Charlize Theron is no stranger to action. In fact, she’s been kicking ass and taking names for over 20 years in the entertainment industry. On Friday, the talented actress sat down with IGN’s Terri Schwartz at SDCC 2020 for a deep-dive retrospective into her storied career.
Firstly, Schwartz asked Theron what inspired her to pursue action films. Theron explained that she always held an affinity for the genre, specifically naming Alien as an inspirational flick. However, multifaceted action roles for women were scarce even two decades ago. “I’ve always wanted to explore it. I just never had the opportunity to…I love action movies,” the actress stated. In addition, she noted Mad Max: Fury Road as a tipping point for women in action. There was a misconception that women couldn’t handle the same workload as men. However, George Miller‘s epic sci-fi masterpiece changed all that.
“We kind of changed the genre for women…we now know we can’t hide behind ignorance anymore,” Theron said. She went on to explain that her work in 2003’s The Italian Job pulled back the veil regarding how female characters are treated in action films. “It lit a fire under my ass,” she said. Theron discussed her work in Atomic Blonde. There’s a continuous action sequence wherein Theron’s character is fighting on a staircase. She revealed that Atomic Blonde also served as proof that women don’t need to fight like men — they can fight like women. They can use elbows, knees, heads, etc. to exert force against their opponent. “This concept that women have to fight like men is so ridiculous,” she said.
In addition, Theron revealed that Miller was very much pro-authenticity when it came to shooting action scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road. “The physicality is very real,” she stated. Essentially, the film is a story of a three-day car chase. Theron added that everyone worked to ensure that every move was as real as real can be.
Next, Schwartz asked Theron if there was a specific innate quality that drew her to characters. The actress explained that she typically shied away from scripts that straightaway refer to their female characters as “strong heroes.” “I’m not a hero. I don’t relate to heroes…we’re all just trying to survive,” she said. Her goal is for women to watch her characters and relate to them. Theron revealed that she’s intrigued by the “messiness of being human.” “I felt like there was a lack of conflicted characters for women…women very rarely got to explore that…we can either be really good hookers or really good mothers.”
Now, while the industry is certainly evolving in terms of gender equality, there’s still room for much-needed improvement. Theron explained that action roles are still disproportionately skewed toward men. Her goal is to help normalize complex female roles in action films. In addition to her intrigue regarding the complexities of humanity, Theron also has to connect emotionally to her characters. “If there isn’t an emotional hook I can hang my hat on…I can’t do it.”
Recently, Theron’s latest project The Old Guard was released on Netflix. She delved into the physical requirements of her role and how she still feels as though each action role could be her last. She also had to study martial arts, which initially was uncharted waters for the actress. “You’re trying to see what you can excel in,” she said in regards to getting in shape for a role. She added that, despite The Old Guard falling into the sci-fi genre, she felt that the story was grounded in reality. That, and the set pieces “really lent themselves to challenging action.”
Lastly, Theron explained that, despite her fearless appearance, she’s actually driven by fear. “The truth of it is that everything actually scares me…I don’t know how to not create from a place of fear. My creativity really thrives off my fear. I’m just really good at covering it up.”
And that’s a wrap on Charlize Theron’s career retrospective at SDCC 2020!
Check out the full panel here.