Under The Skin might be one of the most divisive films of Scarlett Johansson‘s career — but it is also one of her best movies, too. Directed by Jonathan Glazer, Under The Skin stars Johansson as an extraterrestrial being who, disguised as a human female, lures men into her van to banish them to another dimension, where they will end up devoured.
Because of the 2013 movie’s ability to balance unique storytelling and viscerally disturbing moments, many critics dubbed Under The Skin as one of the best science fiction movies of the year. In fact, the thriller movie even ranked on numerous ‘best movie of the decade’ lists.
But despite its widespread critical acclaim — it holds an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for two Oscars — Under The Skin’s path to success wasn’t easy. After one of its first screenings at the Venice Film Festival, for example, the audience was so shocked by the film that they ended up booing it. And in an interview with The Guardian, Venice Film Festival’s Alberto Barbera recalled Johansson being troubled by this audience reception.
“It was one of the worst screenings I’ve attended; it was the only time the audience booed a film,” he said. “Scarlett was almost in tears. I tried to say to her: ‘Don’t worry, in time the film will be recognised.’”
It’s no surprise Johansson felt so strongly about the film. In her own interview with The Guardian, she shared how she became “part of the creative process” for the film, and spent several years corresponding with director Glazer about how they could bring this film to life.
“I heard Jonathan was making a film and originally it was a very different story,” she recalled. “But I met him, and it was very clear that he was struggling to figure out what he was doing with it, and what had attracted him to it. It wasn’t his passion project but there was something in the idea of having a character that was an alien that could give him the freedom to be completely observant without any judgment. I think we were both interested in that.”
She continued, “I thought it would be incredibly challenging to play a character that’s free of judgment, that has no relationship to any emotion I could relate to.And for me, at this point, I think it much more interesting for me to look at something and know that I can play it, but not know how, rather than to look at something and go, ‘Ah, I can do that.’ And then just do it.”
For more on Johanssen, see where Black Widow ranks in our list of the best MCU characters. Or, see Black Widow’s story in its entirety with our guide on how to watch all the Marvel movies in order. You can also see what we thought of her role in Wes Anderson’s new movie with our Asteroid City review.