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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, August 21, 2014 - Edition No 911 
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JOHANSSON,SCARLETT Horse Whisperer

A BIG ROLE FOR A LITTLE GIRL
Teenage actress Scarlett Johansson talks about getting good scripts to PAUL FISCHER.

You wouldn't know it by talking to her, but Scarlett Johansson is 13 years old. Mature beyond her years, Johansson has been recognised for her screen work already in Manny and Lo, and now, as the emotionally scarred horse rider in Robert Redford's much praised adaptation of the hit novel, The Horse Whisperer. But the native New Yorker doesn't mince words when admitting how tough it is to find credible roles for teenagers. "Unfortunately, because it's adults writing these scripts, it's tough. The problem is that adults portray kids like mall-rats, and not seriously; after all, we're just like little adults and people with feelings too. Kids and teenagers just aren't being portrayed with any real depth." Johansson says she's getting sick of reading "ridiculous scripts about mall-loving teenagers, but we won't go too deep into that. Let's just say we've gotten some PAINFULLY BAD scripts, on a weekly basis. And these range from huge studio projects to nothing projects; it's just PAINFUL."

If that sounds precocious, she can claim immunity by citing her credits:

"When you're doing an independent film, it's more like you're doing it just for the love of film making"

The pretty blonde New York stage-trained actress first came to attention playing the daughter of Sean Connery and Kate Capshaw who was terrorised by Blair Underwood in Just Cause (1995). Johansson made her stage debut in 1993, at eight, in Sophistry at Playwrights Horizons Theatre in her native Manhattan and has also studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute. Since making her screen debut in a small role in Rob Reiner's disastrous North (1994), the young actress has been continuously working. She played one of Eric Schaeffer's wise charges in If Lucy Fell (1996) and had one of her better roles to date in Manny & Lo (1996).

As Amanda (Manny), a rather sensible 11 year old who escapes from a foster home and runs away with her 16-year old sister, the young actress received critical praise. She says that was the first character of any substance she did, and remains one of her favourite film experiences. "Manny was definitely a character as such, a real person." That role led directly to her casting in the high profile 1997 release Home Alone 3. Johansson was only too aware of the differences between doing a small independent film and big-budget studio movies. "When you're doing an independent film, it's more like you're doing it just for the love of film making, whereas a lot of the times when you tend to do big-budget movies, it's more about getting the money back and making stars out of people."

Perhaps the young actress found a happy medium as co-star of director/actor Robert Redford's highly-anticipated urban western, The Horse Whisperer, playing Grace, a youngster who suffers a tragic riding accident that scars both her and her beloved horse physically and emotionally. Her self-absorbed mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) turns to a quiet horse trainer (Robert Redford) for assistance.

"What I learnt from him is patience... and simplicity." on Robert Redford

Johansson hadn't read the hugely popular novel on which the movie was based, but was sent the screenplay while she was working on Home Alone 3. "I just thought what an incredible role it was, and I remember turning to my mom, and saying: whoever gets this role is the luckiest girl in the entire world." Following a meeting with the film's casting director, Johansson had a two hour meeting with Redford, whose Sundance Institute had actually helped develop Manny and Lo, a happy coincidence. With the teenage role of a lifetime, she recalls being able to identify with "the reality of this character which is something you don't see. When you get a script and it's a real, live person that you're reading, THAT'S what makes it so appealing, that's what you identify with."

What she had more difficulty identifying with, however, were the horse aspects of the movie, being a city girl, through and through. "I'd never ridden one before, and it was interesting to learn about that." Johansson also recalls that she learnt to "appreciate the relationship between horse and rider. I've always admired them from afar, but never had the chance to really study them this close before." For the 13-year old actress, making The Horse Whisperer was very much a learning experience, and she says that she also learnt a lot from Redford the director, and Redford the actor. "What I learnt from him is patience, as he's such a very patient person, and also simplicity. He keeps everything very simple and it really helps to define the dialogue and the film itself."



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