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Recall: In 2013, Scarlett Johansson was awarded the Best Actress Award at the Rome Film Festival for providing the voice of an intuitive and Siri-like digital personal assistant in the film Her.
It was a decision that divided film critics. How could an “invisible” actress, one who never physically appeared in the film earn such a prestigious award? Did this now alter the definition of what constituted a “performance”? In Italy, numerous critics noted Johansson’s voice would never even be heard in Italian cinema as it would be translated from English upon release.
On the contrary, Western audiences applauded Johansson’s ability to portray such a plausible and believable character using only her voice. It wasn’t what Johansson was saying, it was how she was saying it that made her character, Samantha, so real, they said. Even a study conducted at the University of Chicago in 2014 observed how the sound of Johansson’s voice made this film about love and humanness rather than “delusion and machinery”. Without her, critics (and psychologists) argued, the film would have made Joaquin Phoenix’s character – a dysfunctional writer who falls in love with Samantha, the computer system – delusional.
This year, the actress is voicing two animated characters, one as Ash in Garth Jenning’s Sing and the other as a massive python named Kaa in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, at cinemas now. The latter character’s biggest power is, you guessed it, her voice. “Kaa seduces and entraps [the young boy] Mowgli with her storytelling – her voice,” Johansson tells GRAZIA.
“The way that she moves is very alluring, almost coquettish. She’s magnificent.”
Journalists know the New-York-born actress as a special type of straight-shooter; one who, in her signature raspy voice, is famous for delivering a deadpan response, albeit a sarcastic tone. They know not to ask about her ex-husband Ryan Reynolds (despite recently hinting to Cosmopolitan US that their marriage was “competitive”) or second husband Romain Dauriac and her daughter Rose Dorothy. Today she wants to talk about her film and the nostalgic memories of her own childhood.
“I remember the soundtrack well – it was so popular when I was a kid,” remembers Johansson, laughing. “Bare Necessities was on contact repeat for every kid my age. And the idea of this jungle kid being raised by animals was just fantastic.”
For the 31-year-old though, it’s the film’s message of family that she’ll be passing onto her daughter. “I think little kids can relate to the theme of finding your family—of discovering what it means to be a family,” explains Johansson. “The definition of family is such a personal one and families come in all shapes and sizes. But ultimately, family is made up of the people around you who love you unconditionally.”
Just like the psychologists in Chicago found, Johansson can even make us feel real emotions just by listening to her. Forget these supernatural storylines, what a super power to possess.
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