When Noah Baumbach asked Scarlett Johansson to meet with him about a new film he was going to write about a divorce, he didn’t know she was going through one in real life.
“It felt fated in a way,” Johansson said. “It came somehow at just the right time.”
Johansson stars alongside Adam Driver in the Netflix film about a couple — she plays an actress and he plays a theater director — with an 8-year-old son managing a bi-coastal separation and divorce. It premiered Thursday at the Venice Film Festival, where it is competing for the Golden Lion award.
Although Johansson had her own experiences to draw on having most recently divorced French businessman Romain Dauriac in 2017, she said there was something of everyone behind the film in the brutally honest but tender character study.
Baumbach wrote the script knowing that Driver and Johansson would play the couple in question. He said he realized in the writing process that, “Through a divorce we could explore a marriage.”
“Although they’re coming apart, love always exists,” he said. “It’s in every scene, it’s there.”
Laura Dern, who plays Johansson’s divorce lawyer, added that it personifies “the business of divorce.”
One scene, in which the two leads have a particularly traumatic fight, had audiences at the Venice Film Festival buzzing. Driver said he didn’t really analyze it afterward, but that it was two “pretty difficult” days. Baumbach added that it was “harrowing” and they’d often have to stop for a break, with the actors either going to their rooms or taking a walk around the block to regroup.
“They would run the whole scene almost every time. It was like watching two of the best athletes compete,” Baumbach said. “In many ways it was one of the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a director.”
The film will make stops at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals before hitting theaters on Nov. 6, followed by its Netflix debut on Dec. 6.