Scarlett Johansson: I was objectified at a young age, people thought I was older

Scarlett Johansson was a guest on Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast this week. I’m consistently surprised that Dax draws in all of these A-listers, especially given that they usually talk about really private stuff. This was the 500th episode of Armchair Expert, btw. Anyway, Scarlett opened up about her early days in Hollywood and how she was sexualized by the industry and the media at a very young age. I remember when she was transitioning from “child actor” to an adult actress with real lead roles – think about how Ghost World came out in 2001, then Lost in Translation came out two years later. That space of time was when she was 16-19, and there was so much energy around her, her looks and her mature/precocious demeanor. Some quotes:

She was “hypersexualized” at a young age: “I kind of became objectified and pigeonholed in this way where I felt like I wasn’t getting offers for work for things that I wanted to do. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I think people think I’m 40 years old.’ It somehow stopped being something that was desirable and something that I was fighting against.”

Working on Lost in Translation when she was 17: “Because I think everybody thought I was older and that I’d been [acting] for a long time, I got kind of pigeonholed into this weird hypersexualized thing. I felt like [my career] was over. 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 runway is not long on that. So it was scary at that time. In a weird way, I was like, ‘Is this it?’ I attributed a lot of that to the fact that people thought I was much, much older than I was.”

She thinks the landscape has changed: “Now, 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, too. We’re not even allowed to really pigeonhole other actors anymore, thankfully, right? People are much more dynamic.”

The patriarchy: “We live in a patriarchy and I feel like there’s a fundamental reality of the woman’s condition that will always, even if those 600 men are not actively aggressive necessarily as much as they would have been a minute ago, it’s still fundamentally there. It’s so baked into our culture and society. It’s hard for me to imagine that ever being not an element.”

The nature of progress: “I’ve come to this realization that it’s important to understand progress and change when it’s really meaningful — 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.”

[From ET]

It’s true, people treated her like she was a lot older than what she was at the time, when she was a teenager. Some of it was her deep voice and the fact that she had big boobs, I hate to say. When you develop a big bust early in your life, you learn quickly that people treat you differently. Even now, I constantly think Scarlett is older than she is – she’s not even 40 years old! It feels like she’s either 28 or 50 and nothing in between. As for the patriarchy and all of that… it is baked into society, and dismantling patriarchy is going to take a huge effort. She’s also right about the nature of progress, that it’s not constant forward movement. We take it for granted that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We actually have to go out and fight for it and work towards it.

Photos courtesy of Backgrid.

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27 Responses to “Scarlett Johansson: I was objectified at a young age, people thought I was older”

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  1. Well Wisher says:

    I remember that clearly, saw that movie in the Village in NYC, one can actually feel the audience reaction to her.
    Particularly the women.
    She’s correct in her statements.

  2. Steph says:

    That’s odd. I always assumed were the same age and are. But I don’t know any of her work before her adulthood. Honestly, I know I knew her name before Avengers but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in anything else.

    • Bettyrose says:

      She was the little girl in the Horse Whisperer. I don’t judge you at all for having not seen it, but it was a huge film at the time with A List stars.

      • Steph says:

        Was it any good?

      • bettyrose says:

        My personal opinion? No, it was emotionally manipulatively bile better suited to the Lifetime channel, but honestly I sometimes watch Lifetime, so you can’t trust me. (Although, I prefer their cheesy crime dramas).

    • Lizzie Bathory says:

      She was good in Girl with a Pearl Earring when she was only 17. Her age difference with Colin Firth actually worked because the relationship was supposed to be dark & creepy.

  3. Bettyrose says:

    She was 17 in Lost in Translation?!? Isn’t the character like 22? Bill Murray should have refused to do those kind of scenes with a teen girl. Just because their clothes are on doesn’t make it not predatory if a child is involved.

    • outoftheshadows says:

      She and Bill Murray didn’t do anything sexual in that movie–they had a longing kind of relationship to each other, but she was playing a married adult and he was more protective/kind than sexual towards her. He hooks up with a lounge singer in the film and she appears very hurt.

      What WAS inappropriate was the opening shot of her butt in translucent/transparent panties. I always hated that choice by Sofia Coppola–but then, she grew up on the set of Apocalypse Now, so I’m sure she saw all kinds of things in Hollywood that were mega-inappropriate.

      I feel like Scarlett J gets a lot of hate on this site, but she’s certainly lived a very particular hell being this famous and that sexualized at that age.

      • bettyrose says:

        As I said, they kept their clothes on, but there’s sexual tension building between them through the entire storyline, and at the end they leave it very vague as to whether or not the two will continue a friendship back in New York and what that might mean. It was inappropriate enough when I thought she was 22. It was not appropriate at all for a 17 year old.

    • Fortuona says:

      At 19 Flo Pugh was tuning up naked with Alex Skaasrgard and Chris Pine and she was completly naked the year before with Paul Hilton in Lady Macbeth all 25 years older than her

      • bettyrose says:

        That’s how Hollywood operates, I’m not naive, but somehow I find this more shocking because I had no idea she was underage in that film. Her character went to college, so she’s at least early 20s. That is absolutely aging up and inappropriately sexualizing a teenage girl.

      • Fortuona says:

        In those parts she was playing a late teen having sex with an older guy , 2 fictional and 1 was real as Eizabeth was 18 when she married The Bruce did you think they should have spiked the story as it is a huge part of it – late teen girl marries the future King ,spent 8 years in a cage , dead at 43

        Macbeth was a teenage girl flogged to a guy 25 years older than her to settle debts

        Not a Hollywood problem ,it is a history problem people got married at 14 that is the facts . So they need to stay away from history outwith the past 30 years (I am a a Scot and 16 year olds can still get married here)

      • bettyrose says:

        Fortuona – Yes, young girls have always been sexualized and given adult responsibilities, but it’s not like Hollywood only uses the older man-younger woman trope in historical films. They do it in all films, first of all, and I’m specifically objecting to casting a teenager as an adult woman. Even if she was believable in the role, she’s saying it had a very negative impact on her to be treated like she was older. Therein lies the Hollywood problem. They easily could have cast a youthful looking 30 year old who was meant to be roughly early-mid twenties but chose a teenager.

      • Fortuona says:

        So they needed a 30 year old to play teen Elizabeth De Guise .Great idea

        So a 50 year old to play Robert the Bruce to make it match up to the reality of what happened

        Unless they went Braveheart then with a fake ius primae noctis storyline ,Scotland under a jundred years of occupation when it was a year,a country wearing kilts 300 years early , Wallace banging a princess who was 2

        Bring back the 30 year old teens . How I have missed the Fonz and Ryan Eggold teaching people 6 older than him in High School ,or a 30 year old Jason Earles playing Miley just older brother when she was 13

    • J says:

      One of my favourite movies is Adventureland. One storyline is about a college student (age not given but has at least finished one year of college, if not more) having an affair with an older, married guy. Kristen Stewart was 17 at the time of filming and Ryan Reynolds was 31. Love the film but makes me uncomfortable when they cast underage actors in those types of roles.

  4. Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

    But she agreed to do those roles…and she did play a teenager or twenty-something woman when she was a teenager and a twenty-something woman. I don’t know this seems like revisionist history to me, like a way to displace some agency from herself and her parents to People. And one of those roles was Match Point, her first film with her bestie Woody Allen. Does she regret being in that film at only 20? She’s stood firm and defended him since so no. I don’t understand what she’s getting at here.

    • Boxy Lady says:

      She’s approaching 40, she has 2 kids, and she’s on her 3rd marriage. I’m sure her perspective has changed (hopefully?) from when she was a teenager. She may have more insight into certain complexities of her career and her life now that she is older. Plus we’re currently in an era where these kinds of discussions (patriarchy, misogyny, women’s sexuality, women’s agency) are happening more often and more openly. A lot of actresses are coming out with stories of misogynistic things they’ve had to put up with if they wanted to stay in the industry. Natalie Portman, for example, has talked about how much sexualization was forced on her when she was a child actress.

      • Queen Meghan’s Hand says:

        Yeah, I can see that.
        Or maybe the conversation Scarlett and Natalie should have on these platforms is that children just should not be professional actors and it’s a form of child abuse their parents were complicit in perpetuating.

      • Boxy Lady says:

        I don’t think there will ever be an elimination of child actors. There will always be kids and parents drawn to the industry for whatever reason and there will always be roles written for children. That said, I can’t think of too many former child actors who have pushed their children to also be in the industry. There are definitely some (like Judy Garland would have her kids perform on TV with her) but not a lot. That, in itself, is probably an indictment against having professional child performers.

      • Susan says:

        I am around her age and when I look back on things I did, chose, said, etc., I shudder. And some of the horrific things, I wasn’t even pressured or under duress. Or at the time I genuinely thought it was the right choice, or that pleasing certain individuals was most important. (Which is mortifying now!)

        Child and adolescent actors have the added pressure of pleasing their parents, adult directors, etc…and sometimes literally FEEDING their parents and family. I cannot fathom what that pressure must feel like.

    • bettyrose says:

      Wut? We’re expecting someone to stand by a decision they probably made at 16? Wow. Do we apply that same standard to all of us?
      ETA after reading the reply: I agree that Scarlett and Natalie should be speaking to parents about why they should think very carefully about having their kids working in Hollywood.

  5. Kit says:

    Never realised she was only 17 in Lost in Translation… her scenes with Bill Murray feel quite creepy to me now

  6. milliemollie says:

    Will she ever realize that her buddy Woody played a big part in her being oversexualized?

    • Susan says:

      I am certainly not a Scarlet Stan by any means, but wasn’t she somewhat sexualized before Match Point? And I wonder where her career would be now if she hadn’t done that movie? Genuine question no snark.

      • Jenn says:

        Yep. Between Lost In Translation and The Man Who Wasn’t There, ScarJo was being cast as sort of a projection screen for older men’s desires and anxieties. In The Man Who Wasn’t There, which is a lesser-known Coen Brothers movie, ScarJo plays a transparently-manipulative teen whose affinity for the lead character ends up being ruinous/disastrous.

        Ghost World deals with the same themes of teen girls “coming into their sexual power” and the anxiety this creates for men who see themselves as impotent but, in that movie, the “problem” with Enid (Thora Birch; ScarJo plays the “pretty friend”) is that she is also becoming her own person. There was a lot of male insecurity and Lolita complexes on display in the early 2000s — and it was considered “auteur” cinema! — and Scarlett slotted into *their* un-power fantasies beautifully. (Her “cool girl” “not like the others” vibes surely come from being fixed in that perspective for so long, and she’s just now emerging, I think.)

  7. JJS says:

    Saw lost in translation in the theatre, I’m roughly her age and I do remember, even in that film the opening shot is of her in her underwear and her underwear is quite see through imo. She definitely got a lot of attention starting with that role, and I remember there being this weird dynamic between her and Sofia Coppola. Like Sofia didn’t seem to like her / have her back. Maybe because back then it was all about Bill Murray. I dunno, was weird vibes though I still saw myself in and loved that film.

  8. Icey says:

    Brush with celebrity….I remember seeing her once at the Seward cafe in Minneapolis when she was dating Josh Hartnett (he’s from Minneapolis and they were obviously there visiting his family). This cafe is a place locals would eat at… Casual cafe attached to a coop with really good soup/sandwich items. It was lunchtime… She had a hat one and no makeup and sweats. If I do the math she would have been 20-23 range? The narrative around her at that time was “the new curvy standard” and “sultry Scarlett.” (Not a narrative she created but there was a lot about how much curvier she was than her peers). My thoughts seeing her at the time… She was so tiny. Tiny tiny tiny. It out into perspective how tiny Hollywood people are, that she would be called curvy. Freshfaced, she also looked so young. Her age, really. And she was gorgeous. I am one of those people who thinks there are very few truly ugly people. But that movie star pretty and baby faced early twenties is quite something.