Dakota Johnson might not come across as the most obvious choice to helm a major studio blockbuster. Even with her track record of starring in the juggernaut Fifty Shades franchise, Johnson, with her vaguely above-it-all demeanor and pointed sense of humor, comes across as the sort of person who doesn’t take anything too seriously.
Those personality traits make her a reliably click-worthy interviewee, as we’ve seen during her current press tour for Madame Web. But when it comes to her debut Marvel role, her sarcasm is hilariously meeting its inverse: the most earnestly devoted movie fan base of the 21st century.
This isn’t to say Johnson should change a thing about her approach. In fact, her commitment to questioning and skewering the hoopla around Marvel movies from within the superhero movie machine may just draw in audiences who, like her, seemingly have no idea what the big deal is in the first place.
Case in point: In November, a trailer for Madame Web inspired memes galore due to a truly goofy line of expository dialogue. “I’ve seen that man before,” Johnson, in voiceover, says flatly in the trailer. “He was in the Amazon with my mom when she was researching spiders right before she died.”
This week, Johnson was asked by the Huffington Post why she thought that line of dialogue had such a chokehold on social media. She promptly turned the question back on the interviewer, asking, “Why did that go viral?”
“I think it went viral because, out of context, people were just like, what does this mean?” the interviewer responded. “Did you catch that at all?”
“No,” Johnson said, her voice betraying a hint of irritation. “Somebody brought this up and I have no idea what it’s about.”
“There were lots of memes,” the interviewer said, floundering a little, “because I think people were like, what does—just out of the context of it, it was just a very…”
“But isn’t any sentence out of context, out of context?” Johnson replied, smiling a little and not breaking eye contact. “Yeah, very true,” the interviewer replied, at that point utterly defeated.
“What a silly thing,” the actress definitively concluded.
Johnson, one X user said of the interview, is “unimpeachably serious, never understanding why everyone is laughing, and yet somehow the joke is never on her.”
In early January, while discussing her role in Madame Web, Johnson also said what some of us were already thinking. “I got sent this script, and I was like, ‘I don’t know about me being a superhero,’” she told Entertainment Weekly. Upon learning about her character’s clairvoyance, she was swayed: “I felt like, ‘Oh, I really would love to see that superhero. I would love to see a young woman whose superpower is her mind.’”
After signing on, though, Johnson found herself mystified by the Marvel movie-making process. “I’ve never really done a movie where you are on a blue screen, and there’s fake explosions going off, and someone’s going, ‘Explosion!’ and you act like there’s an explosion,” she told EW. “That to me was absolutely psychotic. I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to be good at all! I hope that I did an OK job!’”
“But I trusted [director S.J. Clarkson],” Johnson continued. “She works so hard, and she has not taken her eyes off this movie since we started.”
There again is the actress’s knack for deflection at work: If audiences raise their eyebrows at her casting, she agrees with them. If they criticize the special effects, she’s right there with them.
In contrast, some Marvel stars have tirelessly espoused their serious commitment as actors to performing in their respective popcorn films. Kumail Nanjiani, for example, was so famously dedicated to his role in The Eternals, he underwent a full-body transformation to prepare. And Tom Holland, the studio’s current Spider-Man, said in 2016 that he went so far as to go undercover as a high school student in the Bronx to prepare for his role. “No one knew who I was or what I was doing,” he told E! News. “I had a fake name, a fake accent. I went to school for three days, I think.”
Johnson, meanwhile, has at least one blithe predecessor when it comes to handling the Marvel press process. “What do you get most excited about before filming the movies?” Avengers: Age of Ultron star Elizabeth Olsen was asked at a press conference in 2015. “I get most excited by cooking and eating,” she replied, in just one of many instances where she downplayed the gravitas of Marvel.
“When I got the Madame Web role, I ran into Lizzie Olsen in the hotel lobby and spoke to her about it for a bit, and that was helpful,” Johnson recounted to L’Officiel USA this week. “She said she had a great time and…seemed very relaxed about it, so that was comforting.”
Olsen, of course, like Johnson, is what certain people refer to as a nepo baby: a celebrity privileged with having famous family members who preceded their own foray into Hollywood.
Johnson has thoughts on that label, too. On the Today show this week, Hoda Kotb brought up the actress’s famous parents, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and asked whether pursuing a career in Hollywood was a difficult decision to make, given that her father wanted her to go to college instead.
“I mean, he cut me off,” she answered. “It was difficult, but I figured it out.”
Johnson’s father “said if you go to college, you’ll still get an allowance. And I was like, well, I’m gonna be an actress,” she said. “So he was like, all right, well, you’re on your own.”
“I kinda like how you poke fun at this whole nepo baby thing,” Kotb said, referring to Johnson’s recent SNL skit where she skewered the nepo baby discourse.
“When that first started I found it to be, like, incredibly annoying and boring,” Johnson replied. “Like, if you’re a journalist, write about something else. It’s just, like, lame. So the opportunity to make fun of it, I jumped at.”
Likewise, it appears she’ll jump at any opportunity to downplay the so-called importance of being the Marvel universe’s newest leading lady. Unlike other Marvel stars, who endlessly unpack their assigned IP’s lore for disinterested talk show hosts, Johnson has no time for table-setting.
“You don’t have to know anything about anything, at all, to watch this movie,” she deadpanned to Seth Meyers on Thursday.
Whether or not Johnson’s laid-back, semi-disinterested approach toward Madame Web results in box office glory remains to be seen; the film hits theaters on Feb. 14.