NEW YORK (AP) - In a decision that will make many a man sigh unhappily, Scarlett Johansson won’t be bringing sexy back to Broadway.
The actress with the pouty lips and gentle curves that GQ magazine once called “Babe of the Year” is determined to be a more naturalistic Maggie the Cat in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” that opens Jan. 17.
That’s the same role Elizabeth Taylor embodied while virtually purring in a satin slip. And her successors _ Anika Noni Rose, Ashley Judd and Kathleen Turner, among them _ all played it to variously breathless, sexy degrees.
But Johansson talks about how she approached the predatory feline of Williams’ classic Southern play sounding like the way she herself would prefer to be described.
“I think her sexuality is often overplayed and over-appreciated. It’s such an unimportant part of this story,” Johansson says one recent morning during rehearsals.
“I mean, it comes with the circumstance, of course, and the settling and the words _ that’s already there. There’s no need to drape yourself all over the stage and roll around in a satin sheet.”
If that puts a dent in the box office, so be it, says the four-time Golden Globe nominated star of “Lost in Translation” and “The Avengers.” Quips Johansson: “There’s always the half-price ticket line.”
The new production is led by director Rob Ashford and co-stars Benjamin Walker as Maggie’s drunken, disinterested husband, Ciaran Hinds as Big Daddy and Debra Monk as Big Mama.
“It’s really a beautiful play, really a perfect play, I think,” she says, smoldering even though she wears a demure dark pantsuit and stripped top. “If the play fails, it’s our fault.”
Johansson arrives for her morning interview already tired, having woken before dawn to appear on the “Today” show. “If I have any more coffee, I’ll explode into another stratosphere,” the actress warns.
Johansson, 28, has already proved she has the acting chops for Broadway, having won a best featured actress Tony Award in 2010 in Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” opposite Liev Schreiber.
It was a victory from a stage novice that silenced critics who had moaned about movie stars with dubious skills showing up in Times Square simply to sell tickets. Johansson insist she had nothing to prove.
“I’m just happy the stage door is still open and I can walk through it,” she says. “I was just happy to survive the run, really. Honestly. I expected to be lambasted. I knew that was a possibility going into it. But that’s OK.”
She has thrown herself into her new role, seeing Maggie as “a force of nature” and having “an almost divine determination.” Ashford says Johansson came into rehearsal the first day already having memorized her lines, impressing her co-stars.
“She loves the work, she loves creating the characters,” he says. “She’s an actress. She’s not a theater star or a movie star. She’s an actor first and so she’s both, therefore. She can do both, as she’s proven.”