Scarlett Johansson is one of the most in-demand actresses in Hollywood at the moment, fronting Marvel franchises and Oscar-nominated dramas while achieving the kind of recognition and staying power most only dream of. But, that wasn’t always the case.
In fact, Johansson has revealed that her teenage acting years were filled with anxiety and fear over being pigeonholed into “hyper-sexualized” roles. The Black Widow star guested on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast earlier this week where she revisited some key moments in her career. Johansson has been acting professionally since she was seven years old, and she admitted that starting in the business so young meant she “definitely was in different situations that were not age-appropriate.”
“Luckily my mom was really good about protecting me from a lot of that stuff, but she can’t do that for everything,” Johansson told Shepard during the hour-long chat, via Deadline.
Once she became a teenager, the actress started booking roles that forced her to be seen as more mature than her age. Her breakout performance in Lost In Translation saw her playing a character five years older than her actual age, which was 17.
“I think everybody thought I was older,” she said.“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I think people think I’m, like, 40 years old.’ I got kind of pigeonholed into this weird, hypersexualized thing… It was like, that’s the kind of career you have, these are the roles you’ve played. And I was like, ‘This is it?’”
The actress started to view that perception of maturity — which had previously helped her book more interesting roles than other actresses her age — as something she need to push back on.
“It somehow stopped being something that was desirable and something that I was fighting against,” she said. “I wasn’t getting offers for work for things that I wanted to do. I felt like it was over, kind of. And so it was scary, at the time.”
Thankfully, Johansson was able to alter that trajectory and carve out a place for herself on film that felt worthy of her talents, something she hopes that the next generation of actresses like Zendaya and Florence Pugh can do with more ease.
“I’ve come to this realization that it’s important to understand progress and change when it’s really meaningful,” she said. “It takes two steps forward and two steps back, and then it gets better and then it gets worse. It’s not finite. I think if you don’t leave room for people to figure it out, then the actual progressive change doesn’t really happen. I see younger actors that are in their 20s, it feels like they’re allowed to be all these different things. It’s another time.”