Jojo Rabbit star Scarlett Johansson tells Michele Manelis about her fears for the future - and why life under the Trump regime is scary
How did your role in Jojo Rabbit come about?
Chris Hemsworth told me about it. He said that Taika [Waititi] wrote this incredible script and said, "You have to read it. It's like nothing I've ever read." Obviously, I've read enough scripts in my life to know when something is good and Jojo Rabbit was this perfect gem; it was so beautifully written. Then I met with Taika for a drink. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to convince him to cast me or he was supposed to convince me to be a part of it but the next time I saw him, it was on set. It was a seamless process.
Taika said that Chris Hemsworth was too good looking for him to be a part of the movie.
No comment. Hemsworth doesn't need any more compliments.
The movie is set in World War II and looks at Nazis and Hitler in a way we're not used to seeing on screen. Taika talked about both of you coming from a Jewish heritage. Have you experienced anti-Semitism in your life?
I have, yeah. I think every Jewish person has experienced anti-Semitism. It's alive, probably now more than ever, I feel. There's a lot of fear out there.
It doesn't help with President Trump's rhetoric, many are of the view that it's behind escalating hate crimes.
It's unprecedented, in my lifetime anyway, the idea of a president as a bully. A person who's actually mean and has seemingly no sense of empathy. It's almost like psychosis, it's very disturbing and I think people are scared - and when you're scared I think you go one way or the other. You either join in on the bandwagon because you're terrified and feel it's your way of surviving or you go the other direction and you fight that hatred with love and unity and compassion. But I feel, as an American and living here, even globally when I travel, I think a lot of people are just really, really scared because the repercussions are huge and affect everyone so strongly, environmentally, politically, socially, financially, emotionally - everything. He has such a humungous impact globally and it's scary.
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I remember interviewing you for The Horse Whisperer when you were a kid. How do you look back on your days of being a child actor?
I have many, many wonderful memories of being a kid actor. I really loved my job and I had a lot of really exciting dramatic moments. I remember doing The Horse Whisperer and having this profound realisation of, "Oh, this is acting." I suddenly went from being this sort of kid actor to actually beginning to understand what the work was. And that was a really exciting time for me, that discovery was life-changing.
I travelled a lot and so I was away from home a lot and I was lonely at times. I had my mum with me and we are very close, so that helped. But I missed my family and I felt like there was a hole in my life when I was away. I had a really supportive mum, who was very careful and mindful. She was a wonderful guardian and really looked out for me.
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You have a 5-year-old daughter. How would you react if she wanted to become an actress?
I would encourage any of her passions, whatever my daughter would love to do, if she turned around and said, "I want to be a black belt in karate," then she should pursue that. The most important thing I think is to make sure that you're having fun doing it. And my mum always told me that too. She says, "When it stops being fun, then you don't do it any more." But, of course, it's not always fun.
Your fiance (Colin Jost, SNL regular) is very funny, obviously. How much does humour play a part in your life?
My parents are very funny. My dad has a great Danish sense of humour, it's extremely particular, very dry. And my mum, of course, is a Jewish New Yorker and full of irony. I grew up in a very funny household where you could talk about anything. Nothing was off-topic so my siblings, particularly my older brother, was hilarious.
And in a partner?
I always was attracted to humour in a partner. And yeah, my boyfriend … what you see is really what you get with him; he's very quick, light, relaxed. His persona on SNL is very much how he is. He loves to laugh and there's a lot of laughter in our house because of it, it's nice.
Do you think becoming a mother has made you a better actress in that maybe you have more access to your emotions?
I feel like when I became a parent, like any parent knows, your heart grows this other extra chamber and you have this infinite capacity to love your child. It's the first time maybe that you have ever felt that you would do anything for someone else, that you would give anything for them and sacrifice whatever necessary thing for their happiness. I think life experience gives you a larger palate of colours to play around with as an actor and this is definitely a useful one, for sure.