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Jenkins and Theron Collaborate for Powerful "Monster"

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 8, 2004 at 2:0AM

Jenkins and Theron Collaborate for Powerful "Monster"
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Jenkins and Theron Collaborate for Powerful "Monster"

by Eugene Hernandez




Monster star Charlize Theron and director Patty Jenkins (right) at the party for the New York premiere of "Monster" last month. Photo by Brian Brooks/ © indieWIRE (shot on the Kodak LS443)


Patty Jenkins, writer and director of the new film "Monster," about serial killer Aileen Wournos, was convinced that her efforts to get her first feature made would be in vain. "I was pretty confident that it would never get made," Jenkins told indieWIRE recently, adding that she thought it would end up as a "nice spec script."

"Monster" can be a tough film, as Jenkins acknowledges, but it also seems to be striking a chord with audiences and critics alike. During this week's "10 best" episode of "Ebert and Roeper," the critics hailed the movie, with "Monster" topping Ebert's list. He called Charlize Theron's lead performance "a major achievement."

The film has made $500,000 so far since its limited release on Christmas Eve. It will expand to 100 theaters this weekend and another 50 on January 16th.

"I never expected so many people to overcome the violence and the language," Jenkins said, "This has been the most moving and touching and life-changing experience of my life to have people reach out and embrace it."

The film is based on the tragic life of Wournos, a prostitute, turned serial killer who eventually ends up paying the ultimate price in Florida for her brutal murders. Yet along the way, Wournos also finds love with another woman. Following two documentaries on the subject, "Aileen Wournos: The Selling of a Serial Killer" in 1992 and "Aileen: The Life and Death of a Serial Killer" which opens in theaters this weekend, "Monster" marks a potentially high-profile dramatic telling of the story. While there are some timeline changes in the movie, Jenkins said, "We were extremely careful about the greater truth of it." She added that it is based on real information and real conversations.

Jenkins' "Monster," which debuted on the closing night of November's AFI Fest in Los Angeles, caught many people by surprise as it seemed to come out of nowhere. After announcing a deal with Newmarket ahead of the Toronto fest in September, the filmmakers didn't have much time to hit the festival circuit if they were going to open the movie in theaters in time for year-end awards consideration. Had Newmarket not jumped on the movie, Jenkins said that she was prepared to pursue the 2004 festival circuit.

Theron's performance as Wournos, which has garnered a Golden Globe nomination and has generated strong Oscar buzz, is a major reason for the praise of the film. In early notes about the story, Jenkins admitted that she envisioned a "'Raging Bull'-style character film about Aileen Wournos." Raising money for such a movie would be tough, though. While at first Jenkins thought that she might get money by playing up the lesbian serial killer angle, ultimately that approach did not make sense to her.

"It's rare that a character film is easy to fund," Jenkins said, "But it can get financed." After making the decision to drop the exploitative route, she decided to take the film and write it her way. "I have a real pet peeve for women who play damaged characters but don't look damaged," Jenkins said.

Indeed, Theron looks damaged in this role. After seeing Theron in previous films and learning more about her, Jenkins realized that Theron would have the inner strength to play this part and wouldn't be too vain to inhabit the role.

"She is so beautiful in a way that she does not have to protect her beauty," Jenkins said, "Few would have the bravery to walk this line and to bring humanity to it -- [she is] the only person I ever wanted to be in the movie."