Scarlett Johansson Talks Drawing on Personal Experiences for 'Marriage Story'

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center
Noah Baumbach, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Netflix's Scott Stuber at the 'Marriage Story' NYFF premiere

Laura Dern spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the ways in which her divorce lawyer role and her 'Big Little Lies' character, Renata Klein, are similar (or not).

Scarlett Johansson has shared that she was going through her own divorce when she first met with Noah Baumbach to talk about her role in what would become his Netflix movie Marriage Story, about a divorcing couple whose relationship is illuminated through its dissolution.

But that's not the only way in which the actress' personal experience is connected to her role as Nicole, one half of the separating couple.

"By the time we had made the film, I was in a more settled place. But obviously I had my own fresh perspective on the story," Johansson told The Hollywood Reporter at Marriage Story's New York Film Festival premiere on Friday night. "When Noah first came to me, he hadn't written the script yet, but it was clear that we would be kind of collaborating and work together. He wanted to kind of build this character out of something that came from a real place and so we talked a lot about, not just our experience with divorce, but we talked a lot about all kinds of intimate relationships. We talked a lot about our families, our own parents. We talked a lot about our past relationships. Nicole is a sum of all of those parts. She's an amalgamation of all of those things."

The script that Baumbach wound up with for the film he wrote, directed and produced was effusively praised by the film's star-studded cast when they spoke with THR ahead of the centerpiece screening, with Laura Dern, who plays a high-powered divorce attorney, calling the screenplay "flawless," and revealing that so many of the details about her character, "down to how [she] kicks her heels off," were on the page. But she did talk to real-life divorce lawyers in L.A., who she said "very generously … opened their experience to us," joining Baumbach and other members of the cast in the research process for the film.

"He did a lot of research with judges and couples, married couples, people going through a divorce, custody cases, mediators and myself and Adam and Scarlett got to go on that ride with him because he started talking to us as he started thinking about the script and that was an amazing collaboration and all part of the research journey," Dern told THR.

While Dern, like other members of the cast, has been praised for her performance in the film, some people have seen similarities between her role as Nora Fanshaw and her Big Little Lies character Renata Klein.

But to Dern the two are quite dissimilar.

"This character is the opposite of unleashed," Dern told THR. "She will never lose her cool. She will always be flawless. She will never play her hand. She will win, and Renata can't help herself. She never is in control. In fact, she so desperately wants to be. So they feel so different. Other than that they're so high-powered in their professions, I feel them as such different creatures. And they both have great fashion but very different kinds. One's all about using her body to win and one's about showing that she's a corporate CEO — but both so fun."

Ray Liotta, who plays another divorce lawyer, did his own personal research.

"A really good friend of mine from high school is a lawyer, so I talk to him a lot and over the years he always tells me about his cases and how complicated they can be and the homework that he has to do," Liotta said. "The main thing that you want to do is you just want to win for your client. The script was written so well. And Noah did his homework and I talked to lawyers and I've done a lot of research over the years and kind of understood what he wanted. The bottom line is you want your client to win and you want to win personally as a lawyer."

The film is Baumbach's second with Netflix, but unlike his first collaboration with the streamer, Meyerowitz Stories, Marriage Story is getting a month-long theatrical run before arriving on the streaming service. While both Baumbach and producer David Heyman urged people to see the film in theaters, they were glad that Netflix was giving consumers a choice.

"I'm a filmmaker who loves the theatrical experience, but I think [Netflix has] adjusted in many ways, and the industry is changing," Baumbach said. "We're going to have a great theatrical run; it'll continue in theaters after it's on Netflix, so I feel like it gives people choice, which is fantastic."

Heyman indicated that the film might be seen by a wider audience both because of Netflix's streaming service and their enthusiastic support.

"They have given this a level of support that we would never get anywhere else for a film like this. That means our film will be seen by many, many more people. On the streaming service but also in theaters," Heyman said.

And they were both enthusiastic about the somewhat controversial distributor. Baumbach told THR on the red carpet that he thinks Netflix is "the best place to make movies right now."

And Heyman, who has produced a number of big-budget films for Warner Bros., including the Harry Potter movies, admitted, "It's harder and harder to get films like [Marriage Story] made. It's all about IP and brands and things like that, but Netflix believed."

He added, "We could not have asked for better partners for this. The creativity in the marketing materials, the support in the process of making it, it's been amazing. I'm a convert, as you can hear. I wasn't sure going in. But I'm a believer."

In addition to Johannson, Dern and Liotta, Marriage Story features memorable performances from Adam Driver and veteran actor Alan Alda, among others.

Unsurprisingly, Alda said the script was what brought him on board the film, calling the writing "beautiful" and "first class."

"When I see something this good, I want to be part of it," he said. "And there was this bonus of being able to work with these brilliant actors, so it was truly perfect. And Noah on the set is so kind and calm as a director and has control of everything going on, but never makes you feel like you have to fit a square peg into a round hole."

And a little over a year after going public with his Parkinson's diagnosis, Alda shared an update on his condition.

"I'm doing great. I work out; I do everything can I do. You can hold it off, so I'm happy I'm doing great," he said.

Marriage Story hits theaters on Nov. 6 before arriving on Netflix on Dec. 6.