Jon Favreau’s original Iron Man turned a lot of heads by having the main hero’s love interest be central to beating the bad guy at the end rather than simply being in distress. In Iron Man 2, not only is Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts back to keep Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in line, but Scarlett Johansson is on board as an ultra-competent secret agent also keeping Tony Stark in line. She’s playing the sultry super-spy known to comic fans as the Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, but that sultriness is almost an afterthought behind her intelligence and skill. ScarJo recently explained why this brought her into the project.
“I’ve never really seen a film of this genre where the female characters’ sex appeal came second,” she said. “I mean, of course they’re sexy characters and when you have a sexy secretary or a girl swinging around by her ankles in a catsuit, that’s innately sexy. But the fact is that these characters are intelligent, they’re ambitious, they’re motivated and calculated to some degree. Just to be a pawn in a story of a whole bunch of men kind fighting it out and rolling around and getting down and dirty, and to be this vision in a tight catsuit is sort of a boring thing to me. And I think that Jon really made that very clear in the beginning. He felt, as far as Black Widow as concerned, that she was mysterious and nuanced and something to kind of peel back the layers to. There was something there. He wanted that, and I think that’s why this film is so much more dynamic for me as an audience member. I’ve never been a huge fan of this genre, really, because it was always sort of one-note and very explosive. I think because Gwyneth and I are able to sort of be the brains behind the operation in some aspect, there’s a happy medium there, and it adds to the charm and charisma of the finished product.”
“It’s really kind of old fashioned, actually, in the best sense of the word,” Johansson observed. “These characters are sort of like the fabulous femme fatales of the Golden Age of Hollywood, the Bette Davis more than the Jayne Mansfield, which I think is so much more dynamic to watch.”
For her part, Paltrow agreed with that assessment. “I think it’s a very smart decision, actually, to have women who are capable and intelligent because it appeals to women. You know, so it’s not only a film for 15-year-old boys, it’s a film that can relate to a lot of people on a lot of levels. A lot of my girlfriends like it because of the romance or, you know, Scarlett is in the trailer and it’s appealing like, “Oh, who is she?” and it doesn’t look gratuitous. It looks like there are interesting women in the movie. My character is quick, and she’s articulate and I think it makes it so that, when you take your kid, if you’re a mom, it’s really fun for you to watch as well. So it’s nice to see women who are kind of inspirational and smart, sexy all at the same time.”