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She has experienced the best - and the worst - of London. Flying into the city to make a film with Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson partied through the day with boyfriend Josh Hartnett at the Live8 concert in Hyde Park. Then, five days later on July 7, she drove through an almost-deserted central London, shaken and horrified by the bombings that had brought the city to a standstill. It proved a wake up call to the young actress whose new film, The Island, is out today.

"I'm 20 years old and I'd love to have a family some day," she says, "but you think, 'How could I bring kids into this kind of world, where you have to explain what went on in London?'. How do you explain to a kid why a person would do this kind of thing? Can you really answer it? You can't.

"I try to be hopeful, but the future is looking pretty bleak. We have wonderful things like the Live8 concerts that were happening all over the world, and then those horrible bombings a couple of days afterwards. It really makes you think."

The petite, strawberry blonde is talking in a New York hotel during a flying visit from England where she is starring in an as-yet-untitled film for Allen which co-stars Ian McShane and Hugh Jackman. It is her second film in London with Woody, after Match Point, and it has left her with indelible memories. She was staying in Central London but was with Allen and the film crew in Oxford when the bombs went off.

"It was very scary because nobody knew what had happened," recalls Scarlett, who drove back to London that day. "It was incredibly sad and very odd because there was nobody in the city. But what are you going to do? You can't live in fear. London is a beautiful city and teeming with all kinds of fantastic things to do, so what am I going to do if a martyr decides to blow up my car? Am I going to not drive, or not leave my home? That's what these people want. They want you to live in fear but you can't be that way."

Although just out of her teens, Scarlett Johansson is a mature and intelligent woman who has a streetwise grace that far outpaces her age. She talks knowledgably about a wide range of subjects and clearly has not let stardom go to her head. She gets embarrassed when she is asked about her fame and has no illusions about it.

"Somebody asked me the other day how it feels to be the hottest young actress in Hollywood," she says. "I said it didn't mean anything. Those who are hot eventually cool off. There are a lot of celebrities today who are in a passing phase. Whoever happens to look good in a bikini is the new actress of the moment.

"I'm very serious about my business. I'm also one of four kids, so I was taught at a very early age that my problems weren't the most important in the whole world. That kind of helps to keep your head together.

"When you come from a big family and not all the attention is focused on you all the time, you learn to balance out what is important and what isn't."

Scarlett, who began her career as a child actress, has been around the entertainment business long enough to know what she is talking about. Born in New York, she made her stage debut when she was eight years old. Two years later, in 1995, she played the daughter of Sean Connery and Kate Capshaw in Just Cause. At 13, her parents separated and were divorced two years ago. Her mother Melanie now works as her manager and constant companion.

Scarlett paid her acting dues, appearing in more than a dozen films before her breakthrough came two years ago with Lost In Translation, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination and fulsome praise from critics worldwide. …