Charlize Theron believes resilience is a quality most South Africans possess by virtue of being born in this country, and she says as much during an international press conference when asked about the characteristics that have led to her success.
“I was never willing to roll over and give up. I’m grateful for having that in me and I credit my country for that determination. Growing up in South Africa taught me to be tenacious, not to cower at the first sign of obstacles.”
I meet with Theron at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. She’s elegant in her standard five-inch heels, teamed with black cigarette trousers and a French sailor-style black-and-white striped top. Her hair is cut in a helmet and a massive man’s watch dangles from her delicate wrist.
Her collaborators — directors, producers, actors — all say she is solution-focused and that if there were a crisis they’d want the former ballerina around to help sort things out.
Theron downplays the idea. “I have a real interest in wanting to make films and that passion means you take ‘no’ as a small obstacle to be overcome. I’m pragmatic, optimistic, and remind myself that if it was easy it wouldn’t be as valuable. Getting on the other side of a problem feels more victorious when there are challenges.”
Long, feline, lean — the blonde from Benoni had a bountiful year in 2019. Not only did she star in the comedy Long Shot, but is on cue to repeat her critical and award-nominated success for her portrayal of Megyn Kelly in the film Bombshell, which she also produced. As she was in her breakthrough role in Monster, she is once again almost unrecognisable in this film.
The title Bombshell refers to the appearance of the women about whom the film is made, as well as the effect their revelations had on the media industry. Roger Ailes, the man who crafted Fox News into the right-wing powerhouse it is today, is accused of serial harassment, using his power and terror tactics to control some of the women with whom he worked. He also used his position to demand sexual favours from them if they wanted to keep their jobs.
The women who worked at Fox raised their voices together and forced the ouster of Ailes and also, ultimately, a change in the workplace philosophy at the channel — ahead of the #MeToo movement.
Theron portrays Megyn Kelly, the American journalist and attorney who was an anchor at Fox News from 2004 to 2017. Nicole Kidman is Gretchen Carlson, journalist, author and former television commentator, and the woman who initiated the action against Ailes. Margot Robbie is a compilation character representing the young, ambitious women who were easy prey for management. The film is directed by Jay Roach.
The fact that other high-calibre women came aboard the project is an indication of Theron’s Hollywood status.
“It’s odd that it’s taken this long for Nicole and I to work together,” says Theron. “We were actively looking for a project together. I’m happy it’s this one, because this is special. I think of Nicole as an icon. Watching her ability to go outside her comfort zone and surprise the audience; she’s always pushing the envelope, offering performances that we aren’t expecting.”
Theron could just as easily be describing herself. “Nicole is incredibly brave and vulnerable. She’s as good as it gets.” A little smile curves up her delicate mouth. “I can’t believe she said yes to working on this project.”
And Margot? “The tenacity to walk into this industry and say, ‘I’m going to do this on my own terms’ right from the get-go is something that I take my hat off to; not just as an actor, but as a producer. It takes real bravery,” says Theron. “We aren’t necessarily at a place where the doors are open and women are welcome to step into a variety of roles. But Margot has done that so eloquently and beautifully.”
Theron’s first appearance in Bombshell is surreal — it takes a few moments to realise it’s her. She nods, tipping her head to make-up artist Kazu Hiro.
“To capture Megyn Kelly required ingenuity when it came to the physical side of the role. Kazu felt it was important to change my eye shape because Megyn’s eyes are so prominent. He made the transformation as comfortable as he could, but there were days when I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of their sockets.”
Theron’s features are very different from Kelly’s. “We used dark contact lenses and two prosthetic pieces that went from my eyelids to my eyebrows — very complicated because the crease of your eye enables you to blink. If you glue that crease you look like you have a glass eye.”
She widens her eyes, but the hours of discomfort were worth it. “I wanted people to immediately invest in Megyn and the story. The sooner I could get the audience to forget they were watching me, the quicker the emotional connection would come.”
With box-office success beckoning, it’s strange to think the film almost didn’t get made. Two weeks before they were due to start they lost the funder. Theron went into action, pulling in collaborators she’d worked with to raise emergency funds.
“We were incredibly panicked. I probably aged five years. I had to call Nicole and Margot and that was horrible. They were unbelievably supportive. Nicole literally said, ‘I’m not going anywhere’. I get emotional because these are the stories that we don’t hear — women wanting other women to succeed,” says Theron.
“All of our department heads stayed on, even though we couldn’t pay them. It’s a testament to how important this story is, not just for somebody like me, but for all of us to tell and be a part of.”
As we wrap the interview, I feel confident enough to probe her on dating. She grins, leans into the question. “I’m very open. I’d love to meet somebody but if something doesn’t feel right, I’m not willing to compromise.
“In my 20s, I had this need to modulate myself, depending on the relationship, thinking if I could make myself a little bit smaller, my relationship would be great. The older I’ve become the more I realise that that’s not being true to myself. I don’t want to end my life feeling I did something to hold myself back, there’s no value in that.
“I hope I’ll meet somebody who’s thrilled by all the things that I have to offer. But, the truth is, I’m really happy being single, my life feels fulfilled. It’s not like I’m feeling that there’s a hole I need to fill. But I’m open to suggestions.”
She pauses, then shrugs, “My life is just too beautiful, too good, too happy to have anybody come and pee on my parade.”
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