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Career Watch: Charlize Theron Bids for Marquee Stardom with ‘Huntsman’ & ‘Prometheus’

Career Watch: Charlize Theron Bids for Marquee Stardom with 'Huntsman' & 'Prometheus'

Charlize Theron is back in the spotlight with “Snow White and The Huntsman” and that’s where she’ll stay with “Prometheus” opening this week. And in July she starts shooting George Miller sequel “Mad Max: Fury Road” in Namibia (after three years of waiting, “It’s time to skin this cat already,” she says). Theron is also shopping a TV series that puts a modern spin on the feuding families of “Hatfields and McCoys,” the History Channel’s record-breaking mini-series.

Stylish $170-million “Huntsman” did top its lowball projections, but the film is cringe-inducing, and while “Prometheus” is a breathtaking visual feat with some killer performances (from Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender), Theron’s is not among them. She’s one of our great actresses, a beautiful and sexy Oscar-winning badass who says whatever she wants — so why settle for sub-par roles?

Theron highlights the balancing act even the top actresses in Hollywood must perform between top notch indie roles and studio tentpoles. She’s never dominated the box office on her own, and her best work (including her Oscar) is grittier indie fare. In fact, “Snow White” is Theron’s first venture in a big-budget mainstream film in five years. Between “Hancock” and “Snow White,” she starred in four low-budget films that didn’t play more than 1,000 theaters.

SIGNATURE LINE: “I’d like to thank…oh, hell, I’d like to thank my own abilities,..I’m gonna look like an asshole; deal with it.” – Theron, in her practice Oscar acceptance speech (video below). Here’s the other one.

THE START: She began as a ballerina and model in her native South Africa before coming to Los Angeles, where she was cast in her first film, “Children of the Corn III” in 1995 at age 20. The following year she landed “2 Days in the Valley” and Tom Hanks’ “That Thing You Do!,” followed by a role as Keanu Reeve’s wife in “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997), as a supermodel in Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” and as an ape’s co-star in Disney’s “Might Joe Young” (1998).

She transitioned from beautiful co-star to leading lady via “The Astronaut’s Wife” (1999, with Johnny Depp), “The Cider House Rules” (1999, with Tobey Maquire and Michael Caine), “The Yards” (2000, with Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix) “The Reindeer Games” (2000, with Ben Affleck), “Men of Honor” (2000, with Robert De Niro and Cuba Gooding Jr.), “The Legend of Baggar Vance” (2000, with Will Smith and Matt Damon) and “Sweet November” (2001, again with Reeves).CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Theron was full-blown movie star by the time “The Italian Job” landed with Wahlberg and Edward Norton in May 2003, but it was Patty Jenkins’ “Monster,” released the following December, that cemented her as one of our finest actresses and won her the Oscar and Golden Globe in 2004.

Critics raved over her “Monster” performance: Andrew Sarris declared, “Ms. Theron has ventured far beyond mere surface impersonation — although that is startling enough — to an insightful penetration of her subject’s psyche.” Peter Travers called her “a force of nature,” and Michael O’Sullivan gushed over “the bravura, mercilessly watchable performance of Charlize Theron.”

That performance was tough to top, but “North Country” (2005) earned Theron her second Oscar nomination (Reese Witherspoon won for “Walk the Line”). “In the Valley of Elah” (2007) and “The Burning Plain” (2008) also featured strong performances by Theron but lured limited audiences. 2011’s hard-R comedy “Young Adult” was a perfect use of Theron’s “I-don’t-give-a-fuck” attitude (which few A-listers are brave enough to reveal) but Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody’s tone is an acquired taste. Oscar-buzz for the role disappeared as reviews were mixed and the Best Actress category became more crowded.

MISFIRES: “Æon Flux” (2005, 10% Rotten) was a total misfire and “Hancock” (2008), though it was her highest-grossing film by far ($624 million worldwide) largely thanks to Will Smith, did nothing for Theron’s acting career. If Angelina Jolie had a blonde counter-part, the closest match would be Theron, but so far only Jolie can successfully carry action films single handedly–partly by cherry-picking the best ones.

This summer Theron makes a bid to boost her global bankability with two big-budget studio films. As the evil Queen Ravenna in Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” (46% Rotten) she goes as far as she can with the character. Some critics accepted her over-the-top display and others balked — part of the problem was a weak script.

In Ridley Scott’s higher-quality “Prometheus,” Theron is again trapped by a poorly developed supporting character in a script that doesn’t give her much to do. In other words, Rapace has the Ripley role.

CAREER ADVICE: Because she looks the way she does, it’s all too easy to use her in roles that require a minor amount of ability and depth — and because those roles come from the films that have the easiest time getting made, it’s an uphill battle to find material that will capitalize on Theron’s muscular combo of supermodel looks and talent. It’s no coincidence that it took “Monster” — and Theron’s complete physical transformation into Aileen Wuornos — for audiences see just how good she is. But how often do films like “Monster” come around? In “Young Adult” she played a beautiful bitch instead of an ugly serial killer and it’s clear which one was easier for audiences to swallow.

While men are allowed to grow into grizzled authority, women have to figure out a way to find character roles as they age. Theron is adding producing to her skill set as she becomes more proactive going forward. She realizes, as Sandra Bullock did, that she can’t rely on the studios to look out for her best interests. She has to do it herself.

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