LOS ANGELES — Scarlett Johansson has had a wide range of roles in recent years, from the seductive voice of a computer operating system in "Her" to playing Janet Leigh in "Hitchcock." The one role that she keeps coming back to, though, is the mysterious Natasha Romanoff, better known as the Black Widow.
After originating the role in "Iron Man 2," she donned the skin-tight black costume in "The Avengers" and most recently in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." After next year's "Avengers: Age of Ultron," the Black Widow will star in her own superhero movie.
"It's an interesting challenge to keep coming back to this character. I have the good fortune of playing a character that's sort of evolving with each kind of installment that you see her in," Johansson says. "Going in to play the character, of course, I have to understand who this character is and where she comes from and have this sort of rich back story, and I think the exciting thing is just scraping away at a little part of that each time to reveal kind of a small part of the bigger picture of her."
Johansson likes playing the Black Widow because the character uses her feminine wiles as part of her job but doesn't rely on her sexuality or physical appeal to get the job done.
The actress isn't certain that the character is a good role model, considering she started out as a mercenary. But there are a lot of things she admires about Black Widow, even with that dark past.
"She's extremely smart. She thinks on her feet. She's a leader and, I think, has a lot of foresight. Those are all qualities that I think it's wonderful to celebrate for young women and, of course, it's really rad for me to have my friends' kids kind of look up to that character and dress up like her at Halloween and play with the boys and be rough. I always say, 'The widow always wins.' And it's true. And that's a nice sentiment," Johansson says.
The Black Widow is an example of how roles have changed for Johansson during the 20 years the 29-year-old has been acting. There's a maturity to this character that wasn't in some of the roles she played when she was younger. She wants to keep finding diverse roles.
Johansson came off a Broadway run in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" to start production of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." She says the stage work helped her prepare for the physical challenges of portraying the Black Widow.
"I had come off of doing a Broadway run, which is pretty much the most physically challenging thing you can do, and I felt like if anything was going to prepare me to have stamina, it was that. So everything seemed like a piece of cake after treading the boards for that long," Johansson says. "I think I was in pretty solid shape from that run."
She did augment that stage work with intense early morning workouts at the gym and eating "a bunch of lettuce." Johansson laughs, saying that after playing the Black Widow for so many years, she will be in physical therapy for the rest of her life.
Even with the pain, Johansson was excited about playing the Black Widow in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" because there was little of her back story in "Iron Man 2" and "Avengers."
"In this film, we really get to see Natasha as a person who gets up, gets ready for work in the morning, has a life outside of just her job once she's out of the suit. I mean, she's a woman and she has her own kind of reality outside of this, even though who knows how far that structure is," Johansson says. "It's not until I think through the series of circumstances, as the plot unfolds, that we kind of find Steve and Natasha kind of questioning their own identity."