Earth's New First Woman
With such strong, unique female characters as
La Femme Nikita's titular character, Mathilda in
The Professional and Leeloo in The Fifth Element,
Besson has created some of the most ruthless,
toughest female action heroes in modern film. To
portray the lead in his latest film, he needed to find
an actress who could be believable as extremely
vulnerable, as well as super-powered, when her
exposure to an illicit substance inadvertently makes
her acquire incredible skills.
Besson-Silla describes the unlikely heroine of
this story: "Lucy is an average girl who's having
fun with her friends in Asia, and there's a lot of
partying going on. She's discovering life, but
she's going to discover it the hard way...and go
much further than she would ever expect."
For the role, Besson and his producer reached out
to Scarlett Johansson, who has starred in intimate
films such as Lost in Translation and Her, as well
as action blockbusters including Iron Man 2, The
Avengers and, most recently, Captain America: The
Winter Soldier. Besson was impressed by the actress'
discipline. He explains that she was precise and
professional from the get-go: "When we first met,
Scarlett had read the script and I enjoyed the way she
talked about it. She was excited for the right reason,
which was the story. At that moment, it was a done
deal for me. She was definitely the one."
Johansson explains that one of her interests in
portraying Lucy is based on the fact that the character
"is in a transient phase in her life when we find her.
She's figuring out who she is, and she's feeling
like she should probably get her life on track." The
actress was not only attracted to the material, but to
Besson's vision. She notes: "The film poses some
complex existential questions. It would have been
hard to imagine how the script has evolved because
so much of that is Luc's vision. Anything I could
imagine the film to look like, just from reading the
descriptions in the script, pales in comparison to
the actual life that Luc breathed into this project."
Johansson acknowledges that even though she
was initially disoriented by the screenplay's
nonlinear structure, she knew that
she could trust the director. Quite
familiar with Besson's work, she
cast aside caution and signed on to
the film. "This is actually what drew
me to this project," she insists. "I
had to trust Luc's vision. I remember
meeting him and he said, 'You have
to trust that I know what this is about
because it can be vague at times. But if
you see what I'm seeing, you'll believe
in it.' So, I took a leap of faith. He's a
formidable guy who knows what he
sees in his mind and wants that vision
to be executed perfectly."
Everyone involved in the production
acknowledges that Lucy was a highly demanding
role. Still, Johansson went beyond everyone's
expectations. Commends Besson-Silla: "It was all
the more difficult, as Lucy starts off as a plain girl
and turns into, as it were, a superhero. She goes
through so much. Scarlett was able to take that
With such a clear vision of his protagonist, Besson
was able to devise a method to help his leading lady
get in character. He explains: "We created something
very funny, which Scarlett had on her wall, to allow her
to understand what reactions I wanted from her when
I asked her to play, say, 25 percent, or 50 percent, or
70 percent of her brainpower.
"For every 10 percent, we charted out what
you could do with that percentage-your level of
knowledge and possibilities," Besson continues. "It
was a very good guide. Every morning she'd look
at the chart to see which girl she had to play. If
you look at the Lucy at the beginning and the Lucy
at the end, they have little in common. When we
arrived on set, Scarlett was exceptional. You can
ask for whatever you want and she says, 'Okay.'
She's always willing to try."
The actress admits that the most challenging
part was to portray Lucy as a truly relatable
character, despite the psychological and physical
changes that she's experiencing: "As the drug
kicks in, Lucy gradually loses the ability to
empathize and to feel pain. Even though she
can delve deeply into someone's memory and
eventually control him physically, she doesn't
have any opinion. She loses her preconceived
ideas or judgment about the other person. It was
difficult to avoid making my performance flat
and monotonous. You have to see the humanity
behind her circumstances."
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