By: Jeffrey Ressner
June 10, 2008 07:45 PM EST
Every presidential candidate can use a sexy blond movie star to liven up his or her campaign, appear at big money events and rally the entertainment community. Sen. Barack Obama’s go-to Hollywood hottie is Scarlett Johansson, a starlet who trades frequent e-mails with the presumptive Democratic nominee, campaigns tirelessly on his behalf, hosts lucrative fundraisers and even appeared in that “Yes We Can” viral video that got 10 million views in its first week online.
Of course, there’s always the possibility of a backlash. “Even I’m wary of celebrity endorsements,” Johansson told Politico on Friday. “I don’t want to seem like I’m holier than thou. We all have the same right to vote and, especially in this technical age where we all can broadcast our opinions, we all have the opportunity to entice others to vote.” But, she adds, “if the spotlight is on me, I might as well try to direct it on things and causes that I believe in.”
The 23-year-old actress, known for cool, quirky films such as “Ghost World,” “Match Point” and the Oscar-winning “Lost in Translation,” has been an Obama supporter for years, even before the first Democratic caucus in Iowa, and she’s made no secret of her deep devotion to the candidate. “I am engaged to Barack Obama,” she said back in January, joking with reporters after returning from a USO tour to the Persian Gulf. “My heart belongs to Barack.”
She’s not alone. Jessica Alba is for Obama. So are Ryan Phillippe, John Legend, Anthony Kiedis, Taye Diggs, Kate Walsh and countless others. But Johansson emphasizes that it’s not just young Hollywood coming out. “His support goes across all of America, not just with celebrity endorsements,” she said, laughing. “Trying to find McCain’s youthful core group is going to be challenging. One of the driving forces behind the Obama campaign is that all of these young people who never had a reason to vote before finally got the fire under their ass.”
Hollywood Politico last heard from the Gen Y icon when she phoned us with Barack-boosting robocalls before Super Tuesday and the California primary. But last week, the actress, who reads The Economist, serves as an ambassador for Oxfam and also speaks out on behalf of several charities, engaged in a back-and-forth conversation about her political activism and how she expects the Hollywood-Obama connection to play out between now and November.
Drawn to his candidacy largely because of her anti-war views, she met Obama several times on the trail, talking to him one-on-one on many occasions. “The most time I spent with him was the first time I met him, at a private event for supporters,” she said. “After that, it’s been a few minutes here, a few minutes there on the trail.”
She e-mailed him after some of the Democratic debates, offering her thoughts on his messages and performance. “After the silliness of the last ABC debate,” she said of the highly criticized event co-hosted by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, she wrote to congratulate him on “holding his ground.”
His replies have been thoughtful, she said, more than a brief line or two; on the ABC debate, he responded that the questioning was “difficult” and he was being pounded on “one silly question after another.”
Johansson is somewhat shocked that he keeps up their back-and-forth correspondence. “You’d imagine that someone like the senator who is constantly traveling and constantly ‘on’ — how can he return these personal e-mails?” she asks. “But he does, and in his off-time I know he also calls people who have donated the minimum to thank them. Nobody sees it, nobody talks about it, but it’s incredible.” She adds, “I feel like I’m supporting someone, and having a personal dialogue with them, and it’s amazing.”
He has followed her career as well, telling her that his favorite performance was her turn in “Lost in Translation.” He’s a “huge movie lover” and “knows who every actor is,” she said.
As for her own involvement with his campaign, she’s pragmatic. “I approach my campaigning for Obama the same way I do my work for other social or environmental causes: I’m hoping to raise awareness,” she explains. “I’m not telling people who to vote for, and I don’t expect that if I did it would swing votes. At least, I hope not. What I want to do is raise awareness of Obama and his policies, and share my own story of how I became involved in his campaign. Perhaps, if they’re a fan, my story might entice them to learn or spark their interest some other way. If I can answer questions or direct people to a website where they can get more information, that’s how I can help.”
As far as the split in Hollywood between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters, Johansson said “it’s been a delicate situation,” but, she added, “of course, they’re going to vote Democrat.” (Johansson said she has met some conservatives in show business and a well-known comic actor who calls himself “a liberal Republican.” But she admits GOP supporters in Hollywood are “rare.”)
The Obama organization has a smooth-running surrogate booking system in place so government officials as well as Johansson and other celebs know how to best channel their time and energy on behalf of the candidate. (Her point person with the campaign is former Podesta Group lobbyist Teal Baker.) In addition, she has other friends on the campaign who organize events and might ask her to participate at certain functions. “It’s very simple,” she said. “I’ll tell them I have some extra time, and ask where they can use me for two days. I’ll do cold calls, public service announcements, all different things to help out.”
Right now, in the post-primary season, Johansson is gearing up for involvement with private events to raise cash. In other words, if you pony up enough dough, you too can have Johansson (or another celeb) hang out at your house. “There are several different ways to approach fundraisers,” she said. “One is to join up with, say, a prominent family in New Mexico who wants to hold a fundraiser at their home or at a restaurant and they’d like someone to host it. There are other ways, too — being part of a benefit concert or show, and then perhaps hosting after-parties or dinners beforehand.”
Of course, the “Yes We Can” video was a pivotal tool for the campaign, even though it was launched as an independent effort by a group of young show biz fans, including hip-hop star will.i.am, director Jesse Dylan and soul singer Legend. Johansson describes the effort as “poetic, without shoving its message down your throat.”
As far as a sequel goes, Johansson concludes, “I don’t know that I’d want to touch it or re-create it, but I hope to find new and interesting ways to highlight the campaign and bring supporters together, whether it’s live shows or concerts that are fun and affordable and not closed off to big fundraisers. Maybe we can even perform the song live.”
source by way of huffingtonpost.com