NEW YORK -- In ads promoting the new Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, leading lady Scarlett Johansson is pictured reclining, her half-closed eyes and pouty lips a study in languorous carnality.
Ifyou've been staring back, thinking less-than-pure thoughts, beforewarned: Sex is not the first thing on this actress' mind - or, asshe sees it, on her character's.
Few roles are as identified with lust as Cat'sMaggie, a vital Southern belle frustrated by her alcoholic husband'sseeming immunity to her charms. But as Johansson, 28, discusses the playat a restaurant near the Richard Rodgers Theatre - where Cat is in previews for a Jan. 17 opening - she insists that Maggie "has been oversexualized" in the past.
"Ithink it's best to ignore (Maggie)'s sexuality, because it's alreadythere in the play," she says. "I mean, she's in the Mississippi Delta,with all this humidity, and she's young and wearing a slip."
ForJohansson, Maggie's defining quality is rather "her determination. Shehas this drive in her, this life force, that is at times almostbiblical. I don't think about Maggie as coming from her loins. I thinkof her as coming from her gut."
The new Cat marksJohansson's first return to the stage since her Broadway debut in a 2010revival of another mid-20th century American classic, Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge.Her portrayal of an orphaned teenager who becomes her uncle's obsessionearned Johansson wide critical acclaim, as well as a Tony Award.
"Itwas always my dream to be onstage," she says. "As a kid, I auditionedfor theater. I was out there pounding the pavement." Back in 1993, shelanded a role in an off-Broadway production, Sophistry, starring Ethan Hawke - "I had, like, one line" - but films soon beckoned.
After Bridge'ssuccess, though, Johansson immediately started considering anotherstage outing. "I looked at some new plays and some classics, and thenonce while daydreaming,I remembered Cat, and I re-read it, and was petrified."
DirectorRob Ashford "also was circling the play, so we met to talk about it. Weboth had the same feeling about it, that it seemed very modern. OtherWilliams plays I'd either done readings of or just read felt a littlehaunted or cobwebby; but this one felt fresh, timeless. It's really aplay about family, about expectation and disappointment, truth andmendacity. Those are issues and themes we can all relate to."
Predictably,Johansson doesn't elaborate with any personal details. Though thefamously private star has been linked with several men since divorcingRyan Reynolds last year, her relationship status "isn't terriblyimportant," she demurs. "I mean, it is for me, but it isn't for anybodyelse. It's natural that people are curious, and they'll have their ownideas about who you're dating whether you're dating them or not. I usedto be much more concerned about setting the story straight. Now I don'tcare as much."
To hear her tell it, Johansson is too absorbed withher current gig to enjoy much of a social life these days. "The pastcouple of weeks, people keep saying to me, 'What's going on? You seempreoccupied.' I'm at the point where I'm dreaming the lines. I'll wakeup with those words in my head. It's so strange when that happens,though any actor will tell you that it does."
She's not even thinking that far ahead career-wise, Johansson insists. Future film endeavors include another Captain America movie, "so I'll be bringing back the Black Widow. Then I don't know what I'll do. It'll be something excruciating, I'm sure."
Johanssonwouldn't have it any other way. "It's nice to have work that's hard.Why would you, as an actor, want to do anything easy? That's boring."