Being an animal lover wasn’t necessarily a requirement for a role in “We Bought a Zoo,” but it didn’t hurt.
“Oh, they’re my family. I have a dog and I grew up with cats,” said Scarlett Johansson in an interview at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Central Park hotel.
While playing zookeeper Kelly Foster, the 27-year-old actress discovered “it’s hard to work with animals because they’re not on the same routine exactly and you never know what to expect. They’re unpredictable.”
She did her homework before filming began. “I had been on Tippi Hed-ren’s big cat rescue and it was so incredible,” she said of the lion preserve run by the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
But even more important than a chance to hang out with animals, “Zoo” gave Johansson a role defined not by looks but ability, hard work and dedication.
“One of the main attractions in playing this role was actually the fact that I was playing a woman who had her own life, who didn’t depend on anyone else.
“She’s kind of forward-moving, a motivated woman whose passion has nothing to do with where she’s going to find her next date or who her next romantic interest is.”
And, she added, “that the romance in this film” between Kelly and the recently widowed Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) “is sort of a product of the story, that’s a really beautiful thing.
“It’s a different kind of a romance that happens in the film that has nothing to do with just two people finding one another and wasn’t the motivating force for the character.”
“Zoo” celebrates taking chances, trying something new in your life, as the in-experienced Mee buys a zoo.
For Johansson, “There’s a lot of things that I want to pursue and hopefully, eventually will when all of this falls apart.
“I work with a lot of nongovernmental organizations. I don’t know if I’d want to start my own, but I think I’d dedicate more of my time to that.
“It’d also be nice to have a vineyard somewhere, an organic farm or something like that. That’s like a hippie-dippy wish — but a really good one.”
As the founder and CEO of the world’s largest, accredited sanctuary for big cats, I really hope this movie does not glamorize backyard breeders and roadside zoos that are not treating their animals with the expert care of AZA accredited zoos. As Damon and Johansson see the backlash by people who love animals and who dedicate their lives to trying to end these kinds of abusive menageries, I hope they will lend their star power to helping us pass legislation to require these awful places to stop breeding and adding to the problem. Carole Baskin