Portman has remained discreet about her life in France, something Johansson would have done well to emulate
By Celia Walden
Lesser women have tried and failed. Now, two of Hollywood’s leading ladies are competing to be accepted by that most impenetrable breed of all: Parisians. This week’s New York magazine has branded Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson “The White and Black Swans of Paris Celeb-Expat Living”.
Both actresses have had the temerity to fall in love with Frenchmen, the impudence to become pregnant by these same men and the audacity to move to the French capital. But there can only be one winner in the battle of the bombshells — and Portman is the clear front-runner.
The Black Swan actress had a head start by marrying Benjamin Millepied, a French dance star who is due to take over the Paris Opera Ballet this autumn, and by learning to speak French (Johansson’s fiancé, Romain Dauriac, par contre, is a journalist). But Portman has also remained characteristically discreet – a quintessential Parisian quality – about her integration, something Ms Johansson would have done well to emulate.
Instead, Scarlett complained to CBS’s David Letterman that Parisians shove her in the street, which prompted a backlash in the media. “Une seule solution,” wrote one journalist, “go home.” And the admission that when she first arrived in Paris, “I assumed it’s a kind of provincial town, where people don’t know how to walk,” was laughably inflammatory when you consider that the one thing Parisian women pride themselves on, above all else, is their ability to walk kilometres, not in DayGlo Nikes and LuluLemon Spandex (sportswear is never to be worn outside the gym in Paris), but high heels and neat, restrictive skirt suits.
Then, last week, the 28-year-old star seemed to have cemented her fate by suing one of France’s most beloved writers, Gregoire Delacourt, for “fraudulent and illicit use of her name, her fame and her image”, after Delacourt published a book, The First Thing We Look At, featuring a character who closely resembled the star.
Johansson might as well have ticked the box, “Have you ever engaged in the illegal trafficking of human organs?” on her immigration forms. This kind of self-indulgent litigiousness will make her about as welcome as a body-parts trader in a country where whining is pummelled out of you well before you’re taught how to walk in any kind of footwear.
Johansson’s best course of action now would be to read Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food – not for tips on how to raise her offspring, but to learn how to redeem herself in the eyes of the public. Hollywood actresses are by and large toddlers themselves, and so far ScarJo’s behaviour has been tantamount to splatting puréed swede into the faces of her would-be countrymen.
There is no place in Paris for the kind of enfant-roi tantrums that are encouraged in Hollywood A-listers on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike in the States, impatience is not tolerated (your grand crème will take as long as it takes to make), and nor is picky eating (I’d like to see Johansson try to find almond milk, kale or quinoa in Monoprix). In France, class and understatement are seen as synonymous, and while Johansson is hardly Kim Kardashian, one gets the feeling that she’ll resent having to scale back the vulgarity and cover up that famous embonpoint.
New York may, however, have been a little hasty in its casting of this particular Gallic mini-drama. While Portman recently admitted to a lifelong fear of “confrontation” and a desire “to have everyone like me”, Johansson says that since moving to Paris she has “started getting really aggressive with people”. Which is a start. But it’s only when she learns to hurtle headlong into fellow pedestrians and resolutely refuse to apologise that she’ll be welcomed with open arms.