Scarlett Johansson discusses working with Wes Anderson on his latest film, “Asteroid City,” and reveals the director’s discomfort with a nude scene she had to film. Despite Anderson’s unease, Johansson found no discomfort in the scene itself and jokingly described the awkwardness of getting instructions from the director. She explains that the nude scene is not gratuitous but serves as part of the film’s meta-commentary on role-playing and artistic collaboration.
“Asteroid City” unfolds in two parallel realities: a colorful desert landscape representing a play that was never staged and a black and white recreation of 1950s New York, where a group of actors helps bring the playwright’s vision to life. Johansson plays a member of the acting troupe in New York and a movie star named Midge Campbell in the world of Asteroid City. The film explores the budding romantic relationship between Midge and Augie Steenbeck (played by Jason Schwartzman), a widower they meet in the desert town.
As an homage to 1950s Americana, Anderson fills the Asteroid City scenes with references to pop culture of that era. Johansson draws inspiration for her character, Midge, from Bette Davis, envisioning her as a confident and self-aware actor in her mid-career. Schwartzman’s character, Augie, is likened to Eli Wallach’s portrayal in “The Misfits,” a film referenced by Anderson during production.
The film blurs the boundaries between the two realities, with characters from the black and white world bleeding into the colorful one and vice versa. Johansson and Schwartzman describe a powerful moment when the arrival of an alien character (played by Jeff Goldblum) unifies the entire cast and evokes a sense of community. They liken this moment to Werner Herzog’s concept of “ecstatic truth” and describe it as a profound and energizing experience.
Johansson also reflects on intense moments she has previously experienced on stage, such as during a Broadway production of “A View From the Bridge” with Liev Schreiber, where the actors became so immersed in their roles that they felt genuine animosity towards each other. These visceral moments left her exhilarated and full of energy.
Schwartzman adds that the scenes involving the alien in “Asteroid City” provided a “double-meta experience,” transporting him beyond his own body and mind. He recalls the awe-inspiring feeling of delivering lines while witnessing the cast’s reactions to the alien, as if they were truly experiencing something extraordinary. In a lighthearted remark, he jokes about wearing the oversized alien suit home.