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A Study in Scarlett

Scarlett Johansson knows how to make an entrance. When the actresswhose barely clad backside provided Lost in Translation withits unforgettable opening shot steps out of her sky-blue BMW andinto an old-school Hollywood restaurant, she’s sporting abrand-new blonde ‘do and a sultry attitude and singing a tune– Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made forWalkin'” — that catches the attention of every patronin the eatery. “I think I have an admirer,” she says asshe slides into a booth, tilting her head to indicate the smittengrin of a waiter serving another table. “I’m going towoo him, then steal his glasses, because they’re reallygood.”

Johansson,19, doesn’t have to exert much effort to grab people’s attention thesedays. With her distinctive performances and husky voice, she’sregularly earning raves for her work in such films as Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn’t There. But with her role in Sofia Coppola’s offbeat comedy Lost in Translation,playing a tourist who shares an unlikely, unconsummated romance withfellow traveler Bill Murray, Johansson launched herself into anentirely different category of stardom. “Suddenly, everybody fell outof the woodwork,” she says, “calling to say, ‘Hey, long time no speak.’And I’m like, ‘Screw you. Where the hell were you when I actuallywanted to talk to you?’ Old agents tell me, ‘Congratulations.’ And I’mlike, ‘Why are you calling me on my personal phone?'”

Lost in Translation, it seems, was merely the warm-up for Johansson’s quietly moving turn in Girl With a Pearl Earring.Adapted from Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 novel, the stylish period dramacasts Johansson as Griet, a 17th-century Dutch peasant who becomes ahousemaid of artist Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth) and inadvertentlyends up the subject of the Dutch master’s most mysterious painting.Griet is forbidden to speak to Vermeer or his family unless firstspoken to, providing the notoriously chatty actress the opportunity tocarry scene after scene in which she doesn’t utter a single line. “Ireally found a certain freedom in the restriction of speech,” saysJohansson. “Instead of our screenwriter filling the silences withcheesy dialogue, like ‘Oh, I yearn for you,’ she just allowed for thesilences to happen. Realistically, our characters would never talk toeach other — they couldn’t.”

“I defy anyone to cast [the role of Griet] better,” says thefilm’s director, Peter Webber, for whom Johansson evokes the women of amore recent bygone era. “She’s mutated into this insanely glamorousmovie star, like the young Lana Turner or Veronica Lake. To have thecombination of incredible acting talent and also old-fashionedmovie-star charisma — it’s killer.”

Fans will note that Girl With a Pearl Earring is onlythe latest film in which Johansson appears as the younger half of aMay-December pairing. (“I have older guys chanting in a circle outsidemy house,” she says with a laugh.) It’s a trend that will continue inher next movie, A Love Song for Bobby Long, in which she starsopposite John Travolta as a headstrong girl who returns to New Orleansfor her mother’s funeral. “I came into work,” she says, “and I waslike, ‘John, I just have to tell you, I’ve seen Grease amillion times, but I saw it last night and thought, “Holy shit, youwere, like, the bee’s knees.”‘ He was like, ‘I was good-looking, wasn’tI?’ I said, ‘Yes, you were. That ass? Oh, yeah.’ My perfect boyfriendwould be John 30 years ago.”