Scarlett Johansson Talks Acting From A Young Age And Being 'Hypersexualized' Early In Her Career

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in Iron Man 2
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Scarlett Johansson is one of the few child actors to make the successfully ease into more mature roles. She spent her childhood starring in films like Home Alone 3, The Horse Whisperer, and Ghost World before playing an A.I in Her and joining the cast of The Avengers. Though she's found plenty of success, being a child actor came with a number of lows as well. On that token, Johansson recently opened up about acting at a young age and being "hypersexualized" early in her career.

The Black Widow star discussed her experiences as a child actor during an interview on the Armchair Expert podcast. She and host Dax Shepard reminisced over their days as part of the 2000s' young Hollywood scene. The conversation turned toward Scarlett Johansson’s early career, as Shepard professed his love for the 2003 film Lost in Translation. Johansson mentioned that she was 17 when she played recent college grad Charlotte. When reflecting on her past work experiences, the Oscar-nominated actress said:

It’s hard to have perspective on work right in the middle of it, but I think now that I’m older I can see the shape of things better.

At the time that she was cast in Sofia Coppola's acclaimed movie, the actress wasn't quite used to playing characters older than herself. However, as she recalled, she was accustomed to working on sets that were mostly filled with adults. With that, she explained how it felt to be surrounded by grown ups while on the job as a child actor:

I grew up in Manhattan, and I spent a lot of time around adults because of my work. I remember being seven and working on my first movie, which was a Rob Reiner movie called North, and I remember looking around and I had made some joke or whatever and everybody laughed. I thought, 'This is excellent. I have a hundred adults laughing at me. This is such a good gig.'

Her reception on the North set seemed to shape her belief in the film business. Apparently, for Scarlett Johansson, it was all about behaving and thinking like an adult on set, and she ultimately managed to vibe with her colleagues. But there were negatives to this. The star remembered being insulted by a makeup artist who had to cover a zit, calling it “Mount Vesuvius.” And that moment was nothing compared to other inappropriate situations she's encountered on movie sets, according to Johansson. In terms of how she handled it, she said:

I spent a lot of time in that environment, definitely in different situations that were not age-appropriate, but luckily, my mom was really good about protecting me from all that stuff.

Thankfully, she had her mom on set to protect her. It puts things in perspective for her today, seeing as that Scarlett Johansson is now a mom of two. Sometimes, former child actors tell stories where there wasn’t enough protection in place for them. Despite that though, Johansson felt her image was overly sexualized as she approached the legal age. This wasn't something that Johansson enjoyed, as Hollywood treated apparently treated her like she was much older than her actual age:

I got married when I was 23. So, I got married really young, but at that point, I felt like I was 33. I had lived a really full life at that point. I was having a really hard, I had kinda become objectified and pigeonholed in this way where I felt like I wasn’t getting offers for work for things I wanted to do. I do remember thinking ‘I think people believe I’m 40 years old.’ And somewhat stopped being someone who was desirable, which was something I was fighting against.

Imagine fighting to be seen as desirable at age 23 as the film industry tries putting you out to pasture. It's true that the young star had done a lot of work by the time she'd reach that age, but I think most would agree that her career shouldn't have been close to finishing by that point. During the interview, the star went on to say that she did indeed feel like her career was coming to an end and explained how being "hypersexualized" as a young person played into that:

Because I think everybody thought I was older, and I'd been [acting] for a long time and then I got kind of pigeonholed into this weird hypersexualized thing. It was like it was over kinda, that's the kind of career you have. These are the roles you've played, and I was like, 'This is it I guess.'… The runway is not that long. So, it was scary at that time… I attributed a lot of that to people thinking I was much, much older than I was.

Scarlett Johansson isn't the only one who's been in this position, as the actress commiserated with fellow child star Natalie Portman over being portrayed in an overtly sexual way at an early age. Portman experienced the same thing after starring in the romantic comedy Beautiful Girls. The two actresses compared notes while filming The Other Boleyn Girl. Johansson revealed Portman said the aftermath “fucked her up," as she began swinging toward good-girl roles following the rom-com.

The Sing 2 star wrapped everything up by mentioning a sexualized image isn’t “sustainable” in Hollywood ,as the person eventually “burns out” from being a sex symbol. She emphasized the image was never a major part of her personality on or off screen.

Now, the Hollywood actress is beyond the “sex symbol” phase, as she continues to rake in project after project. Scarlett Johansson is set to appear in the Apple TV+ film Project Artemis with Channing Tatum, who replaced her frequent co-star, Chris Evans. She's also starring in the Wes Anderson ensemble Asteroid City and the British drama My Mother’s Wedding. While there are no films featuring Johansson this year, check out the schedule of upcoming movies to see what else will be hitting theaters soon.

Adreon Patterson
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A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).