooms. Weren't you at the Oscars last year?
Scarlett: I went to the Vanity Fair Oscar party, not the Oscars themselves. I just wanted to get in on the action — screw the awards. And I saw Patrick Swayze!
Barbara: You love him?
Scarlett: I love him. When I was little,Dirty Dancing was my favorite movie. So when I saw him, I was like "Oh, my god, it's Patrick Swayze!" He was talking to Terry Zwigoff, and I just butted in and said, "Patrick? I. Love. You. I have loved you since Dirty Dancing." He said, "Wow, that was a long time ago," then he gave me this weird look like, "Psycho."
Barbara: I picture him in tight pants.
Scarlett: He looked really good. Those pants that he wore all through Ghost were pretty tight. I love that movie too. It makes me cry every time. I love cheesy movies. That's my guilty pleasure. I like Willy Wonka too. That's probably my favorite movie. I watched Willy Wonka when I was little all the time, but I didn't realize until recently how absolutely morbid it is.
Barbara: Do you have other guilty pleasures? Watching MTV maybe?
Scarlett: That's not really a pleasure. I have a lot of pleasures that I think might be guilty for some people, but I don't really believe in "guilty" guilty pleasures. If I like chocolate, I'm going to eat it. And I won't eat it in a closet.
Barbara: Anything else?
Scarlett: Oh, I know! Shopping.
Barbara: Of course.
Scarlett: I shop so much. You don't understand how many clothes I have. I like Triple Five Soul a lot. I love Dolce & Gabanna, but I can't afford it.
Barbara: Maybe if you go to the Oscars they'll send you something.
Scarlett: I want to wear Dolce & Gabbana. Hear me? I'm saying it now. Or Prada. My mom bought me a D&G dress, and at first I wanted to return it because it made me look naked. It was so flattering, it scared me at first. I felt like I couldn't wear it out.
Barbara: What's the most teenager thing about you?
Scarlett: Well, I'm going to the prom. I go every year. Freshman year the prom was at this really small restaurant, it was horrible. Of course we couldn't drink, so what the hell? Last year we had it on a boat. Yeah, that was fun — stuck on a cold boat for four hours. You couldn't get off.
Barbara: Maybe this year will be better.
Scarlett: Who knows? But yeah. Maybe I can wear my Dolce & Gabbana dress!
Barbara: I have to keep reminding myself that you're only sixteen. I heard your boyfriend visited you on the set of Ghost World and that he was reading Franny and Zooey. Dan Clowes said that you two were really cute together.
Scarlett: We've been going out for a yeah-and-a-half. He lives in New York, and he's not in the business. We're bad about adjusting to time away from each other.
Barbara: How long are you here for?
Scarlett: Two months. But I did hear there's an I. Magnin outlet store around here, so...
Barbara: At least you can get a tan.
Scarlett: No! As long as I'm working on Arac Attack I'm not allowed to tan. It's for the continuity purposes. But I will not go back to New York from Arizona white! That's the best part of being here.
Barbara: What's Arac Attack about?
Scarlett: It's a science-fiction comedy about giant spiders.
Barbara: Do people get eaten by the spiders?
Scarlett: Oh yes. It's gruesome and horrible, but also very funny. David Arquette is hysterical.
Barbara: So after it wraps, are you free for a bit?
Scarlett: I don't know, I might do one of those spur-of-the-moment things, right before the strike. But it's not crucial, because I have three films coming out this year. Also whereas other actors might anxious because they're not doing anythin, I'll be going to school. And playing my piano.
Barbara: I didn't know you played the piano.
Scarlett: I just started taking lessons. I got interested when I was doing the Coen Brothers' film.
Barbara: That must've been a great experience.
Scarlett: Yeah, the film isn't titled yet, but it stars Billy Bob Thornton, Frances McDormand, and James Gandolfini.
Barbara: What was Billy Bob like?
Scarlett: He's very funny. I remember one scene tha took a million hours to shoot. It was in this part of L.A. that's totally overrun by wild parakeets. They had been pet birds, but they got free and just bred and bred. And they wouldn't shut up! Every time we would try to shoot a close-up of either me or Billy Bob, the birds would start chirping away.
Scarlett: It's definitely a dark comedy. Ironically, my character is a girl named Birdie. And she plays the piano.
Barbara: I can't wait to see it. So, you've been on David Letterman and Rosie O'Donnell. Who was scarier?
Scarlett: Letterman was a blur. All I could think was, "I'm being interviewed by David Letterman." The lights were shining in my eyes, and I couldn't see the audience. I felt weird because he was looking at me the whole time, and I'm so in awe of him. I went on the show hoping that he would give me a Polish ham. I used to love when he'd throw one to the audience. So he went into the drawer and he actually gave me one. I still have that ham in my fridge, and that was like, three years ago.
Barbara: And Rosie O'Donnell? Are you gonna tell me she was nice?
Scarlett: She was okay. I brought all these Lucille Ball mugs and things, because I love Lucille Ball and Rosie always has weird stuff on her desk. It was so strange, because I hadn't met Letterman or Rosie before the shows, and then suddenly I was on camera, and they're saying, "Hey, how are you?"
Barbara: Did you meet the other guests?
Scarlett: I did Letterman with Drew Carey. Then when I was shooting Ghost World, my friend Jessica and I went to a comedy club in L.A., and he was performing. We tried to get in, but it was so crowded. And they saw him. I guess one thing I get from my mom is knowing how to milk a situation. So I went up to him and said, "Hey, Drew, how are you? What's up?" He had no idea who I was. So I said, "We were on Letterman together, buddy!" After that he walked us in, right in front of the whole line. We got the last seats.
Barbara: So your mom taught you how to do that?
Scarlett: She's good about getting what she wants. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" That totally describes my mom. She's such a squeaky wheel.
Barbara: Well at least you must get lots of perks. Do you always bring your cat on the set when you travel?
Scarlett: Trooper's a kitten actually. I didn't want to miss any part of his growing up. I figured by the time I got back from this shoot, two months later, he'd be a big fat monster. I might as well watch him turn into one!
Barbara: It must be nice to have him with you.
Scarlett: Without his company, I'd have a nervous breakdown. We're in the middle of nowhere. It's so nice to come home and have this fluffy warm thing purring and rubbing our leg.
Barbara: So it's just you, your mom, and the cat.
Scarlett: And my boyfriend was just here for a few days. It was so sad to see him go. I was sobbing and totally depressed, and my cat was not helping at all. I opened the door to put something outside, and he just bolted. He ran so fast down the hall, like he had fire in his ass. And I was chasing him, crying on the cell phone, "Oh, mom, I have to go. I have to get the cat..."
Barbara: It's not as easy as it sounds, being a movie star.
Scarlett: Yeah. I just got back from Fuddruckers, I'm diggesting my cheeseburger. I can either read in the bathtub or read on the bed. Or I can watch Cops, or laugh at my cat.
Barbara: Thank god for cable.
Scarlett: Thank god.