We get it: As Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, or Matthew McConaughey told us long ago, there’s zero stigma when movie stars take on a prestige limited series. Still, when a movie star as big as Scarlett Johansson makes her TV debut, this is more than a gig: After the Bob Chapek-era “Black Widow” debacle, it’s a chance for her to create more agency over her career.
Johansson will star in Amazon limited series “Just Cause,” and serve as executive producer with her production company, These Pictures. It’s a thriller in which Johansson will play a reporter covering an inmate’s final days on death row, based on the 1992 book of the same name by John Katzenbach.
Developed by Warner Bros. Television, the show gender-flips the book’s protagonist; the 1995 Warner Bros. feature adaptation of “Just Cause” starred Sean Connery. Also in that cast is a 10-year-old, eighth-billed Johansson; it was her second film. (She played Connery’s daughter.)
Many Marvel stars already found success on TV (some, in Marvel TV series). Mark Ruffalo won an Emmy for a dual role in “I Know This Much Is True.” Chris Evans starred in Apple’s limited series “Defending Jacob” and Robert Downey Jr. is currently filming his first TV show since “Ally McBeal”: Park Chan-wook’s HBO limited series “The Sympathizer.”
Like Johansson, Downey’s time in the MCU has come to an end; he is also an executive producer on his show, and has produced films and TV for nearly two decades. On films, being an executive producer skews toward the honorific. For TV it’s a little different because the most powerful person on any show is the showrunner, who is also an executive producer. On “Just Cause,” the showrunner is Christy Hall (“I Am Not Okay With This,” “Servant”).
Generally speaking, a TV EP who doesn’t write or direct (like Johansson) carries less clout than one who does — but when the star is an EP, it’s still a place of power. It means the actor is more than a hired hand and they have a chance not only to be a voice in the production but also explore its opportunities as a business.
It makes sense on the Amazon side too, which acquired “Just Cause” in a competitive situation. It’s not uncommon for streamers to overpay to land A-list talent, creating an opportunity for Amazon to develop a relationship with Johansson and her production company down the road. Amazon just this month launched another miniseries “The English” with Emily Blunt, for which Blunt is also an executive producer.
There’s reason to believe that Johansson would take the opportunity seriously. Beyond serving as a palate cleanser after suing Disney over the day-and-date streaming release of “Black Widow” (and Chapek outing Johansson’s $20 million salary), Johansson’s career is built entirely on film. Her prior TV experience extends to talk shows, an “SNL” episode, providing her voice on a half-dozen episodes of “Robot Chicken,” and an appearance in the pilot for the 1995 single-season CBS drama “The Client.”
A rep for Johansson had no comment, but isn’t it about time she put some of her clout toward exploring what TV could do for her?
Her film career is fine, thanks. She’s the star of Wes Anderson’s next film, “Asteroid City,” and she’s currently in production on Greg Berlanti’s sci-fi film called “Project Artemis” opposite Channing Tatum. She and her company are producing that as well. Johannson runs These Pictures with Jonathan Lia and Keenan Flynn, as well as head of television Zara Duff.
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