The artistic director of the Venice International Film Festival is recalling a time 10 years ago when he had to console actor Scarlett Johansson after one of her films drew audible scorn from viewers.
In an interview with The Guardian to mark the start of the 2023 festival this week, the event’s artistic director, Alberto Barbera, said the world premiere of Jonathan Glazer’s “Under the Skin,” starring Johansson, was “one of the worst screenings I’ve attended.”
“It was the only time the audience booed a film,” he explained. “Scarlett was almost in tears.”
Despite the less-than-enthusiastic reception, Barbera still had confidence in “Under the Skin” ― a point that he said he attempted to relay to a visibly emotional Johansson.
“I tried to say to her: ‘Don’t worry, in time the film will be recognized.’ And that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “It’s now a cult movie.”
Adapted from Michel Faber’s science-fiction novel of the same name, “Under the Skin” follows an alien entity (played by Johansson) who manifests as a beautiful young woman while on earth, where she seeks out men as unsuspecting prey.
Actor Scarlett Johansson and "Under the Skin" director Jonathan Glazer in 2013.
Though “Under the Skin” was a commercial failure, reviews of the movie were mostly positive. “The result is an amazement, a film of beauty and shocking gravity,” Rolling Stone wrote, while IndieWire praised Johansson’s “strangely erotic, unnerving performance.”
In a separate interview with The Guardian published in 2014, Johansson described the Venice screening of “Under the Skin” as having been a “very strange” experience.
“When the lights came up… there was this sound of people cheering and booing at the same time, but with equal gusto,” she said. “I didn’t know how to react to it. I think I was just… I wouldn’t say disturbed but I was sort of shocked.”
As it turns out, that may have been the exact audience response that Glazer ― who also directed “The Zone of Interest,” due out in December ― had anticipated when he made the film.
“I looked over at Jonathan and he was filled with glee,” she said. “Absolutely thrilled.”
Johannson, who returns to the big screen next month in “North Star,” explained that she has come to appreciate it when viewers have a “visceral response” to her work, even if it’s negative.
“I would way rather fail in someone’s eyes than be that sort of tepid,” she said in the 2014 interview. “That’s the worst.”