Audiences got the first glimpse of Scarlett Johansson’s spooky rendition of Kaa, the imperious snake from The Jungle Book last week. Johansson is on top form as the hissing, soothsaying killer. However, the consummate hunter lost a major battle, recently, too. Grégoire Delacourt’s French novel La Première Chose Qu’on Regarde (The First Thing You See) is due out in English later this month. The novel’s protagonist, a young French mechanic called Arthur Dreyfuss, has an affair with a woman who appears to be Johansson herself. As readers discover in succeeding chapters, the woman is a lookalike. The novel contains several steamy passages that the Hollywood star took exception to.
“Scarlett Johansson looked exhausted. Her hair, somewhere in between two colours, was at war with itself, tumbling loose, flowing, as if in slow motion. Her luscious mouth had lost its usual gloss. There were gloomy shadows beneath her eyes where her mascara had smudged, like charcoal. And unfortunately for Arthur Dreyfuss, she was wearing a baggy sweater. A sweater like a sack that did no justice to the actress’s curves, which everyone knew were bewitching, spellbinding.”
Johansson sued Delacourt and the publishers of the novel (J-C Lattès), claiming defamation and also stating that the novel amounted to a “violation and fraudulent and illegal exploitation of her name, her reputation and her image”. She demanded €50,000 in damages and sought to block translations of the book and the planned film adaptation. However, a Paris court found that while her defamation claims were justified (the woman has two affairs that Johansson never had in real life), the demand that the book not be translated or filmed was not. The passages about the affairs have now been jettisoned (and Johansson has been paid €5,000) and the novel is ready to fly off the shelves; the original was a bestseller in France, after all.
Given Hollywood’s recent propensity for looking inwards, Johansson’s touchiness is a little strange and anachronistic. Neil Patrick Harris has played a caricatured version of himself in the Harold and Kumar films so many times that differentiating reel from real is getting tougher by the day.
Given Hollywood’s recent propensity for looking inwards, Johansson’s touchiness is a little strange and anachronistic. Neil Patrick Harris has played a caricatured version of himself in the Harold and Kumar films so many times that differentiating reel from real is getting tougher by the day. The entire premise of the show Entourage depends upon this same duality. Shows like Louie have taken this idea to a whole new level: not only is this metafictional awareness referenced to, its effects are actively documented within the show itself, when we see actual footage of Louis C.K. performing a stand-up routine about the perils of being a single father.
Of course, this is not to say that things cannot get a little weird. James Franco’s short story about not having sex with Lindsay Lohan is the perfect example of this: the story is really an essay-length denial on Franco’s part. His name appeared on Lohan’s leaked “sex list” that contained the names of Hollywood biggies she has slept with and since then, Franco has used every fictional and journalistic avenue to deny the same. Oh, and he has now moved on to penning a book featuring “real and imaginary conversations” with Lana Del Rey.
The First Thing You See should be seen as a pioneer of sorts, an attempt to break down the ham-handed conceits of literary fiction and bring it closer to real-world celebrity culture, the cesspool that we all built lovingly. And who knows, by the time the dust settles down, Johansson might consider playing not-herself in the movie? Ah, the beauty of wishful dreams….