Interview: Scarlett Johansson chats about Don Jon
Struck by the curious way in which characters view themselves and those around, Scarlett Johansson was excited to be a part of Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directing and writing debut, Don Jon.
“These ideals we place on one another, the kind of boxes we squeeze each other in, why that is, and how to grow from that – those conversations are so interesting to me,” explained Johansson while promoting the movie at the Toronto International Film Festival. “That’s what excited me about doing this. It was to play a character that has a lot of convictions and be able to lift her off the page.”
A dramatic comedy about a Jersey Shore player (Levitt) devoted to his family and his faith while also being obsessed with pornography, Don Jon is a whirlwind of hysterical comedy and strange interactions. While more interested in just taking girls to bed (though always compelled to surf the web late afterwards for the utmost satisfaction), Jon meets Barbara (Johansson), and is immediately taken.
As the pair starts to date, Jon finds himself compromised while also going on a bit of an exploration of self discovery. At times controlling, often determined, and still beautiful and sweet, Johansson’s character is a key figure in Jon’s life, for better or worse.
“If [Levitt] wanted to show the growth of his character, my character had to be the antithesis, the one who would have kept him kind of stuck,” she continued. “I’m a foil for that characters journey.”
Though her character may stand out easily as somewhat of an antagonist, every character is flawed. They all have their own obsessions, idiosyncrasies, and preconceptions, and Levitt comments on all of it at a torrid pace.
“I wanted the character to still be sympathetic. You have to be sympathetic to the character you play, even if you don’t share their ideals. That’s what makes the performance work.”
While exploring all sorts of themes, from religion to love to sex to lust, it was the familial undertones that were most fascinating to Johansson, who said she still has as much enthusiasm as ever in her prolific career.
“The family dynamic was so well-written,” said the veteran actress. “It’s the idea of all of these people interacting with each other but never seeing each other. None of these characters really see each other, but they have such intimate relationships.”
Several scenes at the family dinner table, including one in which Jon introduces his family to Barbara, is most telling.”Sister is on the phone, dad is watching TV, mom is trying to make a connection, and no one knows what’s going on in each other’s lives. They’re absorbed in their gadgets or themselves.”
“It’s interesting to observe how we relate to one another, objectify one another, even in a family setting.”
It’s that and much, much more in Levitt’s adult comedy that finds its two very charming stars play with full conviction characters that are loud, determined, and more layered than the initial stereotype may suggest.