Can she open this comedy?

The actress with 29 films to her credit stars in `The Nanny Diaries'

Scarlett Johansson

August 24, 2007|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,sun reporter

She takes -- and makes -- a good picture.

And now, at the steep age of 22, Scarlett Johansson will find out if she can open a romantic comedy.

The Nanny Diaries, based on the best-selling novel by two former Manhattan nannies, opens in theaters today. Johansson plays a college graduate who shirks the corporate track to become a Park Avenue nanny.

There are snooty parents. There is the precocious kid. There is the hunky love interest.

There is Scarlett Johansson.

A born New Yorker, Johansson is a glamour girl who once lounged on the cover of Vanity Fair with nothing on but her makeup. She's also an accomplished young actress with multiple Golden Globe nominations. In her breakneck career, she has moved with sensuality, grit and subtlety through such dramas as Girl with a Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation to recent comedies of Woody Allen. The Nanny Diaries is her first starring role in a major romantic comedy.

"You never know what is going to be funny and what's going to work on screen," Johansson said in a recent phone interview. "It's kind of easier in a way to tug at someone's heart strings than to make them laugh."

What appealed to you about The Nanny Diaries?

It was a character that I could easily relate to. It was a girl who was my own age who was going through a lot of crises and self-discovery. I also just felt like it was an opportunity to make a valentine for New York. All those things pulled me into the project, as well as Bob and Shari who wrote and directed the film. [Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman also made American Splendor.] We met several times and ended up having three-hour conversations about, you know, where the best pharmacy was in Manhattan.

That was our next question.

Oh, yes, where is the best pharmacy in New York? [Laughing] There are great ones here ...

You've starred in three Woody Allen films, including the better Match Point, the worse Scoop and his latest movie just filmed in Barcelona, Spain. Besides his Woodyisms, what did you learn from him?

He just allows for such a freedom in the performance. I feel I have lot of room to try out all different deliveries. I have learned a lot about myself as an actor and also as an improv actor because the dialogue is so free and easy to manipulate.

Speaking of improv, would you ever be in a movie by Christopher Guest, the mockumentary maker who brought us Best in Show and A Mighty Wind?

I absolutely love Christopher Guest. That would be an absolute dream. His stuff is just unbelievably brilliant and hilarious. Just to work with Catherine O'Hara would be a dream come true.

Your favorite Christopher Guest movie?

Waiting for Guffman. I love that movie so much. The musical numbers alone. Oh, my God, it's so good.

We probably spent too much time watching "Scarlett Johansson" clips on YouTube .com. Saw the Justin Timberlake music video you were in. A Charlie Rose interview. "Montages" of your sexier movie scenes -- our computer blocked those.

Maybe you are working for a very conservative paper.

Do you ever go on YouTube just for fun?

I think YouTube has a lot of really funny videos. But looking up yourself is always a scary black hole of self-loathing and misery.

You campaigned for John Kerry in 2004. Who do you like now among the presidential candidates?

I've followed Barack Obama for the past few years. I subscribe to his newsletter, and it's pretty exciting where his campaign is going. But I'm still waiting for someone to step up to the plate. ...

Al Gore?

Possibly ... [Laughing] ... A few of us are still holding on to that dream.

Do you drive a hybrid?

No, I'm waiting for the perfect hybrid to come around that's both fun to drive and good for the environment.

We heard you sing on Saturday Night Live and your memorable karaoke version of "Brass in Pocket" from Lost in Translation. Why did you release a CD collection of Tom Waits' songs?

I'm just a huge fan. He's a writer of kind of these modern standards. His music is cinematic, and I love all his characters he plays.

By our count, you've been in 29 movies since 1994 -- from The Horse Whisperer in 1998 and Girl with a Pearl Earring in 2003 to A Love Song for Bobby Long and the voice of Mindy in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. You have five movies scheduled after The Nanny Diaries. Do you ever take a break?

When I'm vacation, I get really anxious to work. And when I'm working, I think I probably should take a vacation. But I have so many wonderful opportunities to work with directors that I love and work with actors that I love and on projects that I just can't resist. I take the mentality to strike when the iron is hot and just have at it.

Do people still come up to you and talk about Lost in Translation?

That movie was such a phenomenon. To this day, people still ask me what Bill Murray whispered in my ear. What did he?

Oh, I will never tell. ... You really don't want to know, do you?

We read in Vogue that Woody Allen called you "criminally sexy." Meaning?

It's very hard to decipher those Woodyisms. Maybe it means I should be fined -- or I'm getting away with something I shouldn't be.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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