Scarlett Johansson knew exactly where to turn when in need of some New Jersey-flavored inspiration for romantic comedy Don Jon. Long-running show The Real Housewives of New Jersey had a major influence on Johansson during the production of the film. The MCU star borrowed everything from her wardrobe to character quirks for the role.
Scarlett Johansson has a lot of respect for ‘RHONJ’
After co-starring in the smash hit The Avengers in 2012, Johansson’s career surged to the next level. Around this time, she began production on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon. The flick tells the story of a young man (Gordon-Levitt) trying to navigate the confusing world of sex and romance. Johansson co-stars as a love interest who helps point Jon in the right direction. Don Jon needed some local authenticity to bring the New Jersey setting to life to capture the right tone.
For Johansson, that meant borrowing from the playbook of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New Jersey, the popular reality series about the dramas of Jersey socialites. To flesh out her character, Barbara Sugarman, Johansson based her performance directly on one of the cast members of RHONJ, according to Vogue.
She declined to say which woman she took her cues from. But the Black Widow actor knew the styles seen on the show and jumped right into it. “I was just like, ‘I know this person,’” she said enthusiastically.
But Johansson also showed a bit of trepidation around one feature regularly shown on RHONJ. “I don’t know how people do it,” she said, referring to acrylic nails, “but I have a lot of respect for those people.”
‘RHONJ’ was a good match for Johansson’s character
Loaded with glitz and glamour, The Real Housewives of New Jersey has been one of Bravo’s most successful shows for more than a decade. Although RHONJ was just getting started when Don Jon began production in 2012, it is now on its 12th season. It’s even inspired a couple of spinoffs. The upper-middle-class lifestyle was also a good fit for Johansson’s character, a stylish and charismatic young woman from a well-off family.
For Jon, Barbara quickly becomes the exciting new attraction in an otherwise monotonous life built around working out, polishing his car, and obsessing over his porn collection. But like some of the real-life stars of RHONJ, Barbara proves to be more than meets the eye. She soon challenges Jon to break his mold.
Similar to his character in the film, Gordon-Levitt explained to Entertainment Weekly he had to do some real-life wooing of Johansson before the production could move forward. Without her attached, it’s unclear if the financing would ever have come together.
Though Don Jon wasn’t a huge commercial hit, Johansson headlining the cast helped it rack up $41 million worldwide. This is a decent pull for a movie that reportedly cost only $5.5 million to make, according to The Numbers. Considering the Hollywood Reporter pegged Johansson’s salary at $6 million for the first Avengers in 2012, Johansson likely took a significant pay cut for her role opposite Gordon-Levitt.
Not the first time Johansson has borrowed from reality TV
Johansson is used to a bit of uncomfortable prep for film roles by now. To pull off the acrobatic moves of her popular MCU character, Johansson has to spend long hours in the gym. (She admits this has become much more painful as she’s aged.) She’s come a long way in terms of fitness — Johansson hadn’t even been to the gym before she signed on to play Black Widow in Iron Man 2.
But Johansson also gains plenty of inspiration from television as well. From her breakout role in Lost in Translation to action-thrillers like Lucy, Johansson told BuzzFeed she likes to use travel shows to help get her up to speed on locations she’s never been to before.
The late Anthony Bourdain was a particular source of inspiration for Johansson. He helped her learn Taipei’s culinary ins and outs before filming Lucy. Don Jon is one of the lesser-known films from Johansson’s impressive filmography. But it speaks to how she immerses herself in the setting before the cameras even roll.
Related: How David Bowie Opened Scarlett Johansson’s Eyes to Her Sexuality
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Scarlett Johansson Admits to ‘RHONJ’ Inspiration for ‘Don Jon’ Wardrobe