Scarlett Johansson Had Heartbreaking Inspiration for Her Role in ‘Marriage Story’

Anyone who’s seen Marriage Story in a theater or on Netflix were probably stunned that it was about a showbiz marriage. Going in cold and not knowing this makes the film a pleasant surprise in realizing Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are almost playing counterparts to themselves.

They may argue the case they’re nowhere close to Nicole and Charlie Barber in reality, despite the showbiz settings. Nevertheless, it’s clear both actors saw a lot of eerie parallels and within others who work as actors/directors/stage producers.

For Johansson, it might have hit a little too close to home. She was going through a messy divorce right in the middle of filming Marriage Story. One pivotal scene in the film may win her an Oscar, only because it played like a real therapy session.

Johansson found filming ‘Marriage Story’ cathartic

Scarlett Johansson on the red carpet
Scarlett Johansson | Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

According to a piece in The Chicago Sun-Times, Noah Baumbach initially pitched Marriage Story to Johansson without having any knowledge she was in the middle of a divorce. He didn’t find out she was going through this with French journalist Romain Dauriac until a pitch lunch occurred.

From Johansson’s perspective, she wanted to take it on because of her split, seemingly as a way to process she was divorcing for a second time. It promised some powerful scenes since she’d be tapping into her own life to find the emotions behind the Barber divorce playing out in the film.

There isn’t any more telling scene where Johansson crosses over into her own life than the early Marriage Story scene where she describes to her attorney (Laura Dern) why she wants a divorce from her husband. This scene appears to have been done all in one take and has Johansson doing several paragraphs of dialogue, seemingly off the cuff.

Whether she improvised some of this or not, it’s the scene likely to win Johansson an Oscar and other awards this movie season.

Can actors use acting in a film as a form of dealing with personal issues?

What’s seen on-screen in Marriage Story might be a little autobiographical in the sense of Johansson’s character. One has to wonder if the reasons for the Barber divorce in the film nearly mimics the reasons behind Johansson’s divorce with Dauriac.

There isn’t any way to know for sure. Yet, her performance is probably one of the rare, prime examples of seeing therapy filtered through a movie role. Nobody can say Johansson wasn’t feeling real emotion in that above one-take scene.

Her interactions with Driver’s Charlie also likely lifted a lot of pent-up frustration. While most of the dialogue in the film is calm, there’s one pivotal scene toward the end where Nicole and Charlie tear into each other with vicious rage. Perhaps this was the real therapy for Johansson in being able to vent without forcing her real husband into marriage therapy.

Of course, things have changed tremendously in Johansson’s life since the film was made. Since it wrapped, she started dating Saturday Night Live’s Colin Jost, and they’re both engaged to be married.

What will Johansson say if she wins the Oscar for Best Actress?

Maybe Johansson will give some advice to her fellow acting peers if she wins Best Actress across the awards spectrum for her performance this year. Based on tapping into her own real life to find inspiration for her role, she may tell other actors to go for it and do the same if finding themselves in a similar situation.

One could argue processing a complicated divorce through acting is the best way to vent without having to pay big bucks for a therapist. The only big question is whether Johansson managed to find a lawyer like Laura Dern to take on her husband, assuming she and Dauriac didn’t agree to never use lawyers like the Barbers initially wanted.