The pair discuss Woody Allen, luck, and shooting sex scenes in the rain

Match Point is Woody Allen's best film in ten years. It is a dark and insidious departure from his usually light-hearted tone. Allen bases his premise on luck, weaving Scarlett Johansson and Jonathon Rhys-Meyers into an adulterous web. The film is certainly the most explicit role yet for Scarlett. She's flaunted with more adult themes, but really takes it to another level with this performance. She re-teams with Allen in a comedy called ‘Scoop' next year. Jonathan will get his biggest audience next summer in a supporting role to Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3.

This is your first femme fatale role. Were you looking to play more adult, sex-tinged characters?

Scarlett Johansson: I don't know that I'm playing a femme fatale. I think that my character is confident and sexy, but I don't really think the character is a femme fatale. I don't think she goes into this relationship wanting to ruin Jonathan's life or his marriage. It becomes that way just purely out of desperation, and he's lying to her.

You must have had an effect on Woody Allen. You're one of the few actors who have worked with him on two movies in a row.

Scarlett Johansson: Woody and I have a playful relationship. I think he wanted to do a comedy and so he wrote a comedy (Scoop) for us. We went back to London all over again, but this time I had to watch him get his nose powdered. I felt it was a real honor for me and a lot of fun. It's nice to know that somebody likes you as much as you like them.

Last year we interviewed Woody for ‘Melinda and Melinda', he was really praising you and it's very rare that he gives so much praise. Being that his direction on set is so quiet, how did he tell you that he was happy with your work?

Scarlett Johansson: I think it was just sort of in between set-ups. We're kind of a good duo in that way—I can set him up and he's just a goofball. And that was kind of how it went about. It was very casual, I left the project and said, "I'll be writing you and sending you letters" and before we knew it, it was time to shoot again.

Jon, were you surprised when you read the script and got to the third act?

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I'm never surprised when people say we're going there. I kind of half expect it. I had never read the script before he [Woody Allen] offered it to me. I just accepted. For any young actor to be in a Woody Allen film, you're just going to do it regardless of what it is. So when I opened the script, I was like, "I get 4 or 5 good scenes, I'll be sore at it and I'll be gold." And then I had to look through the script and it started to dawn on me how much work I had to do in this. I find the reaction I get from my peers when I said I've played the lead role in a Woody Allen film, is a mixture of shock and jealousy. I really enjoyed doing it but I couldn't put Woody on that pedestal, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to work with him. I had to equalize myself in a way to work with him.

Scarlett, were you surprised by the story's dark turn?

Scarlett Johansson: Yeah, I was really shocked actually. I couldn't believe that it would come to that. You never get to see any playback or monitors. One time Woody caught me peeking a glance at a monitor and he went apeshit. I thought, ‘god, I hope it's going to work', that it's not so unbelievable. I think as an audience member you watch the film and you become so crazy at what Jonathan's character does.

Do you think that adds a different element to the movie, the shocking twist?

Scarlett Johansson: It makes the story what it is. We would probably not be sitting here promoting this, because it would just be another film.

Woody has a very distinctive New York voice, but in this film he's writing for Irish and English characters. Did you have freedom on the set to change the dialogue to make it more authentic?

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: Of course, Woody is a very intelligent man and he knows that if something doesn't sound right to my voice, I can change it anytime. This is what's really nice about an auteur of his quality. Even though he's written the script and he's taken care in writing it, if it doesn't feel natural, he has no compulsion in changing it. There were a few things, but not that many. I grew up watching American television. Americans are internationalisms to us and we grew up with the same TV that you did. So as for changing the dialogue, the character's not Irish in the script, he's only Irish because I'm Irish. And Woody said, "hey, do you want to make him Irish?" and I said "why not!" Which was kind of funny to me because there are no Irish tennis players [laughs]. It was sort of like my little in-joke.

What do you both think of the film's premise of luck? You two have certainly been more lucky than most.

Scarlett Johansson: I'm trying to think how Woody told me to answer this question. [laughs]. I struggle with that, the idea of luck and destiny. One of the lines from the film is ‘it's scary to think how much luck can play in one's future and scary to think that everything is out of your hands.' But you feel like you make these solid choices and they affect the way you are living, and in the end, can I say that I feel like a very lucky person? Yeah, I feel damn lucky. I've got a job that's a one in a million. I'm able to do something I love and get paid to do it. I don't know many people that are able to say that. But when I look at it, when I was a little girl singing and dancing and wanting to be an actress, I feel I am where I always wanted to be. So it feels like I fulfilled my own destiny. What does the movie have to say about it? I guess some of the characters are lucky—I happen to be pretty unlucky.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: The question of luck in the film, I think luck has an awful lot to do with it, both good and bad. But for Chris's character, I believe that luck is opportunity meeting preparation. You can see him prepare himself for social climbing the whole time. He's in his room, he's reading Dostoevsky, he's making all the right moves, he accepts the invitation to the opera...this is all preparation for him to meet this opportunity. The opportunity comes in the very beautiful form of Chloe [Emily Mortimer]. Does he love her? Yes, he does. Who wouldn't? She's beautiful, kind, warm, intelligent. She's very wealthy which makes her a very attractive sort to a young Irishman. And so he embraces this thing—this is the one quality that Chris has: he's able to recognize an opportunity when it's staring him in the face. Not many people are, and this is a theme that goes throughout the film. When we live our lives everyday, we're met by opportunities, and most of us don't even recognize them. You've always heard, ‘have you ever seen a pretty girl or a handsome man on a train and never spoken to them?' and afterwards you feel, ‘well, what if I'd actually said ‘hello'? Could my life be so different?' Well, Chris is that person who says ‘hello', and tries to take it.

He makes an aggressive play...

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: Yeah, he does. It's a game and he knows how to play the game. A smile from an attractive woman at a bar very rarely ends up in any sort of sexual encounter. But a man is a fool not to push the suggestion as far as it will go, and he's that man.

You two have quite a few very amorous scenes in the film. Woody is known for giving free reign to actors. How does he shoot that scene, like the one where you're tussling around in the weeds in the rain?

Scarlett Johansson: It was pretty miserable actually.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: Thanks very much.

Scarlett Johansson: Sorry. [laughs]. I'd have to say the only nice thing about it was Jonathan's warm and sweet embrace. First of all, I was in this very conveniently thin shirt, and it's pouring rain, and it's that kind of movie rain where it pelts you with this freezing cold water. And I have a slight weed allergy, and it was just miserable. I had a swollen eye for a couple of days. He really bit my lip actually. Jonathan busted my lip open and sent me flowers the next day because he felt bad. It was so sweet. Damn hurt though, I deserved my flowers. Not very sexy to do that, but Woody's very shy; he's just kind of like, "All right, come and do it."

So there was no blocking at all for those scenes?

Scarlett Johansson: Just a little bit of blocking. Which is very silly because it's like, "and you fall, now roll over, in slow motion." Blocking is very awkward.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: The nice thing is that myself and Scarlett, in our own personal lives, have had sexual encounters before. So it's not like we didn't know what goes on and what feels good and what doesn't feel good. So from that point of view, it's not a hard scene to act. Is it difficult because it's Scarlett Johansson? No. It's difficult kissing Ewan McGregor [laughs]. People ask me, "is it enjoyable to do those scenes?" Now, can I be coy and say that's part of the job? Well of course it is part of the job, and is it an enjoyable part of the job? Yes it is. Because you can get to play out things in your life without having the moralistic confines of what people will think of you. It's fantastic rolling around in a bed with Scarlett, and not having to talk or bring her coffee or dinner [laughs]. That's really exciting, you can kind of walk away and say, ‘so that's what it like?'

Scarlett got an oil massage out of you.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: She did!

Scarlett Johansson: It really got those knots out.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: Scarlett's a very beautiful woman. It helps. It might be a little more difficult if I found myself in a film having to tongue snog Richard Simmons. I'm not sure I'd enjoy that as much. But because I'm a professional actor, I'd smile.

Can you talk a little about Mission Impossible 3? At one point you were attached and now Jon is doing it. Are you disappointed that you're not doing it as well?

Scarlett Johansson: It was kind of weird because I was training for it when we were shooting Match Point, and now Jon is doing it and I know the whole story. I went to work with Woody again in London for the summer and I left the role to Jonathan. [laughs].

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: It's very hard for me to run around with fake boobs and a blonde wig. But what can I tell you about Mission Impossible? Not a great deal, except that J.J Abrams taken all of the good elements of Brian DePalma's Mission Impossible along with the very glitzy stunt elements of John Woo's, and made them into a very intelligent script. Also, an incredible cast, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne. These guys are not hacks. They are all talented and intelligent actors. Ving Rhames was basically born into the role of Luther and he knows it so well, that it's second nature to him. And Tom, I don't know anyone else who could play Ethan Hunt because he is Ethan Hunt.

Do you play a good guy or bad guy in the movie?

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers: I can't tell you. You'll make up your own mind. I would have to take your first born.

Match Point is in theaters December 28th, 2005 in NY & LA, with a wide release January 20th.

Julian Roman