Wes Anderson is known as a demanding filmmaker when it comes to bringing his ultra-specific aesthetic vision to the screen. But Scarlett Johansson tells Yahoo Entertainment that the director had more than a little word of mouth when it came time to stage her short nude scene in Anderson’s latest production. Asteroid City.
“Wes is probably the worst person to talk to about something like that,” the actress says with a laugh. “He’s so uncomfortable with that topic.”
Johansson says she didn’t feel any discomfort filming one of her rare nude scenes – apart from, of course, trying to get specific instructions from the director behind the camera. “I’ll leave it to your imagination [how that went]she jokes. “There was a lot of throat clearing and [Wes] kind of hiding his face.”
Watch our interview with Scarlett Johansson and Jason Schwartzman on YouTube
Since this is a Wes Anderson joint, Johansson’s revealing moment isn’t there to be unnecessary; instead it is part of Asteroid City‘s larger meta-commentary on role-playing and artistic collaboration. The film unfolds into two nested realities: one is the colorful desert landscape of Asteroid Cityone recreation of a play that was never performed, while the second is a black-and-white reconstruction of 1950s New York, where a group of actors – modeled after the legendary Actors Studio – help the playwright realize his vision.
Johansson has the dual role of one of the group members in New York sequences, and movie star Midge Campbell in the world of Asteroid City. She and her daughter, Dinah (Grace Edwards) are among the many families who flock to the titular desert city for the Junior Stargazer convention, celebrating the best and brightest of the next generation of space experts. There they meet ex-war photographer and recent widower, Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) and his son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan), and romantic feelings blossom between the two single adults, as well as between their younger offspring. As their relationship develops, Midge casually tells Augie that she has a nude scene in her performance repertoire…then just as casually shows it to him.
Because the Asteroid City parts of Asteroid City ultimately being a fantasy interpretation of 1950s Americana, Anderson fills those frames with era-specific pop culture allusions, from Chuck Jones’ classic Road Runner shorts to The day the earth stood still. And Midge herself seems to pay homage to Judy Garland circa 1954 A star is born – certainly in terms of her hairstyle. When asked about the Garland connection, Johansson indicates she drew on another celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age…one who asked for the moon, not the stars.
“I’m a big fan of Judy Garland, but I don’t know if Midge has the same vulnerability,” explains Johansson. “I thought of her as kind of a Bette Davis actor. She’s midway through her career, she’s very self-confident…she’s self-conscious like you want a movie star to be…She’s earned this spot, she’s confident in that , and that felt like a Bette Davis kind of person.
Schwartzman’s Augie, meanwhile, cuts more of an Eli Wallach figure between the thick beard and the desert landscapes. And the actor confirms that one Wallach film – the one from 1961 The misfits, which also starred Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe – was held in high esteem by both himself and the director. “The misfits was a movie Wes was referring to,” says Schwartzman. “He gave me [a book] about making the movie….and it’s really interesting to see how many things have changed in this industry and how many things haven’t… And I love Eli Wallach in that movie – he’s wild.”
Schwartzman has been a regular in Anderson’s troupe of actors since 1998 RushmoreBut Asteroid City marks a first in his quarter-century collaboration with the director: it’s the fi
rst time he’s ever played a father. “I was excited to do that,” he says, pointing out that the actor who will soon be starring his movie on screen is the same age he was when he made Rushmore. “But I really didn’t think about it too much – I was really just trying to keep my kids in line!”
If Asteroid City unfolds, the walls between the two realities occasionally break, with characters from the black and white world flowing into the colorful cinematic confection and vice versa. And there’s a standout moment that takes place in both realms: the arrival of an alien (played by Jeff Goldblum) whose appearance inspires an intense moment of community among the entire cast. Those double encounters provide an intense moment of catharsis for the actors and the audience, a moment akin to the kind of “ecstatic truth” celebrated filmmaker Werner Herzog speaks of.
That’s a feeling Johansson says she’s experienced only a few times before Asteroid City. “When Liev Schreiber and I did that A view from the bridge together on Broadway there were some nights that were fiery,” she recalls. “You guys really hate each other! Not personally, but the bottom line is that you get so lost in it that you have these profound, deep-seated moments with another person that leaves you full of energy. It is so exciting.”
For his part, Schwartzman calls those scenes a “double meta-experience” that took him outside his own body and brain. “I couldn’t help but say, ‘This is remarkable,'” he says. “Speaking these lines and seeing how everyone reacted to the alien made you feel like this is what they would look like if they saw something they’ve never seen before. I get to be a part of that moment.”
“I wore [the alien suit] home,” jokes Schwartzman. “Walked it out in plain sight… It’s 8,000 sizes too big!”
Asteroid City now playing in cinemas