“With her emotionless eyes and the way she carries her body effectively distinguishes Scarlett Johansson’s character from any earthly being, featuring a commanding performance that doesn’t need any additional help from a special effects crew,” I remarked in my review of Jonathan Glazer‘s stunning Under the Skin. “Johansson utilizes every inch of her skin and every limb in her body to create something unlike what any of her female contemporaries have dared attempted on screen.”
Ahead of a release this Friday, we got a chance to learn from her process during a recent NYC press conference for the film, in which she plays an otherworldly seductress, roaming the Scottish countryside looking for men to pick up. Under the Skin boasts hypnotic visuals and a heady sci-fi concept, marking the return of Glazer after a ten-year absence, following a pair of features in the early 2000’s — the Ben Kingsley-led Sexy Beast and the atmospheric Birth starring Nicole Kidman. His latest outing promises to be as divisive and striking as those works and one can read below regarding what we learned from the talented actress, as well as watch a 20-minute interview with Glazer.
Liberation From Human Empathy
Though it’s best to go into Under the Skin knowing as little as possible, Johansson plays a character devoid of any emotions. She described that challenge, saying, “Any kind of empathy she would have or sympathy…those emotions are totally irrelevant to her.” A major departure from some of her most noted roles of late, such as her work as the electrifying, Jersey-born Barbara in Don Jon, or the ferocious Natasha Romanoff of Marvel’s films, for Under the Skin Johansson says, “It was really important to wash myself of any of those human emotions whether it was empathy or fear. I had to be liberated from them.”
Glazer’s Unique, Real-Life Approach, and If Johansson Was Ever Discovered
Under the Skin‘s production may have been one of the most risky undertakings for any theatrical release this year. Glazer concealed cameras, placed Johansson in a gaudy wig, and captured her interactions as she attempted to seduce and pick up real people off the streets, as evidenced in a recent featurette (seen below). Johansson elaborated on these stunning interactions saying, “It was terrifying especially because the same kind of rules that apply between two actors didn’t apply between us.”
The production would arrive at busy locations like malls or clubs and hide allowing for what Johansson calls “20 minutes of free time to explore” and to secure the candid footage Glazer wanted. The geographic make-up of these locations also helped preserve the masquerade Glazer and Johansson were carrying out. Johansson explains that Scotland’s “raw and otherworldly beauty” allowed the production to remain mostly anonymous. Johansson was surprised, as we were, that she was never recognized. The closest she was to being found out came when a man alongside the road asked her if she was an actress. Johansson asked why he would ask such a thing? His reply, “Because you’re f*cking gorgeous.”
The Character’s Revealing Journey
The film contains ample nudity and blends eroticism with dread; Johansson was candid about this aspect in the production, explaining, “You have to look at the nudity and you assume it’s going to be a screenshot for someone. So you have to weigh the value of the risk you’re taking.” In the film, Johansson’s character uses her body, the allure of the human form, to lure men to a grisly fate. “Is this an important part of this character’s journey to self discovery? What’s the gain?,” Johansson asked of herself before committing to the film’s most revealing moments.
The Parallels Between Her and Under the Skin
Johansson’s performance in Spike Jonze‘s Oscar-winning Her was celebrated for succeeding amidst the challenges the role presented, replacing Samantha Morton after filming had completed and never appearing in a physical form. The actress finds a parallel between the OS voice and her latest role, saying, “Both characters share an appetite for self discovery and a drive to experience everything,” though neither character is human.
Glazer’s Significant Deviation From the Source Material
Johansson spoke fondly of her director, saying, “With everything he does there’s so much thought that goes in,” While this is only the third feature film from Glazer, he has earned a following of fans in both the film and music, having a strong visual sensibility, evident in the videos he’s directed for mega-bands Blur and Radiohead, which lends to the stunning imagery in Under the Skin. Glazer’s film is also a loose adaptation of the Michel Faber novel of the same name. The novel appears to have been a very early jumping off point for Glazer, as Johansson recalls that the script was only “the skeleton of something.” She added, “I didn’t even know what it was going to be,” and it was up to Glazer to discover the narrative out of the daunting amount of footage. Watch a 20-minute interview with him below, detailing that process:
Under the Skin hits limited release on Friday, April 4th.