Scarlett Johansson as a predatory alien in Scotland in Under The Skin got a lukewarm reception at the Venice Film Festival where the film premiered on Tuesday.
Booing followed the customary applause after a press screening of Under The Skin, a comeback for British director Jonathan Glazer, known for the 2004 picture Birth.
Described as “an undeniably ambitious but ultimately torpid and silly tale of an alien on the prowl” by trade magazine Variety, Under The Skin is one of 20 new films in competition for a prestigious Golden Lion at the 70th annual festival.
Not all reviews of the film were negative, however, with British broadsheet The Telegraph calling it “astonishing”, adding the film “will leave you at once entranced and terrified”.
Speaking to Reuters Television the day after the film’s world premiere Johansson said the film was always going to be polarising.
She, too, had needed a few weeks to get the grasp of her character and the story, Johansson said.
“It was an interesting challenge and it kind of found itself as we took a couple of weeks to kind of understand what, okay, this is my intention, this is going to be, you know, I kind of carved something, carved a performance out of the experience,” she said.
“You know but the film I think, it is very polarising and you know, I don’t think, as much as we hope that people enjoy the film, I think that, particularly Jonathan, expects this film to go on many different types of reactions because it is sort of an experience more than anything else to watch it,” she said.
For Under The Skin Johansson as the alien Laura was filmed in real-life settings, including a shopping centre and a street in a drizzly Scottish town, surrounded by members of the public.
Laura drives around in a white van, stopping to chat coyly with young men in a cut-glass English accent.
Her mysterious beauty prompts one of the men she meets to comment, in a strong Scottish accent, that she reverses the trope of the creepy male motorist picking up female hitchhikers.
Johansson spends much of the film in the nude or in her underwear.
“You know, I’m not a nudist by nature. I think like everybody I have a lot of feelings of self-consciousness but you know, I couldn’t be self-conscious, I think, I had to just let all of that kind of judgements of my own self settle and sort of fade away and it was challenging. But I think with a partner like Jonathan it really helped because I knew that he was watching my performance and that’s what he was really looking for as opposed to gratuitous nudity or something like that which hopefully the audience sees the intention behind the movie,” she said.
Johansson said she had seen the film for the first time on Tuesday when it premiered in Venice and watching it together with the audience had left her feeling exposed.
“Well, it was horrible because I had this awful chair that was, you know, there was nobody in front of me, I was on a kind of a mezzanine or something and not only did I feel vulnerable watching the movie but I was just sitting there like this kind of sitting duck watching all over the audience and I could see people kind of..their different reactions. It was strange. I think that’s the last time I’ll watch this movie with an audience, it’s too naked literally and also figuratively of myself,” she said.
In an interview in the October issue of Harpers Bazaar, Johansson reportedly hints at being interested in getting into politics.
The Hollywood star who started acting at a young age said she did not want to limit herself and had always been attracted to opportunities to be a public advocate.
“I think, like I said in the interview I try not to rule out possibilities, I’m 28 years old, I have many interests and I certainly, you know, I think the opportunity to be a public advocate has always been something that’s attractive to me, how that, which path that interest leads me down…it can take many turns so you know I would never limit my, the possibilities of that, no, you know,” she said.
Under The Skin will also screen at the Toronto International Film Festival which kicks off on Thursday.