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July 2005
The Island : An Interview with Scarlett Johansson and Michael Bay

The Island: An Interview with Scarlett Johansson and Michael Bay

After doing a number of well-acclaimed independent films (Lost in Translation, Girl With a Pearl Earring, and A Love Song for Bobby Long), Scarlett Johansson is trying something new: an action film. With Michael Bay guiding her in the right direction, how can she go wrong? Bay has had a number of hits with both Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, and Armeggoddon. In The Island, Scarlett plays Jordan Two-Delta, a resident of a seemingly utopian but contained facility in the mid-21st century who discovers that she is not what she seems to be. At a recent press conference, both Michael Bay and Scarlett Johansson talked about their experiences on the film.

Just wondered what appealed to you with this particular role, was it the idea of playing an innocence of all of the contexts of the modern world and how difficult that was to hold on to when you were doing all this intrinsic action?

Scarlett: I mean when I got the script it was just a really fantastic script. It was exciting, it was adventurous, and it was fun. You know of course when you are reading a script and it says slides down a drain pipe or something you don't actually think that is ever going to happen until 7.30 in the morning on the day when Mr Michael Bay says just slide down this drain pipe and then we will do it again from another angle and again from another angle. So it was a lot of work, as far as playing a character that was kind of innocent it was delightful, it was really fun cause as an actor you know mentally you get into this state of everything being so new, children, dogs, people, cars feeling in love and physical intimacy and all of these things being so brand new so it manifests itself physically so you do, you get excited and then you feel excited and Ewan and I really fun time with that you know, it was very sweet.

Michael, we were teasing you upstairs asking everyone if you have mellowed a little bit in your style and everyone really confirmed for us that no, he is energy, action packed, hit the ground running. So I think in Los Angeles you said the very first day you were running, do you guys talk about keeping that energy going through, while maintaining your narratives through line, I mean it is not just action there is a real character based story but talking about the energy that is necessary to come of this film?

Bay: I am not just one of those directors that sits in my trailer; I actually don't even use my trailer?

Scarlett: We are convinced that he never goes to the bathroom. It is unbelievable he never leaves the set?

Bay: No I don't, that is how I get my creative energy I am just involved with setting every shot, how we light it, how we are going to block the extras to everything. This thing is wilted; we need another one that is where I get my creative juices. The way?I arrived at the set probably 45 to an hour after the crew has been there cause I don't want to see the crew get their breakfast burritos when I get there I want to shoot and I am like that through the whole day and I like to shoot fast because fast it gives me more time to improv with actors and like after Scarlett and Ewan did that scene where they are talking in the Skim Bar and Scarlett walks away I said, it was kind of a play on words with the actors but I said lets shoot this scene using the word you just learned "dude" all right cause it was a joke on me cause I call everyone "Hey dude" or "dude, dude, dude, don't do that" or "dude has thirteen different meanings so it was a joke on me. Ewan's little girl was saying daddy does Michael Bay call you dude "That is just how"

Scarlett: It is hard though, I mean it is really hard because some of the days we have are really long you know and in Nat's case you know I would kind of look at Michael and say "I can't do it again, I can't" but he was very good about that, he was very sensitive and would go "Just one more, just one more. I know you can do it, fine"

Bay: But you sometimes really have to weld that energy up especially when you are doing action because to get them in that moment just for a few seconds, if you are not up and trying to give them as much as you can you are not going to get that tension you need, especially in action stuff you know.

Scarlett, this film it contrasts pretty sharply with the films you have done as an adult, it is an action adventure film. How difficult was it to make the decision to do this film and make this entry into action adventure?

Scarlett: I wasn?t difficult it was very easy. I think every film I have done is very different and I am constantly playing different characters, different kinds of directors, you know I for me I love genre films, if they are good they do the trick you kind of are removed from your life for a couple of hours and I had just never found one that I thought was good enough you know. You figure if you are going to do an action film, or a thriller or a science fiction film you know it had better be the right one cause it is not like you can do tonnes of them, you know and of course when I heard that Michael was attached to something it was very interesting for me because he does it so well. He is one of about two or three people that can do it really well do it right. So I figured if you are going to do it you may as well do it right. So it was easy for me, I was working on Match Point in London and you know they were shooting in a month and I said sign me up, it was very easy, no turmoil?

Bay: Until we met.

There was undoubtedly a Star Wars moment in this movie with the planes flying and the zinging and all that. Did you discuss that with Ewan and did he have a reaction to that and Scarlett if you could answer that as well?

Bay: Well, it is funny the first time I met with Ewan was in New York. The first question he asked "Are you going to do a lot of blue screen" I said no I would actually like to shoot a lot of stuff real and live. We shot 2 days of blue screen, but I must say Ewan is a very good blue screen actor, he really is. No seriously acting with a blue screen is very tough, wouldn't you say?

Scarlett: It is so exhausting.

Bay: It is exhausting and there is nothing to draw from it is really, really tough.

Scarlett: Yeah it really is, especially when you are imaging that you are trying to escape to save your own life and you can hear the grip chewing a sandwich next to you, really it is hard.

Scarlett, you seem to be working non stop. You've got "Match Point" coming for Christmas, "A Good Woman" in September or October and you are making the new Woody Allen movie now I guess. Are you a clone or a robot or a machine or do you really have some kind of a life. It seems like you are doing six movies a year?

Scarlett: If I had a clone I would never do the press junket. No, that way I could sleep in get my eggs Benedict's that kind of thing. But I am definitely going to take a nice long much needed rest after this one I have promised myself that. The problems is once I start to relax for a while I get very anxious and then I have to do something, so I am either going to have to find some different kind of career path or just go to some far away Island and have silent torture sessions of myself about why I am not working. It is hard for me to take vacations, it is.

Since you are filming in London is anything going to be different now after what has happened recently, are you worried or concerned about it?

Scarlett: No, of course not. London is a lovely place to be, it is as safe as any and you know the show must go on everybody is trucking along. We are shooting in Central London this week and will be for the rest of the show and I am staying there you know. I was here when September 11th happened and it was amazing the unity the people had and how wonderful the police and fire departments were and the same in London they were so fast acting. That alone is enough to make you feel ok. That threat is everywhere you go so it is important to not let it change your life.

Michael, this is your first film that's not with Jerry Bruckheimer and your first film with the DreamWorks team. How different was the experience? What's your current relationship with Bruckheimer?

Bay: I have no relationship with Jerry. No. I'm very good friends with Jerry and I missed Jerry. But I walked into a studio meeting and I met with five people. There was Steven Spielberg, Walter Parkes, Laurie (MacDonald), Adam Goodman and Marc Haimes. I walked out of there and I realized, "Oh my God. A, that's a studio. They actually make movies." So many studio heads don't understand how to make movies. It's a more intimate studio. They're very supportive. Dreamworks is very supportive of making the script right. They gave me a lot of free rein. So I really enjoyed it. A very funny story, though: when Steven called me to direct this script I said OK and so the rumor got around town. Jerry called me up. It was like small talk for about 15 minutes. He was at the Super Bowl. I got ready to hang up and he goes, "So I understand you committed to something? "No, no. Jerry, I'm just thinking about it."; "Well, I just want you to know we passed on the script." Apparently he ripped his office apart the next Monday, OK. Anyway, I'm going to go back to Jerry.

This film hits directly or indirectly on some touchy subject matter: cloning, stem cell research, abortion, class conflict. Can you comment on that?

Bay: Well, what I really intended was (for) when the audience leaves, I want people to think, "Would you, if you could, have a clone?" What I was telling some other reporters earlier was if there were a facility like this I'm sure there enough selfish people in this world that would want to do this. It's a universal thing, that theme in this movie; that we all want to live longer. It's just how far will you go? It's not just a comment on stem cell research. We did a lot of studying. I met with several stem cell researchers and it's amazing how they feel they can cure so many diseases. This is just taking cloning in a sci-fi way to the ninth degree. It's just to open discussion, that's it.

Scarlett, you've risen fast in Hollywood. Are you surprised at just how fast you've achieved such success? And also, do you read about yourself in the tabloids?

Scarlett: Yeah, it's very surprising. I never had any expectation. I only hoped that and thought when I was younger that I'd like to be a working actor forever. But I don't think you can foresee something like this, something like this meaning kind of the hype or success or the fact that Michael could see me outside of a certain category and say, "She's a young ingénue and has done some more alternative films." The fact that he could see me in this was very surprising. It was lovely. It was very nice. As an actor you see yourself in all different kinds of roles. You imagine that you can play them. But it?s not always that way looking at it from an industry point of view. I really don't patronize tabloid magazines, so if I ever read what's written about me it's either hearsay or maybe somebody has faxed me the article or something like that. But I don't think it really does any good. I never respond to any of those things, true, not true, whatever. I find it's better to avoid it because then you won't have to be correcting it in the next week's tabloids. And so you just sort of let it take its own course, unless it's horribly and unbelievably untrue and offensive.

Working out the bits with two Ewans? Jerk Tom, naïve and likable Lincoln. Did you talk specifics?

Bay: We did. Actually, it was his idea to have a Scottish accent. I thought it was a great idea. We actually loved shooting Tom Lincoln because he was such an asshole. He was so selfish and Ewan just said, "He is so much fun, to play that guy." That's the reason why I chose Ewan, because of his boyishness. It's kind of like a Nic Cage thing. Nic is another actor that you can see that boyish wonderment, and I thought that was really crucial for the role.

Scarlett: And if you see him in Guys and Dolls you just see how versatile he really is. It's amazing. I felt so proud of him because? He's incredible. He's a triple threat, you know what I mean? Singing, dancing, acting. Everything.

Bay: He really is a serious actor. He really is. He's a consummate pro.

Scarlett, can you talk about the physical challenges on this film, and were there any near-misses so far as the action scenes?

Scarlett: Yeah, I almost lost an eye. That was fun. I had a permanently blue knee. That was pretty gross. The problem is that once we were doing this scene where I had to crawl on the sidewalk. There was so much action going on in the background. We were in the foreground and in the background it's like a car comes in, the SWAT team gets out, there's an explosion, and things are going on. What happened was I fell to my knees and in that instance I was like, "Oh, that hurt so badly!" I had to keep crawling because the scene is so organized. It takes 20 minutes to put it all back to place. The first A.D. is screaming at everybody to get in their places and you just can't take that time. So you just kind of go through it in agony. And the eye, almost losing my eye, that was really a drag.

How did that happen?

Bay: It was one the wasp.

Scarlett, were you at all jealous that Ewan got to play this other character and meet his sponsor? And would you like to play a dual character at some point?

Scarlett: Who knows?! If it wasn't too unbelievable. But he definitely had a great time with it. It was so fun to watch. Ewan was so funny in that scene because we all hated that character so much. He was so vile and so creepy. It was very funny. And I loved acting with him as that character as well because he was so, so leachy and gross. But (she'd play such a role) only if it were to come up in some kind of realistic (way). I could never think of a scenario. But it seemed like a good time.

Bay: The original script, her character was pregnant and it was too woe is me through the whole story.

Scarlett: I was also asthmatic. It was a real drag.

Bay: You were. It was a drag through the whole movie. And she actually did meet her sponsor.

Scarlett: And my name was Esther.

Michael, you produced The Amityville Horror and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes. Some people would say you seem to have a fixation with the 1970s. Is that true? This movie also seems to be a throwback to Logan's Run and THX-1138. Accurate? Also, how are you going to keep the Transformers movie from being a Toho giant robot movie?

Bay: That's a lot of information in the question. Whoa-ho. That's a half-hour answer. I'm not stuck in the 70s. Those are just movies that I produced because I like helping first-time directors break into the business and I think they're interesting movies to bring back to the younger generation. Your second question: is this movie a throwback to THX or Logan's Run? You know, there are certain themes that are relatable in this movie and in those. When you see THX you want to shoot yourself. I just think it's so oppressive. I wanted to make this, at least in the world we call Centerville, more fun and a little bit quirky. And Transformers?

Are you doing that?

Bay: Well, we're working on it. We're designing right now and working on the script.

What will we see on the DVD?

Bay: Scarlett naked.

Scarlett: The personal home video collection.

Bay: There are some missing scenes. Literally, I just finished the movie 48 hours ago, so there's a lot of chaos in my head right now. I don't know what missing scenes we've got. It's also just how we did certain things. We've got a lot of video documentaries on the set, stuff like that, going into more detail about stuff.

Scarlett: We traveled a lot. We went from Palm Springs to Detroit. We were in Nevada and then California. So there was a lot of footage of them following us all around the place. It was fun.

Scarlett, since you started so young, if you had a clone, what sort of career would have the clone do in lieu of your acting career? And how did you enjoy seeing Steve Buscemi again?

Scarlett: Oh, it was great. I love Steve. He's so, so, so funny and he's such a great actor. He cracks me up. It was really great to work with him again and I hope we get to work together again sometime in the future. And I'd just have her (THE CLONE) do simple household tasks, folding the laundry; maybe prance around in clothing so I could see what I might look like. You know, do the grocery shopping, change the toilet paper, things people just don't like to do.

So you wouldn't have her lead an alternate acting career so you could switch back and forth?

Scarlett: No, I'd rather use her for my own selfish control.

Scarlett, who's the one person you turn to for professional advice and for advice in general?

Scarlett: My mother. My mom has seen every single movie ever made, ever. She is a library of film, I mean unbelievable. She could be a film historian; I swear. She knows a lot about film and she has incredible taste. She also happens to be just absolutely adorable and lovely and caring and liberal. And? I trust her. I trust her. And she trusts me. So it really makes for a nice professional relationship and personal relationship. She wants me to do what makes me happy. That's all you can ask for is your parents, support, and she's lovely that way.

With everything going on in your life do you feel like you'll know if you've ever reached your peak?

Scarlett: You mean will I know if I'm ever fully satisfied? I don't know. I hope to always be searching for ultimate satisfaction until the day that I die. Otherwise, gosh, how boring. I mean, it's good to feel satisfied, but I never want to stop looking or stop being curious about things. I think that you can get to a point in your life where you're comfortable with that, but I never want to be comfortable like that, not too comfortable. I'm saying that now of course as a 20 year old girl. Ask me in another 35 years and I'll probably tell you that all I want to be is comfortable. That's my perspective on it now anyway.

What's it like working with Michael Bay?

Scarlett: He's lovely. It's funny because he's so loud and just boisterous and rude.

Bay: Blunt. Blunt. There's a difference.

Scarlett: He's got the explosions going and you see him as that, and then he'll come up to you in a middle of a take and say, 'Hey, you did this really cute thing that I wish you would do again.' And he'll get so excited about it. He was so excited that finally toward the end of the shooting that we finally got the meat of it. So it's nice to have a director that's so incredible with the effects call the actual drama of the movie the meat of the story. That's rare. We had a lot of fun with that because we had a lot of great private moments between the Lincoln and the Jordan characters.

Why disparity between rich and poor?

Bay: The whole philosophy was that this is a military bunker. It's in the desert. These (workers) live out in the desert. They don't make a lot of money. They have these people who birth these clones. They're like truck drivers birthing these clones. When we were shooting that scene (where the clones are birthed) there was something about it that was so wrong. This facility, the concept was that it's going to start off that rich people could afford it and hopefully one day it would get cheaper, like when you buy a DVD recorder. It starts coming down in price the more you do it. As you may have noticed, I had a lot of foreigners in it. There was an old Japanese guy in it. He looks like a guy who runs Tokyo bank. You noticed we had a lot of tall guys there. Those are the (pro) basketball players.

What did you think about this subject matter in our current culture and showed up to get cloned?

Scarlett: I mean, I thought that it was practical regarding the story that we were trying to tell. When you see the people coming in looking to sponsor a clone of themselves that they all look like wealthy businessmen and athletes...

Bay: I put a rapper in there.

Scarlett: ... and of course you see Michael [Clarke Duncan]. Michael is a football player. It's people that we think in our rational minds that could afford this $2 million or $5 million policy. I thought that it was very much what it was supposed to be. It didn't seem radical.

What do you think that the movie is trying to say?

Scarlett: I don't believe that movies should deliver messages. I never pick films based on whatever messages they're delivering. I think that when you leave the theater I think that you question, 'How far would I go to test fate?' But after all, when I come out of a film that I've just paid $10 to see and spent 15 bucks on popcorn and when I come out of the theater at the end of it I just want to be entertained. I just want to leave and say, 'That was cool. I had a great time. That was a fun experience for me.' I don't really feel that films necessarily always have to deliver the big picture. That can be so preachy and boring particularly if you find it to be offensively preachy. So I just hope that people have a great time when they watch it. It's a trip.

How do you top yourself from picture to picture?

Bay: I shoot quickly. That's the scariest part of my job. I don't know how many people drive to work thinking I hope someone doesn't die today. That's how you have to think. You have to think. It's always the little things that can hurt someone.

How much pressure do you put on yourself?

Bay: Oh. With action, I keep trying to challenge myself. On this story, I was trying to challenge myself by doing a much slower build. It hurts not being able to do the action in the beginning. I forced myself not to. I drew it out for 30 minutes. I love how the switch happens and the movie takes off. You think, is the audience going to get bored? This younger generation wants things to be faster. Hopefully they're going to like the beginning of this movie. It seems like the audiences that have seen it like the innocence and the subtext. I love that when you watch the movie you're thinking there's something wrong but I can't put my finger on it. Please don't give it all away.

What do you like most about this film?

Scarlett: It's nice because it slowly starts to build, it gets psychologically creepier and creepier as it goes and then once you hit that point where everything is revealed and you see Michael and he's struggling for his life it's so horribly disturbing, it's so, so, so disturbing that from that moment on it just doesn't stop and that's the ride that you take.


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