If you think about the controversies Scarlett Johansson has caused over the years, a certain comment about a tree might come to mind. “As an actor I should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job,” Johansson said in an interview with As If in 2019. The quote came after Johansson received backlash for being cast as a transgender man in the movie Rub and Tug. And that backlash came after she was also criticized for being cast in a whitewashed role that should have gone to an Asian actor in the film Ghost in the Shell.
Johansson has since said her “tree” quote was taken out of context and has also said she “mishandled” her response to the Rub and Tug situation overall. She also withdrew her casting. Now, she’s speaking out further about her various scandals in a new interview with the UK’s The Gentlewoman.
“Yeah, I’ve made a career out of it,” Johansson said sarcastically when asked about her repeated controversies. “I’m going to have opinions about things, because that’s just who I am,” she continued. “I mean, everyone has a hard time admitting when they’re wrong about stuff, and for all of that to come out publicly, it can be embarrassing. To have the experience of, 'Wow, I was really off mark there, or I wasn’t looking at the big picture, or I was inconsiderate.' I’m also a person.”
Johansson doesn’t speak directly about any situation in particular in the interview, but rather reflects on the backlash she’s received as a whole and how she’s tried to change in response. She’s been working on “recognizing when it’s not your turn to speak.” The 36-year-old explained, “I can be reactive. I can be impatient. That doesn’t mix that great with self-awareness.”
One instance of reactiveness came when Johansson put out a statement in response to criticism of her casting in Rub and Tug. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said in a statement through her own rep, referencing other cisgender actors who have played trans characters. Johansson then learned that the fact that those casting decisions happened didn’t make them okay.
“In hindsight, I mishandled that situation,” she later told Vanity Fair. “I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it. I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing — and how they felt in general about cis actors playing — transgender people. I wasn’t aware of that conversation — I was uneducated … I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling.”
There’s also the issue of her support of director Woody Allen, who she worked with on the films Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Match Point, and Scoop. Johansson has supported Allen amid allegations of sexual abuse from his daughter Dylan Farrow, which he has continuously denied. “Just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women,” she told Vanity Fair. “I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement — I don’t believe that. But that’s my personal belief. That’s how I feel.”
In the Gentlewoman interview, Johansson made clear that while she has shared her opinions, she wants the focus to be on her acting, because that’s the job she chose to do. “I don’t think actors have obligations to have a public role in society. Some people want to, but the idea that you’re obligated to because you’re in the public eye is unfair,” she said. “Whatever my political views are, all that stuff, I feel most successful when people can sit in a theatre or at home and disappear into a story or a performance and see pieces of themselves, or are able to connect with themselves through this experience of watching this performance or story or interaction between actors or whatever it is. And they’re affected by it and they’re thinking about it, and they feel something. You know? They have an emotional reaction to it — good, bad, uncomfortable, validating, whatever. That’s my job. The other stuff is not my job.”