Scarlett Johansson is no ordinary pneumatic Hollywood blonde, according to the director who’s just cast her as an almost silent alien prowling the Glaswegian suburbs for male prey. As you do.
‘Under the Skin’ director Jonathan Glazer, who spent “roughly 12 years on and off, it wasn’t linear” bringing Michael Faber’s sci-fi novel to screen, had been thinking of casting an unknown in the lead role, convinced that Scarlett’s face was too familiar to audiences for the story to work.
“At the time, I was thinking of an unknown barmaid to play this role,” he says.
“She can’t be alien if she’s a movie star, if she’s just stepped out of this movie, or off this magazine cover.
“But actually there is something alien about that as well, and you can embrace it for the story.
“Scarlett became the right choice for so many reasons, not least her total commitment to wanting to do it.”
“She’s not a pneumatic Hollywood blonde. She’s cast as that, but she’s not. She’s a smart girl, there’s a lot going on in her head.”
Scarlett certainly plays against all expectations, as the alien freshly arrived in Glasgow, quickly kitted out in clothes from a Glaswegian shopping centre and ready to bring a catalogue of males to their unique, disturbing destiny. What can she do next, I wonder? It will be hard to follow this up with a rom-com, I’d have thought.
“Well, she won’t be able to do a line of these,” laughs Glazer. “It’ll kill her.”
Glazer has form with taking A-list ladies out of their comfort zone, having steered Nicole Kidman in the strange tale of ‘Birth’, of a New York grieving young widow, convinced that a strange young boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband.
“I think Nicole was probably more versed in taking risks like this,” Glazer remembers.
“I had the same disquiet about her, about how familiar people were with her. How can I believe that person in that role with that famous face?
“But there’s an incandescence to some people on screen, there just is, and if you need that for your story, then that’s the price you have to pay. You have to go along with it. And they’re both great actresses. You just have to align it, and not treat them with kid gloves.”
Scarlett aside, ‘Under the Skin’ is a unique film, 12 years of script variations away from the original novel. For Glazer, it clicked when he realised he could use the film to look at humans through the eyes of an alien.
“It was a chance to look at everything afresh. You see a woman handing a stranger a cigarette, a Tommy Cooper sketch. One man is goggle-eyed by Scarlett as Laura turning up, another one is scared off. You see it all. Some footage we wrote, some we just found. I’m hoping the film touches many scenes and aspects, the variations of what we all are, both good and bad.”
'Under The Skin' is in UK cinemas from Friday 14 March. Watch the trailer below...