Scarlett Johansson stopped for every media outlet Thursday night on a packed red carpet inside the Beverly Hilton, host of the 35th annual American Cinematheque tribute in her honor. Husband Colin Jost, patiently waiting at the end of the line next to her Avengers comrade Jeremy Renner, handed Johansson, with two interviews left, a glass of champagne.
“Thankfully he’s here,” the actress told The Hollywood Reporter, the first of the final two outlets. “He’s got a show on Saturday, but I was like, ‘You’re coming. I don’t care if you’re tired.’ It’s been really overwhelming and I’m finally at the end of the red carpet and then I realized that now we have to go and actually do this thing.”
The thing left to accomplish required Johansson, 36, to sit through a more than hourlong tribute to her nearly 30 years in the business. It featured collaborators, co-stars and friends like Jon Favreau, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbie Cornish, Jamie Lee Curtis, Marvel chief Kevin Feige and a handful of the company’s biggest stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Sam Rockwell and Renner. So, while it was a victory lap for her diverse résumé that features a Tony Award and multiple Oscar nominations, on the press line Johansson also fielded many congratulations for her yearlong marriage, the couple’s 4-month-old baby boy and a freshly inked settlement in the explosive Black Widow lawsuit with Disney.
Johansson was making her first major red carpet appearance since Oscar night Feb. 9, 2020, so obviously, there was much to discuss. And she was game. THR asked Johansson about the lawsuit and how she navigated filing suit against Disney, alleging breach of contract when the studio opted to release the Marvel title day-and-date in theaters and on its streaming platform Disney+. The star replied that it was not an easy decision, nor an easy moment in her life.
“It was a very surreal time because, of course, the film had come out and was hugely successful and that was a big celebration. I had a baby and that was obviously a life-changing, amazing, celebratory thing,” explained the actress, who also has a 7-year-old daughter. “In a way, that sort of buoyed me through the very uncertain, stressful time. I feel mostly very fortunate that nobody will have to go through what I went through and that it’s made, I think, a positive impact in the industry and hopefully for artists and creatives’ lives and livelihood.”
Terms of the settlement, confirmed Sept. 30, were not disclosed but due to the bitter nature of the suit and the fiery public statements made by the studio and by Johansson’s longtime agent, CAA’s Bryan Lourd, many had been wondering what the future held for Johansson and one of the town’s top studios. At the time of the deal, Johansson said in a statement that she was looking forward to “continuing our collaboration in years to come” after working with Marvel for 11 years and on eight films.
“I have had some of the best times of my career working for both of those studios,” she continued on the carpet. “I feel really excited that I get to continue my work with Disney and with my Marvel family.” She said that she was “already in the thick of it” on projects like Tower of Terror at Disney and “some other projects that we’re working on. I get to continue to dream over there.”
Though she didn’t elaborate on the “other projects,” during the American Cinematheque tribute, Feige teased from the stage that they are partnered on “another non-Black Widow-related top-secret Marvel Studios project with her as a producer.” More on that later, but about the lawsuit, Johansson said she was hopeful that by standing up and fighting for compensation amid a wider conversation about talent deals in the streaming wars, her suit would have a lasting impact.
“It’s an evolving time where there’s this huge sea change happening, and as my daughter [Rose] told me the other day, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
No eggs were damaged on the ballroom stage — no lawsuits were mentioned either — as Johansson was feted with loving tributes (both in-person and virtual) and electric film reels featuring everything from animation voiceover work and auteur-driven indie fare to big-budget blockbusters and romantic comedies. She also shared the stage with the night’s only other honoree, Participant, which was awarded the inaugural Power of Cinema prize. The company’s CEO, David Linde, accepted, following a tribute from filmmaker Tom McCarthy who has teamed with Participant on The Visitor, the Oscar-winning Spotlight and the recent release Stillwater, starring Matt Damon.
“Stories matter more than ever because community is more important than ever,” said Linde, who dedicated the trophy to the company’s Diane Weyermann, a passionate producer and chief content officer who died in October. “It’s that shared experience that gives us the ability to see into and empathize with the lives of others.”
When it was Johansson’s turn, Favreau kicked off the tributes by recalling how he met the actress more than a decade ago while she was being considered for the role of Black Widow in 2010’s Iron Man 2, which he directed. (They also worked together on his 2014 film Chef.) “What struck me as odd was that she showed up with red hair to the meeting. Scarlett doesn’t have red hair but the character did,” he explained. “I was a bit taken aback by that and after she got the role I asked her, ‘Between you and me, did you just dye your hair just for the meeting?’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, I did … to show you that I was serious about it.”
Favreau said he saw a similar level of commitment when he discovered her working in a soundstage reserved for the stunt department, and there she was hanging from a crane. She told him that she wanted everyone to know that she was serious. “She’s focused and she works hard,” he praised. “And she’s smart and she’s funny.”
McKenzie, who shared the screen with Johansson in Jojo Rabbit, called her generous, present and open. “There are some actors who feel like they’ve always been a part of your life and who you admire from afar. Scarlett has always been like that for me. Since I first saw her in Lost in Translation, Scarlett has been a shining example for me of how to act, but after actually working with her in Jojo Rabbit, I can say that Scarlett also taught me a lot about how to be. Scarlett’s extraordinary talent that has made her famous around the world is underpinned by the generosity, inclusive attitude and strength she brings to her work,” she said. “I watched how on the set of Jojo Rabbit, Scarlett never isolated herself between scenes. In a movie that is so much about hiding away, I noticed that Scarlett never did. Instead, she was a powerful and warm presence, always laughing and telling stories with our writer-director Taika Waititi and with Roman Griffin Davis, who played her son, Jojo, and with the rest of us.”
Speaking of laughing, comedian Andy Richter turned up to play a clip from his days on Conan O’Brien’s late night show, for which they hired a young Johansson for a skit involving a spelling prodigy. Close friend Cornish got serious (kind of) by relating how well-stocked Johansson’s refrigerator is to how fully stacked her films are thanks to her contributions. “Whenever you watch a Scarlett Johansson movie, whatever you want out of it, you’re going to get,” she said.
Curtis showed up in an ensemble designed to mimic her “I am Inga from Sweden” character from 1983’s Trading Places. And she admitted that despite speaking on the phone with Johansson and exchanging gifts, they had never met in person until Thursday, so they took a moment to lob compliments across the ballroom. “It was worth it just for that moment,” she quipped.
Johansson’s twin brother, Hunter, followed by praising his sister’s philanthropic side and confirming that she and Jost helped fund some of the work he’s done through his nonprofit, Solar Responders. “I consider Scarlett my own personal inspiration. … I am the luckiest brother in the world.”
With the exception of Renner, her Marvel co-stars appeared virtually, including Downey, Jackson, Evans and Rockwell. Evans described their bond. “We often say we have this brother-sister dynamic, with her being the older sister, even though I am technically older,” he explained, adding that they did their first film together 20 years ago. He praised her “wisdom beyond her years,” and the fact that she’s helped him through struggles, both personal and professional. “I think the real reason is that there’s just no one else in the world that I would rather annoy. I don’t know what it is. I walk in the makeup trailer; I see her focusing, trying to think about the day and I just want to start singing show tunes 6 inches from her face. I can’t help myself.”
Feige couldn’t help himself from saying that while he “may be biased,” organizers saved the best for last in spotlighting Johansson’s work as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. Though it was hard not to think about how awkward the moment could have been had they not settled the lawsuit, all of that was erased with Feige’s effusive comments.
“As Marvel’s Studios first and longest-running female hero, Scarlett has stood her ground amongst a sea of men — many named Chris — and paved the way for so many other characters in the MCU: Carol Danvers, Wanda Maximoff, Shuri, Jennifer Walters, Monica Rambeau, Kamala Khan, just to name but a few,” said the Marvel chief. “Scarlett embodied Natasha brilliantly over an incredible action-packed period spanning 11 years, eight films featuring countless stunts and fight scenes, a Civil War, an Infinity War and dozens of different hairstyles, all culminating in one of the MCU’s most anticipated stand-alone movies, Black Widow.”
Feige went on to praise Johansson’s skill as an actor-producer, a first for the MCU, saying how she helped bring in director Cate Shortland and shape the film as an ensemble “with equally fantastic” actors. “That’s what a smart producer does. She is a very, very smart producer,” said Feige before confirming an unannounced project.
“We are already working with Scarlett on another non-Black Widow-related top-secret Marvel Studios project with her as a producer,” he said. “Scarlett is one of the most talented, versatile and beloved actors of our time. It has truly been a pleasure to work with someone of her caliber. From those epic training sessions preparing for the hallway fight in Iron Man 2, to the around-the-world press tour in Avengers: Endgame to partnering with you as a producer on Black Widow, working with you Scarlett has truly been one of the most memorable and rewarding collaborations of my career.”
Then it was time for Renner to close out the program by presenting Johansson with her award. “Frankly, I cannot understand how anyone could not love being in a literal and figurative foxhole with a truly stunning talent and a beautiful, powerful individual like Scarlett, who I love and adore,” he said, getting choked up. “For a million reasons standing here tonight and a million reasons more that you don’t deserve to know, I feel tremendously honored to present this American Cinematheque Award to my favorite human and superhero.”
Since 1986, the American Cinematheque Award is given to “an extraordinary artist currently making a significant contribution to the art of the moving picture,” and by picking up the prize this year at age 36, Johansson is the youngest honoree since Nicole Kidman in 2003. She joins A-listers including actors Eddie Murphy, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Samuel L. Jackson, Matt Damon, Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Charlize Theron, as well as directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Spike Lee.
Johansson made her professional acting debut at the age of 8 in the off-Broadway production of Sophistry, opposite Ethan Hawke, at New York’s Playwright’s Horizons. Her credits include The Horse Whisperer, Ghost World, Manny & Lo, Hail, Caesar!, Don Jon, Hitchcock, We Bought a Zoo, In Good Company, Match Point, He’s Just Not That Into You, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Other Boleyn Girl, The Spirit, Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Island, The Black Dahlia, The Prestige, North, Just Cause, The Man Who Wasn’t There, Marriage Story, Lucy, Under the Skin, Ghost in the Shell, Isle of Dogs and Her.
And while she didn’t go through her own filmography, she did pay tribute to the past by honoring how she was inspired to become an artist thanks, in large part, to her mother, Melanie. “When I was as young as 3, my mom started showing me a catalog of every movie she loved as a child, and she showed me all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Rosalind Russell films, Judy Garland movies. She would swoon every time Montgomery Clift was onscreen, saying ‘Isn’t he so gorgeous?’” Johansson said, noting that her mother couldn’t make it to the event. “She was my own private American cinema education, the closest thing to a master class on film at home that you could find outside of an NYU grad class. My passion for performance came from watching all those movies over and over and over. I think I’d seen Meet Me in St. Louis about 45 times by my 7th birthday. When Judy Garland sings, ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to a distraught Margaret O’Brien, my mom and I cried on the couch together. That child acting performance became a pillar of greatness I would aspire to for many years to come.”
She said she even attempted to process the night’s honor by speaking to her therapist about it. “Naturally, because she’s a therapist, she asked, ‘What is your contribution to film?’ Somehow I was not expecting that, even though we’ve worked together for like over a decade. Then after a long time, I was, ‘I think I allow people to connect to themselves,’” she revealed.
She also thanked American Cinematheque for its commitment to the art form. “I truly believe that film has an enormous impact on our emotional well-being. Film allows us to escape into someone else’s life and feel a sameness there, and have those introspective moments to reflect on the human condition and all its fragility and its complexity. Every time you sit down to see a film, we want it to win. We want to feel the connection to the characters, to the setting and the story and to feel at home in someone else’s story and someone else’s skin. It’s a process by which, in doing so, we connect with ourselves,” she explained.
In closing, she admitted that she’s never been able to step back and see the work “as part of the whole thing”; instead, she picks apart things she could have done better. “I still think about line readings I could have improved on from the movie Her, if that gets you any insight into how I build inside of it all the time,” she said. “But tonight has been an incredible gift because it’s allowed me to take pause and take it all in, to take the temperature and survey the landscape before continuing so gratefully down the path that chose me 30 years ago.”