Among those in attendance to pay tribute to the two-time Oscar nominee was Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, who praised her for her “talent,” “vision”, intelligence and savvy, both as an actress and a producer, also teasing a “top secret Marvel Studios project” on which the studio is reteaming with the actress, which he said has nothing to do with her Black Widow character, Natasha Romanoff. Feige noted that Johansson, who became the first Marvel actor to exec produce one of the studio’s movies with Black Widow, will also serve on the upcoming project as a producer.
“Scarlett has lent her talent and star power to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for over a decade. That she’s chosen to play a key part in it for so many years, I am extremely grateful for,” the MCU producer said. “Working with [her] has truly been one of the most memorable and rewarding collaborations of my career.”
(Not spoken of tonight by Feige or anyone else was the lawsuit that Johansson filed against Disney back in July, surrounding the release of Black Widow, which makes the announcement of her latest team-up with Marvel all the more noteworthy. Johansson alleged in her suit that Disney breached her contract by releasing the film on Disney+ at the same time it was released in theaters. While The Walt Disney Co. initially released a statement saying that there was “no merit whatsoever” to Johansson’s filing, sparking a very public war of words with the actress and her representatives, it ultimately settled with her for more than $40 million, according to our sources.)
Additional speakers paying tribute to Johansson tonight included filmmaker Jon Favreau (who worked with her on the films Iron Man 2, Chef and The Jungle Book), her Jojo Rabbit co-star Thomasin McKenzie, late night’s Andy Richter, actress Abbie Cornish, Jamie Lee Curtis, her twin brother Hunter Johansson, and her fellow MCU stars, Sam Rockwell, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Renner.
Favreau praised his “good friend” Johansson, noting that “she’s smart and she’s funny” and “she was familiar” to him from the very beginning, given their shared East Coast roots. He also talked about the concept of “repeat business,” noting that there’s a good reason the same people have ended up working with her over and over again. “Everybody who works with Scarlett wants to work with Scarlett,” the director observed. “She’s dedicated, and she always lets passion dictate what she does next.” Favreau added that while the American Cinematheque Award is a great honor, “the highest honor you could really get is longevity in your career.” He noted that this is something Johansson has already achieved, having worked as an actress since she was a child, adding that she will continue to endure in the industry because she has been “brave, flexible, and smart enough” to pivot consistently, throughout her career.
McKenzie called Johansson “a shining example of how to act,” whose “extraordinary talent,” is “underpinned by the generosity, inclusive attitude and strength she brings to her work.” She also spoke to the “maternal presence” Johansson brought to Jojo Rabbit and to her own character, Elsa, which was “perfect for our movie,” and to the way in which Johansson reached out to those around her on set. “In a movie that was always so much about hiding away,” the actress said, “I noticed Scarlett never did.”
Richter joked that “none of this would be happening if it weren’t for me,” claiming in jest that “Scarlett owes her career to me.” He then admitted that late-night icon Conan O’Brien probably played a part in her success, given that he gave the actress her first TV role. This was in a Late Night with Conan O’Brien sketch involving a spelling bee winner played by Johansson, who consistently misspells the words given to her by the host, much to Richter’s chagrin. “The talent was obvious even then—and Scarlett was great, too,” Richter deadpanned after showing a clip from the episode, featuring the actress at age seven. “But quite seriously, it really is a thrill and an honor to be here tonight, and to have played a small part in the beginning of an amazing career.”
Cornish referenced a conversation she’d once had with Johansson about refrigerators, and whether she likes to keep hers empty or full. (Naturally, Johansson likes hers well stocked up.)
“Just like her fridge, [Scarlett] is full. There’s nothing Scarlett can’t do,” said Cornish. “So, I guess there is a guarantee here. Whenever you watch a Scarlett Johansson movie, whatever you want out of it, you’re going to get it. Because Scarlett’s fridge is always full.”
Curtis showed up wearing the outfit she donned as Trading Places‘ Inga from Sweden, noting that while she has much in common with Johansson—both are half Jewish mothers of two who act, with “low, husky type voices”—and have previously texted and exchanged gifts, she’s never met the honoree in person. “I hope you don’t mind if I take this very public opportunity to introduce myself to her here in front of all of you,” Curtis said, “so if you think that’s weird, f**k you!” Curtis then declared Johansson to be her “new best friend.”
Up next was Hunter Johansson, founder of the nonprofit Solar Responders, who spoke to his sister’s “unwavering support for nonprofits,” and her “fearless advocacy for women’s empowerment and numerous social causes.”
“I consider Scarlett my own personal inspiration,” said the younger Johansson. “I’m the luckiest brother in the world.”
Then, there was Renner, who shared that he “looked up to Scarlett from afar, way before we ever met,” expressing his gratitude for finding the opportunity to work with the “beautiful and powerful individual” on numerous Marvel films.
Rockwell, Evans, Jackson and Downey chimed in via video messages, with Rockwell addressing the damage Johansson inflicted on him in fight scenes past. “My balls have stopped bleeding since Jojo Rabbit… I can’t have any children, of course. But, hey, Who needs kids?” the actor joked. “Sorry I couldn’t be there, but my psychiatrist said it might trigger a regression.”
Evans noted that he and Johansson did their first movie together “20 years ago” and have made eight more since, sharing that he thinks of her as an older sister not only because of her wisdom, but also because “there’s just no one else in the world I would rather annoy.”
Jackson noted that Johansson’s honors to date constitute “not even a smidgeon” of how she’ll be honored for the rest of her life. Downey Jr., meanwhile, feigned disinterest in the pre-taped tribute to someone off camera (“This is Hollywood. We live to f**king congratulate ourselves”) before sharing a sincere message about Johansson’s ability to overcome all obstacles in her path.
In her acceptance speech, Johansson thanked the night’s speakers for “taking the time to make me feel very shy and embarrassed,” calling the American Cinematheque tribute “one of the highlights” of her career. She then reflected on the castmates and crew members who have supported her throughout her journey, also taking time to thank her agents, her producing partners and business partners, her “long-suffering publicist,” her brothers Hunter and Adrian, and her “beautiful husband,” SNL‘s Colin Jost, who “makes the whole country laugh every Saturday night and fills our house with laughter 365 days a year.”
Johansson later paid tribute to her mother, Melanie Sloan, who exposed her to films from a very young age, thereby igniting her passion for storytelling. “She showed my siblings and I many age-inappropriate films like Silence of the Lambs,” Johansson said with a smile. “I still remember seeing Schindler’s List in the theater when I was 9. I was literally haunted by the little girl in the red coat.”
Johansson called her mother her “own private American Cinematheque,” stating that as her career has gone on, she’s only grown more convinced that she’s doing the work she was meant to do—”having a visceral emotional reaction in a make-believe world.”
She went on to share that she’d spoken with her therapist about the American Cinematheque honor, which led her to reflect on what her contribution to film has been. “I think I allow people to connect to themselves. People are able to feel things [watching films] that people don’t allow themselves to feel in real life,” she said. “Isn’t that funny, how we allow ourselves to be the most vulnerable in the dark with complete strangers?”
Johansson expressed the belief that storytelling has “an enormous impact on our emotional wellbeing,” also promoting empathy for others by allowing the viewer to see through their eyes. She then thanked the American Cinematheque for “making sure curiosity and celebration around filmmaking and filmgoing stays alive.”
She added that receiving tonight’s award has been “an incredible gift,” allowing her to pause and take stock of where she is in her life and career, “before continuing to gratefully go down the path that chose me 30 years ago.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to spend this evening together,” she said in closing.
Johansson is in good company, as far as the American Cinematheque is concerned, joining a list of honorees going back to 1986, which includes Spike Lee, Charlize Theron, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Ridley Scott, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Samuel L. Jackson, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Al Pacino, Steve Martin, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, Jodie Foster, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Rob Reiner, Michael Douglas, Sean Connery, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Robin Williams, Bette Midler and Eddie Murphy.
The evening’s other prize was the inaugural Power of Cinema Award, celebrating companies that embrace storytelling as a means of driving social change. That honor went to Participant, with Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom McCarthy presenting.
McCarthy noted that he first worked with the company as an actor in George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck, then going on to work with them on the acclaimed films The Visitor, Spotlight and Stillwater. “Our collaboration has been what every filmmaker would hope for in partnership with a studio. They are fiercely committed to their mission to inspire through storytelling,” said the director. “Participant is fearless in the issues and topics they are willing tackle, consistently challenging audiences to lean forward and engage with their films, even after the credits roll, creating a seamless blend between art and activism.”
Accepting the award on behalf of Participant was CEO David Linde, who spoke to his passion for using film as a force for good. “Stories matter more than ever because community is more important than ever,” said Linde. “It’s that shared experience that gives us the ability to see into and empathize with the lives of others.”
Linde dedicated the award to the late Diane Weyermann, the decorated producer who served as Participant’s Chief Content Officer before passing away in October. He called her one of the company’s “anchors,” saluting her “passion for vital and challenging stories” and her “keen ability to approach every project with care and compassion.”
The American Cinematheque Awards are an annual fundraiser for the non-profit organization that continues its year-round programming at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, Los Feliz 3 Theatre in Los Feliz, and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The latter venue is set for a grand reopening next year.
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