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Charlize Theron on Plans for ‘Atomic Blonde’ Sequel and Growing Up as a ‘Privileged White Person’

Written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman, "Tully" is a follow-up to "Young Adult," and yes, "Atomic Blonde" has a sequel.

Jason Reitman and Charlize Theron'Tully' film screening, San Francisco International Film Festival, USA - 08 Apr 2018

“Tully” star Charlize Theron and director Jason Reitman

imageSPACE/REX/Shutterstock

Statuesque South African movie star and SFFILM tribute recipient Charlize Theron strode out on stage April 8 at San Francisco’s Castro Theater rocking leather shorts and looking every inch the fearless actress-producer, capable of taking on roles ranging from real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos to depressed mother-of-three Marlo Moreau in Jason Reitman’s “Tully.” However, as she demonstrated in our wide-ranging conversation, appearances can be deceiving.

“Tully” (Focus Features, May 4) is her second collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman; Roger Ebert described their first, “Young Adult” (Paramount, 2011), as a “fearless character study” in which Theron was not only “one of the best actors now working” but also was “flawless at playing a cringe-inducing monster.”

Theron’s never been afraid of her dark side and describes a recent spate of femme villains as her “bitch period,” including the evil queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” one-armed Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and the tough powerhouse women in Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” and F. Gary Gray’s global blockbuster “Fate of the Furious.”

Theron has produced some 16 projects since “Monster,” including Netflix series “Mindhunter,” which she brought to David Fincher, figuring the director of “Zodiac” might be as obsessed with serial killers as she was. “We’re getting ready for Season Two,” she said. “Dream big, motherfuckers!”

Theron’s first language was Afrikaans; she had to brush up her English when she moved to New York at 19 to study at the Joffrey Ballet. Before that, she modeled in Milan in order to escape from her hardscrabble country upbringing outside Johannesburg. (Famously, her mother shot and killed her abusive, alcoholic father in self-defense when she was 16.) All Theron originally sought from acting, she told the crowd at the often-profane tribute, “was to pay my rent and not have to be a waitress.”

Charlize Theron in amazing 7 minute "Atomic Blonde" action scene

Charlize Theron in the amazing seven-minute “Atomic Blonde” action scene

Jonathan Prime

Early dance training boosted Theron’s athletic prowess. Her mother put her in a ballet class at four; she was a natural performer. “What dance gave me was a safe place to explore,” she said. “It was innocent, and later it was a place to escape my home life and the trauma of being a teenager. I could use my body to work through things, it gave me a great understanding of the space I take up, and the power I had in that space, and how much you can say with a hand movement or how you move your head.”

She used that strength on “Fury Road,” and even more so on martial-arts actioner “Atomic Blonde.” “I have the muscle memory, but I hadn’t done anything like that for many years,” she said. “The strength level was starting from scratch. I do have the discipline, dance teaches you that. I don’t like people telling me there’s something that I can’t do. I thrive in that environment.”

After a tough day of taking hits she went home and when her two kids (now age two and six) jumped on her and jabbed their knees in her ribs, she fought back tears. Her mother asked her, “Is it really worth it?”

Yes, she told the movie theater: “We’re working on a sequel.”

“Two Days in the Valley”

Paramount

Looking back on her early years acting in such films as “Two Days in the Valley,” she recalls being “naive.” If only, she said, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements “had happened 20 — or 40 — years ago!”

“The first time I was on a set, I remember not knowing anything,” she said. “From that moment on I was, ‘What is a mark, what is a baby on a stick?’ I was fascinated by everything, I was lucky enough to have producers who didn’t belittle me and became mentors and guided me through the first decade of my career.”

Theron thanked her late manager J.J. Harris for bringing her “Monster,” which Theron didn’t think she could do, she said: “I wanted to produce ‘Monster’ because of the fear I had. I had gone out on a limb so many times, and nobody ever protected me. Patty and I had a great partnership jumping off the cliff together. She was a first-time filmmaker. I realized if I going to complain about this, I had to do this for myself.”

Her two Oscar nominations come from movies directed by women. She won the Oscar as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster,” becoming the first South African to win a major acting category, and also received a nomination for Niki Caro’s sexual harassment drama “North Country.”

She also took a risk with Karyn Kusama on actioner “Aeon Flux” and is currently “stalking” Lynne Ramsay, she said: “People confuse this rich pool of talent that we have with a cause, but when these people are playing at a level, why would we not want to be a part of that? Hopefully now there will be more opportunities given. I try with my company to provide many of those opportunities.”

Theron is excited at the changes going on in Hollywood and hopes they will extend elsewhere. “I believe things will change with this movement, there’s no going back,” she said. “And it’s a huge part to do with all of you out there clapping and telling your stories and everybody coming forward. It’s not just our industry; it’s women being brave enough to take ownership of our lives, completely, not eliminating the things that we’re too ashamed of or have felt victimized by. We’re all part of them. That’s what makes it so powerful. It’s happening everywhere. It’s more than roles for women, we need more female directors, cinematographers, editors, sound mixers.”

Inequality has never been acceptable to Theron. “As a child growing up in apartheid I had no power, I was a privileged white person,” she said. “I made a deal with myself that I would never be part of that again, whether it’s equal rights or gay marriage. And if there’s not a female sound operator to come and mic me, I have a problem with that.”

Actress Charlize Theron points to a photo of her children, August Theron and Jackson Theron as she poses for a portrait to promote Women's March on Main at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, UtahAPTOPIX 2017 Sundance Film Festival - Women's March on Main Portraits, Park City, USA - 21 Jan 2017

Charlize Theron points to a photo of her children, August and Jackson Theron

Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As for Frances McDormand’s “inclusion rider” Oscar speech, “Can I say how much I love that fucking woman?” said Theron. “She is my fucking hero. I sent her a pair of panties that day after she won, printed: ‘Yeah, I’m a fucking woman.’ She took that moment, realizing the climate we’re in right now. It didn’t feel politicized or obnoxious; it felt real and raw and truthful. It was a tricky thing to do. She unified us and has now changed the thought process, me included. For anyone who has a production company or is making films, we have to start thinking differently. We have to.”

Theron has never been fussy about mixing up studio and indie projects. “I read a good story, I don’t care what the genre is,” she said. “Sometimes a good film doesn’t fit into a box. If I said, ‘I can’t do this because it’s an action movie,’ I would never have made George Miller’s ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.'”

The iconic primal scream in “Fury Road” wasn’t originally in the storyboards, she said. “It came out of a conversation I had with George about what was at stake, the agony of losing everything and what that looks like and feels like. Some directors will patiently listen to me and nothing will happen, but with George he heard what I said and he shot it. The weather in Namibia was brutal. We shot this entire scene with a skeleton crew of eight people, in a couple of takes.

You are so lucky to have a moment as an actor where your environment is so powerful, all you have to do is put yourself in that space,” she said. “I had been shooting that movie six months already, I was very tired, and I might not have had the greatest experience with my costar.”

“Was that Tom Hardy, perchance?” I asked.

She smiled. “So…bring in the childhood stuff and it just happens!”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Denver And Delilah Prods./Ko/REX/Shutterstock (5882868n) Charlize Theron, Jason Reitman Young Adult - 2011 Director: Jason Reitman Denver And Delilah Productions USA On/Off Set

Charlize Theron, Jason Reitman on set of “Young Adult “

Prods./Ko/REX/Shutterstock

At the Oscars one year, Theron found herself pinned near Reitman and told him how much she wanted to work with him. He came back to her with Cody’s scabrous portrait of a woman who refuses to grow up, “Young Adult,” which hit Theron “like a slap in the face” until they talked it through. “Diablo writes from a real place and purges,” she said. “It’s scary to read something that’s so raw and real and not what you’re used to. Most of the scripts I read are coated over, with softer, rounded edges.”

The three collaborators are “all around the same age,” said Theron. “And we have a specific sense of humor, with different backgrounds and worlds but somehow when we all sit at a table together it works… [Jason] finds the flaws in people that are not so pretty and shows them in way that is not exploitive that you can touch and is familiar. We had a conversation about ‘chicken wings,’ things women put into our bras to push our tits up and they stick into our skin and are really painful to pull off. He’d never heard about it. He said, ‘Cool, that’s what I’m talking about!'”

Theron read “Tully” when her second adopted baby was six or seven months old, and it was a gut punch: “It was when you think you’ll never come out of this dark tunnel, when you don’t sleep. ‘This I know!’ [“Tully”] is about so much more than motherhood. It’s about post-partum depression, but it’s really about a woman having to find herself and make peace with ending one chapter of her life to make room for the next chapter. It feels like a continuation of ‘Young Adult.’ A lot of it is not pretty.”

MacKenzie Davis (“Blade Runner 2049”) plays the young night nanny who comes to relieve the exhausted new mother. “She kicked my ass,” Theron said. “She had this gentle quality of old wisdom in her eyes, juxtaposed with complete and utter naivete. When you work with an actor like that it’s challenging, it keeps you on your toes.”

TULLY - Official Teaser Trailer - In Theaters April 20

“Tully”

YouTube

After getting into the best shape of her life for “Atomic Blonde,” Theron gained 50 pounds in three months for “Tully.” To represent the new mom low on time, money, or energy, Theron didn’t want to use prosthetics; she binged on cheeseburgers and sugar. “I wanted to feel like I was the character, I’m in her body,” she said. “I never dealt with depression my entire life, but eating as much sugar and processed food, I started losing my mind. I was so depressed, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not a method actor, and all of sudden I became one.”

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