Scarlett Johansson was labeled a sex symbol by Hollywood early in her career — and she’s trying to change the narrative.
In conversation with The Hollywood Reporter as part of the annual Drama Actress Roundtable, Johansson, 34, opened up about the difficulties she faced when casting directors only saw her in one light.
“When I was working in my early 20s and even my late teens, I felt that I got somehow typecast as ‘hyper-sexualized,’ which I guess at the time seemed okay to everyone — it was another time — even though it wasn’t part of my own narrative,” Johansson said. “It was kind of crafted for me by probably a bunch of dudes in the industry.”
Though she doesn’t point to any past projects in particular, some of her films from that time of her career included In Good Company (2004), The Island (2005), Match Point (2005), to name a few.
Johansson is now the highest-paid actress in Hollywood, according to Forbes — but she says the limited scope of roles she was once offered made her consider stepping away from an onscreen career altogether.
“It was really difficult for me to try to figure out how to get out of being an ingénue or the ‘other woman’ because it was never anything that I had intended,” she said. “… I remember thinking at the time that maybe I needed a different job in this industry that would be more fulfilling, because it seemed like there was nowhere to go.”
Renée Zellweger, one of the other actresses included in the THR roundtable — along with Laura Dern (Little Women, Marriage Story), Jennifer Lopez (Hustlers) Lupita Nyong’o (Us) and Awkwafina (The Farewell) — related all too well to the studio system’s knack for confining young actresses to sex appeal.
“As a young person starting out, I would get the cut-off shorts jobs and the ‘other woman,’ the one-night-stand girl … and I thought, ‘I think I’m going to not do this anymore because I know where that road will go,'” Zellweger, 50, said, “‘I don’t know what it’s going to look like ultimately, but I bet it would be really hard to get off that road.'”
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Zellweger added: “There is the inevitability of your body changing and you growing older. I want to work in a way where I can portray women who are relatable throughout my life. I don’t want to have to stop at a particular time because I can’t wear the cut-offs anymore because it looks weird.”
This year, Johansson demonstrated that roles for women are more wide-ranging than ever. Not only did she lead the pack in the superhero blockbuster Avengers: Endgame over the summer, but the star has been met with awards buzz for Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story, in which she portrays two differently complex mothers.
“The climate is so different now,” Johansson said. “There’s so many wonderful opportunities for women of every age to play all different types of people.”
Jojo Rabbit is now in theaters. Marriage Story is on Netflix on Dec. 6.
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