Scarlett Johansson, the highest-paid actress in Hollywood these days, isn’t impervious to controversy, but the Black Widow movie star says she has grown on one issue in particular. Johansson admitted in a recent interview that, when it came to her casting as a trans man in the movie Rub & Tug, she didn’t handle the public feedback well.
“In hindsight, I mishandled that situation. I was not sensitive, my initial reaction to it,” Johansson told Vanity Fair.
To quickly summarize, news arrived in July 2018 that Johansson would star as trans man Dante “Tex” Gill in Rub & Tug from director Rupert Sanders. The reports sparked outrage from the LGBTQ community, specifically among trans actors who have long voiced their frustrations over representation in the industry. According to stars like Jen Richards (HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher) and Trace Lysette (Hustlers), trans actors still struggle to land roles in Hollywood, whereas cis, straight actors like Jeffrey Tambor (Amazon’s Transparent), Felicity Huffman (Transamerica), and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club) are not only cast in trans parts, but receive awards for playing them.
When Johansson’s initial statement on the matter was released, it only exacerbated the situation. “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment,” she said through a rep.
“I wasn’t totally aware of how the trans community felt about those three actors playing — and how they felt in general about cis actors playing — transgender people,” Johansson continued in her response to VF. “I wasn’t aware of that conversation — I was uneducated. So I learned a lot through that process. I misjudged that…. It was a hard time. It was like a whirlwind. I felt terribly about it. To feel like you’re kind of tone-deaf to something is not a good feeling.”
At the time, Johansson inevitably dropped out of the role and issued a much more thoughtful reply. She said, in part, “Our cultural understanding of transgender people continues to advance, and I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement about my casting and realize it was insensitive. I have great admiration and love for the trans community and am grateful that the conversation regarding inclusivity in Hollywood continues.” But, the moment still seems to linger in our periphery.
Quotes from an interview she gave for As If magazine circulated earlier this year. She had said, as an actress, she “should be allowed to play any person, or any tree, or any animal because that is my job and the requirements of my job.” As old feelings began resurfacing, she told EW through a rep that those comments were “edited for click bait” and “widely taken out of context.”
Johansson faced a similar backlash from the public over 2017’s Ghost in the Shell, for which she played a character who’s Japanese in the source material. This year, she was also criticized for her public support of director Woody Allen, including from Dylan Farrow, Allen’s adopted daughter who accused him of sexual abuse when she was a child. Allen has repeatedly denied Farrow’s claims.
Regarding Allen, Johansson told VF, “I do understand how that is triggering for some people. But just because I believe my friend does not mean that I don’t support women, believe women. I think you have to take it on a case-by-case basis. You can’t have this blanket statement — I don’t believe that. But that’s my personal belief. That’s how I feel.” Ultimately, she believes it would be more “productive” to continue the conversation “personally with the people involved and not through statements to Vanity Fair.“
Speaking generally about controversies around comments she’s made in the past, Johansson said, “I’m not a politician, and I can’t lie about the way I feel about things. I don’t have that. It’s just not a part of my personality. I don’t want to have to edit myself, or temper what I think or say. I can’t live that way. It’s just not me. And also I think that when you have that kind of integrity, it’s going to probably rub people, some people, the wrong way. And that’s kind of par for the course, I guess.”
Read the full interview with Johansson in Vanity Fair.