Somewhere between smashing villains in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and kicking all the bad guys' butts in Lucy, Scarlett Johansson pauses long enough to count her blessings.
The actress has just wrapped The Avengers: Age of Ultron, she's prepping her feature directorial debut, there's a standalone Black Widow movie coming up and she's rumoured to be part of the next Coen Brothers movie.
And — last but not least — she and her fiance, French journalist Romain Dauriac, are having their first child any day now.
"There's definitely a lot coming up this year," says Johansson in a Canadian exclusive interview. "I had a dinner meeting yesterday with someone and they said, 'There's so much going on. Are you able to stop and appreciate it?' I realize that what I really appreciate, other than just the fact I'm still working after 20 years, is that I have choices. I feel so hugely, incredibly fortunate to have choices — to be able to dream of possibilities for projects, and then to see them through."
Johansson, 29, is on the phone to promote Lucy, the new Luc Besson thriller in which she plays someone with wildly enhanced intellectual and physical capabilities. It opens Friday.
Forced to be a drug mule, Lucy inadvertently gets exposed to the drug she's carrying, a synthetic version of a natural substance required for natal development. The drug unlocks Lucy's cerebral capacity, and she becomes an intellectual giant.
And advanced brain power leads to fantastic physical capabilities.
The film is violent, wild and a little crazy (Besson has directed The Professional and The Fifth Element, among others). Morgan Freeman is along for the ride as a professor who understands what Lucy's going through. Lucy has the ability, for example, to move time with her mind, and hence can experience the very beginnings of the planet.
At the same time, she has to single-handedly slaughter dozens of cold-blooded drug villains.
It's like Tree of Life meets Death Wish. Very trippy.
Johansson has been acting since childhood. One of four kids (including a twin brother), she showed an early interest in performance and made her theatre debut at age 8 opposite Ethan Hawke in the off-Broadway Sophistry. A native New Yorker, Johansson was on stage as recently as last year, when she starred as Maggie in a Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
The actress was nine years old when she made her film debut in the comedy, North (which featured Bruce Willis as the Easter Bunny). Johansson then went on to find success in both indie films and blockbusters — and just about everything in between. The award-winning actress has starred in such films as Ghost World, Lost In Translation, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Match Point, The Prestige, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Avengers, Don Jon, Her, Chef and Under the Skin, among many others.
Johansson, who is known for her husky speaking voice, has also recorded two albums.
When it came time to play the hyper-aware Lucy, Johansson says, "I wanted the character to look capable." She'd just finished up filming Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Lucy was shot, "So I was ready. I was in action mode."
'Action mode' — Johansson's role as the Black Widow — is making her known to a whole new generation as a superhero. Considering her roots in independent cinema, that's a bit of a curveball.
"It's surreal!" she says. "I never thought I'd have that specific tool in my belt or spend that many hours handling semi-automatic weapons! Not really part of my lifestyle normally," she says, laughing.
"Certainly, growing up and working in independent film I didn't expect to spend so much time on wire work as I have. But I think I've been really fortunate to play one of the first superheroines that work, thankfully, a fleshed-out character in what seems like a boys' league at times. I'm proud of the work we've done to build that character up."
She enjoys playing Black Widow, says Johansson. "And people love that character. She's enigmatic. She comes from a place of real emotional conflict. She's interesting to play."
Laughing again, she adds, "Which is good, because I play her a lot. I'm happy to be identified with that kind of role."
One unexpected side benefit has been the reaction of children.
"I see my friends’ kids are fascinated, like, 'Wow! Wait a minute! You know Captain America!' I never thought that was a fan base I could reach. Most kids are probably not allowed to see most of the movies I've made. I kind of missed that generation. I feel like I've finally had some impact on them. It's cool." She sounds delighted.
It's all part and parcel of the choices Johansson says she's lucky enough to be able to make now in her work. "And that's a life's work to get to that place, so you can relax. Well — I wouldn't say you ever relax into your job in this industry because it's so fickle, but you have the time to develop things, and imagine them. I don't have that feeling like I have to strike while the iron is hot all the time, or make hay while the sun shines, as much as I used to, and that's allowed me way more creative freedom.
She adds, "The possibilities are much bigger that way, when you stop chasing the tail of your own career. And you're able to make active choices."