updated 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 10/06/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Note to Mom: Enjoy it while it lasts. Because after her critically acclaimed turn in director Sofia Coppola's much-buzzed-about moody romance Translation—as a lonely newlywed in Japan who befriends a washed-up movie star played by Bill Murray—Johansson is striding full-tilt into grown-up territory. Or, as Translation producer Ross Katz might put it, back into grown-up territory. "She has this intensity, this sense of having lived [before]," he says.
"There's a lot going on inside Scarlett."
No need to tell Robert Redford, her costar in 1998's The Horse Whisperer. Or Billy Bob Thornton, who was obsessed with her character in 2001's The Man Who Wasn't There. Or any of her other costars in the 17 films Johansson has made in 10 years. "Don't even dream of patronizing her because of her age," says Colin Firth, 43, who stars with the "fun" but "bossy" Johansson in the drama Girl with a Pearl Earring, due in December. "She will voice her opinion in no uncertain terms."
On other occasions, though, she knows how to go with the flow. Like the evening during the Translation shoot when, midscene with Murray in a local restaurant, the lights suddenly went out. While director Coppola shouted at the manager, Johansson followed the director of photography's order to keep going—in the dark. "He was like, 'We can still make it work.' I was like, 'All right, I'll just pretend the lights aren't off.'"
By now, pretending is almost second nature to Johansson. Growing up in Manhattan, the self-described ham would put on shows and charge her family—mother Melanie, 52, a home-maker turned producer; father Karsten, 60, a general contractor; sister Vanessa, 23; brother Adrian, 26; and her twin brother, Hunter—a buck each to see them. Already intent on becoming an actress as an elementary student at P.S. 41, Johansson was at first overwhelmed by the cattle-call auditions. "I had these huge temper tantrums," she admits.
But Johansson soon got the hang of things. In 1993 she landed a part in the Broadway play Sophistry, with Ethan Hawke. At age 10, she was cast as the daughter of Faith Ford and John Ritter in North. "I started doing movies," she says, "and that was it."
In between film gigs Johansson excelled at history and English at New York City's Professional Children's School and had her first beau at age 15. Recently unattached for the first time since then, she calls the single life "wonderful." "I like to be alone," says Johansson, who just bought an apartment in Los Angeles, "to be a little bit selfish."
Someday Johansson hopes to have a family and tackle directing. Still, she's not rushing. The future "is scary but inevitable," she says. "You accept it for what it is and take it gracefully."
Karen S. Schneider
Rebecca Paley in New York City and Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles