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Scarlett Johansson’s Pitch-Perfect Impersonation on ‘SNL’

The actor surprised and delighted on last night’s SNL with her impression of Senator Katie Britt.

Scarlett Johansson as Senator Katie Britt on "SNL"
NBC via YouTube

When Senator Katie Britt of Alabama gave the Republican response to the State of the Union address last Thursday, she introduced herself to America with a bizarre, dramatic speech. Set in a stark kitchen, and veering between folksy and distressed, it was ripe for parody. Naturally, Saturday Night Live would tackle it. But unexpectedly, it did so with the actor Scarlett Johansson—a much more familiar face to many Americans—who handled Britt’s odd performance brilliantly.

Johansson showed up during yesterday’s cold open wearing a replica of Britt’s green blouse and cross necklace. She spoke with an emphatic over-enunciation, her eyes wide open, sometimes appearing to barely blink. She delivered theatrical emotional swings: At times, the actor flitted between flirtatious laughter and alarmed stares as she used mechanical hand gestures for emphasis. In one beat, Johansson could seem like she was about to break into tears. The next she was giggling maniacally.

Often, getting a celebrity to cameo like this on SNL can risk feeling unearned, leaning on star power over real humor; I tend to think of Jim Carrey’s run as Joe Biden one of the worst examples. Yet this interpretation of Britt was everything a great actor’s impression of a public figure should be. She accurately captured the politician’s intensity, then heightened it just enough to emphasize its absurdity.

The monologue turned the subtext of Britt’s speech into text, and Johansson nailed the delivery by playing it as if she was an overeager acting student. “Tonight I’ll be auditioning for the part of ‘scary mom,’ and I’ll be performing an original monologue called ‘This Country Is Hell,’” she said. The portrait of Britt—as, additionally, a QVC salesperson and one of the antagonists of Get Out—was not particularly revelatory. But it effectively highlighted both the lawmaker’s rhetoric about immigration and how some of the frightening details she used were intentionally fuzzy.

Johansson was likely an easy get for SNL. She has long made strong appearances on the show—“Porcelain Fountains” is a favorite—and in 2020 she married the “Weekend Update” co-host Colin Jost. (The show has repeatedly poked fun at their union; in one bit, Jost was forced by his co-host to joke, “New York state now allows movie theaters to serve alcohol, which is how I’m finally able to enjoy my wife’s little art movies.”) Still, Johansson’s surprise appearance last night proved that she took the gig seriously. She wasn’t just reading a script, as some guests do, hoping that the writing alone would deliver the humor. Instead, she offered a studied comedic take on a night where she wasn’t even the host. (That gig belonged to Josh Brolin, who leaned all the way into weirdness, stripping down to his skivvies and jumping in a cold plunge during his monologue.)

The tricky thing about a star actor’s winning impersonation of a public figure is that SNL might hope she’s available whenever that politician makes headlines again. In this case, there’s no guarantee, but I would welcome it. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have questioned whether Britt rose to the occasion with her performance this week. Johansson certainly did.



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