Scarlett Johansson says not playing sex symbol is one of her most empowering roles

She’s twice been voted the sexiest woman alive

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She's been voted the sexiest woman alive, played the muse of a washed-up actor and even stripped off as an alien.

But as Scarlett Johansson hits our screens in blockbuster superhero movie Black Widow this week, she admits not playing a sex symbol has been one of her most empowering roles to date.

And she hopes her latest role will inspire all women – including her six-year-old daughter Rose.

The new Marvel movie explores the origins story of ‘Black Widow’ Natasha Romanov and her unhappy upbringing as part of a Russian sleeper cell posing as a regular American family in Ohio.

It has been more than a decade since Scarlett first played the Black Widow in Iron Man 2.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow
(Image: Marvel Studios)

And while Natasha doesn’t have Hulk’s incredible strength, Captain America’s superhuman abilities or Dr Strange’s magical powers, she is a martial arts expert, a brilliant fighter and spy extraordinaire.

Scarlett loves playing her and is thrilled that female superheroes like Black Widow and Captain Marvel have become such inspirational characters.

She said: “It’s so, so different than when I was growing up. There really weren’t any super heroines in this genre really, to point to, and it’s just amazing.

“I meet so many young girls who are huge fans of the MCU [Marvel Cinematic Universe] and the female characters are so meaningful to them.

“I think it’s such a wonderful progression that we’ve seen really in the last five or 10 years.”

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow
(Image: Disney)

Scarlett said the evolution of her character in many ways mirrors her own journey through life.

She told Access Hollywood: “It’s been really a very unique and super rewarding experience. I started in Iron Man at 24 years old. I’m in my mid thirties now.

“I have a daughter. I’ve worked on myself as a person, as an actor. I’ve hopefully evolved in some ways, I think.

Colin Jost and Scarlett Johansson arrive at the Oscars in 2020
(Image: Getty)

“I had this very unique opportunity to have a character’s journey partly reflective of my own.

“I think this film is the culmination of all that growth. I honestly am so proud of it.”

The actress, 36, has been through a lot since her first appearance as Natasha.

She was married to Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds when she starred in Iron Man, but they split after three years together.

Scarlett later said she “didn’t really have an understanding of marriage” and “kind of romanticised it”.

She then fell in love with French advertising exec Romain Dauriac, had daughter Rose in 2014 and got married shortly after.

Actress Scarlett Johansson with Romain Dauriac on 2015
(Image: WireImage)

But that union also lasted three years before they split and, after a bitter divorce, the pair now share custody of Rose.

So it is hopefully third time lucky for Scarlett after she tied the knot with US comedian Colin Jost last October.

They announced their wedding via the Meals on Wheels charity to help the cause gain worldwide attention during the pandemic.

And today, the actress seems more content than ever.

Scarlett Johansson attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party
(Image: WireImage)

While lockdown has tested some relationships, Scarlett believes the fact they weathered the storm is a good indicator they’ll have a happy future.

She said: “I think when you can get through what we’ve all been through this past year-and-a-half and you come out the other side and you’re like, ‘OK, we’re in the foxhole and we did it’. That’s really significant.

“What you see is what you get with him. He’s very optimistic, easygoing, funny, nice and those are the qualities that really drew me to him. It’s so funny to have a long-term shared experience with someone and then the relationship changes.”

In 2019 Scarlett was the world’s highest-paid actress, raking in a mighty $40million.

Bill Murray as Bob Harris and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte in Lost in Translation

The following year she was nominated for two Oscars for her roles in Jojo Rabbit and Marriage Story.

She won plaudits back in 2003 for Lost in Translation, in which she played a conflicted newlywed who strikes up a friendship with an ageing movie star, played by Bill Murray, in Tokyo.

She has also starred in films such as The Other Boleyn Girl, Girl with a Pearl Earring and Under the Skin, a low-budget science-fiction film shot in Scotland, which became a surprise hit.

But it’s her role as tortured Natasha which catapulted her to mega-stardom.

The Black Widow was killed off in Marvel’s Endgame – which concluded phase 4 of the MCU – after sacrificing herself to save the world from supervillain Thanos.

But Scarlett had no hesitation in reprising the role for the prequel, enticed by the depth of the background story to Natasha.

Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johansson in 2010
(Image: WireImage)

English actress Florence Pugh, 25, stars alongside her.

Scarlett also got to work with female director Cate Shortland and writer Jac Schaeffer, the woman behind Captain Marvel and Disney’s WandaVision.

In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark [played by Robert Downey Jnr] referred to Natasha as “a piece of meat” – something that wouldn’t happen now.

And in an age where female empowerment and political correction has come to the fore, Scarlett says the new movie offers a “much more positive message” for young girls.

Speaking to the Collider entertainment website in the US, she said: “It has definitely changed and I think part of that change, it’s hard [to explain] because I’m inside it, but probably a lot of that is actually from me too.

Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story

“I’m a mum and my life is different. Ten years have passed and things have happened and I have a much different, more evolved understanding of myself.

“As a woman, I’m in a different place in my life, you know?”

Scarlett says she is now “more forgiving of myself” as a woman, and added: I’m more accepting of myself, I think. All of that is related to that move away from the kind of hyper-sexualisation of this character.

“I mean, you look back at Iron Man 2. While it was really fun and had a lot of great moments in it, the character is so sexualised, you know?

“At one point, Tony Stark calls her a piece of meat and maybe, at that time, that actually felt like a compliment. You know what I mean? Because my thinking was different.

In Jojo Rabbit

“My own self-worth was probably measured against that type of comment or, like a lot of young women, you come into your own and you understand your own self-worth. It’s changing now.

Now people, young girls, are getting a much more positive message, but it’s been incredible to be a part of that shift and be able to come out the other side and be a part of that old story, but also progress. Evolve. I think it’s pretty cool.”

Scarlett believes the movie is about lifting up other women.

She added: “It’s a film about survival, about self-forgiveness and they are all topics we would be remiss not to recognise.”

The actress hopes the movie will strike a particular chord after lockdown. She added: “It’s coming out at a time when people are re-evaluating what is most important to them and this film is about the family you chose.”

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