Scarlett Johansson as Griet
Directed by Peter Webber
Written by Tracy Cheavlier (novel), Olivia Hetreed
Release Date December 12, 2003
MPAA Rating PG-13
Girl with a Pearl Earring tells the story of Griet (Scarlett Johansson), a 16-year old Dutch girl who becomes a maid in the house of the painter Johannes Vermeer (Colin Firth). Her calm and perceptive manner not only helps her in her household duties, but also attracts the painter’s attention. Though different in upbringing, education and social standing, they have a similar way of looking at things. Vermeer slowly draws her into the world of his paintings – the still, luminous images of solitary women in domestic settings.
In contrast to her work in her master’s studio, Griet must carve a place for herself in a chaotic Catholic household rund by Vermeer’s volatile wife Catharina, his shrewd mother-in-law, Maria Thins, and their fiercely loyal maid Tanneke. Six children (and counting) fill out the household, dominated by six-year old Cornelia, a mischievous girl who sees more than she should.
On the verge of womanhood, Griet also contends with the growing attentions both from a local butcher and from Vermeer’s patron, the wealthy Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson). And she has to find her way through this new and strange life outside the loving Protestant family she grew up in, now fragmented by accident and death.
As Griet becomes part of her master’s work, their growing intimacy spreads disruption and jealousy within the ordered household and even – as the scandal seeps out – ripples in the world beyond.
Scarlett Johansson’s Role
Scarlett Johansson plays the title role, the young maiden Griet in the painting. Griet has a calm and perceptive manner, which gives her a maturity one wouldn’t expect from a 16-year-old – let alone from a woman back in 17th century. This sets her apart from her contemporaries and attracts the attention from men of various backgrounds and age. But it also makes her restless, which complicates her life as a maid.
This role is a very complex one – like Lost in Translation it’s a very visual film and especially Griet doesn’t have a lot of dialogue – and it is yet another opportunity to marvel at Scarlett’s talent as an actress.
… Colin Firth
… Tom Wilkinson
… Judy Parfitt
… Cillian Murphy
Trivia & Facts
• The painting that Griet inspired Vermeer to paint while she is washing the window of his studio is called “Woman with a Water Jug”. It is currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY.
• The film was originally slated to star Kate Hudson and Ralph Fiennes and be directed by Mike Newell. Hudson pulled out during preproduction, which resulted in funding being pulled, and by the time new funding was secured, Newell had to move on to another project. After a director search, Peter Webber was tapped for the job and held auditions for a new female lead. He settled on Kirsten Dunst, who then dropped the project in wake of Spider-Man‘s success. At this point, Fiennes had been waiting so long that he too had to move on to other scheduled projects, and so became unavailable. Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth were then cast.
• The movie was partially shot on the Venice set that had been built in Luxembourg for Secret Passage (2004). For this movie Venice was modified to become Delft.
• Although Vermeer and the painting both are real historic figures, the screenplay is based on Tracy Chevalier’s novel and therefore largely fictional or hypothetical. Only 36 Vermeer paintings are known to exist today, and none of the models have ever been positively identified. A poster of the painting in her bedroom inspired Chevalier to write her own version of how it came to exist based on the framework of Vermeer’s known history. Chevalier sold the film rights and opted not to have any involvement in the film or screenplay, although after its release said she was pleased with the results.
Quotes: Scarlett Johansson
• “She is strange and intriguing. I felt she was just about to do something which would tell us more about her and her life.”
(on the painting)
• “It is so rare that you read anything that is worth the time it takes to get through it. This stood out – it was glinting. Every actor dreams of the chance to play a role like Griet – a character with such repression that you are using your face and not your words to convey emotions.”
(on the script)
• “A servant’s life was hard labor, and Griet was also trying to cope with new raw emotions. We first see her at home, which she doesn’t want to leave, but she has to and is immediately out of her element. She has no privacy – Vermeer’s wife Catharina is vicious and unrelenting; the other maid is resentful; Maria Thins is always watching her; and Vermeer lurks in his studio, refusing to engage with the rest of the household. At the same time her relationship with her home is changing – she is torn between two lives.”
(on her character)
• “Their relationship becomes tender, through their mutual involvement in his paintings. At the same time she is becoming involved with Pieter, the son of the market butcher. He is a tradesman, goes to Church every Sunday and offers an enticingly simple way of life that is familiar to her. He offers a mutual courtship that she could so easily slip into, if she had not met Vermeer. With the painter she tastes a kind of passion that is beyond her comprehension, and casts a shadow on her previous life.”
(on the relationship)
• “I’m relieved to be shooting this understated love story in Europe, and that it’s not a typical American production. It would be completely hellish to have the pressure of putting on a Hollywood ending, or putting in a scene where Vermeer sees Griet washing her breasts.”
• “I did not read the book before or during filmmaking. It’s written in a first-person narrative from character’s point of view. I just didn’t want to be told what I should be feeling at a particular time. I was dying to read it. We had a copy of it on the set, and it was very tempting. I would start to look over some dialogue, and my eyes would wander over to the page and then I’d go ‘No! Stop reading!’”
“I’m just trying to avoid sounding like a complete asshole.”
(on the British accent)
• “He’s sensitive and adorable, and an incredible actor. It was just a total pleasure to work with him.”
(on Colin Firth)
• Colin Firth on Scarlett:
“If I had to bet on the future of one rather than another I think I would name Scarlett Johansson with whom I filmed Girl with a Pearl Earring. She is extraordinarily talented and she’s younger than the others. I think that she will end up being a director. Everybody loves her; on set she was the apple of everybody’s eye for her beauty, youth and pleasantness. She is a very serious, professional actress who takes her responsibilities very seriously.”
• Cillian Murphy on Scarlett:
“She’s really cool, and not at all precious.”
• Peter Webber (director) on Scarlett:
“Scarlett has been working in this business longer than I have and although she is young in years she has an old soul. She has a force of character and a face that you don’t often see on screen these days – she is hypnotic to watch, like a silent movie star.”
• Tracy Chevalier (author of the novel) on Scarlett:
“Griet is a tough character to play since her role actually has very little dialogue. It’s a very visual book, and a very visual film. Griet does a lot of watching, and very little talking. Scarlett plays it perfectly.”
Quotes: Her Character
• “You looked inside me…”
• “I may only be a maid, but I would NEVER give in to Master Van Ruijven!”
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