By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—South African beauty Charlize Theron has played her share of strong, self-reliant female characters in her acting career, from a fearless coal miner standing up to the status quo in “North Country” to evil queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman” to serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster.
She now plays another headstrong character in the rebooted “Mad Max: Fury Road.” This time she is a tanker driver in a post-apocalyptic Australia. The beauty products spokeswoman, who also has two Oscars to her credit, agreed to shave her head for the tough-as-nails role.
Written, directed and produced by George Miller, who created the original “Mad Max” that made an international star of Mel Gibson, Theron, the film revisits the story of the title character (this time played by British actor Tom Hardy), who escapes an evil warlord (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and finds himself an ally in Theron’s Imperator Furiosa, who is helping the warlord’s five abused wives escape his clutches.
Having shot the film in Africa (subbing for the Australian outback) three years ago, the action-packed road drama reveals a fearsome and fearless Theron, who isn’t afraid of the warlord’s pursuing army. Her hair has grown back, and she appears stunning in a black and white print blouse and black pants at a press conference to talk about her newest action role.
Q: Some people are referring to this film as “Mad Maxine,” because you’re the baddest person on screen. Can you talk about what was so irresistible about this awesome adventure?
Theron: I find myself in the last couple of days talking about this movie and realizing more than ever about how fortunate I was to have George (Miller) trust me in this role and to hand this opportunity my way. You’re only as good as the opportunities handed your way. I watched the movie a few weeks ago and found myself so grateful.
Q: We heard Tom found a dog on set and named her Mad Maxine. Do you remember that dog on the set?
Theron: I do remember the dog. (Tom) named her Mad Maxine? That’s awesome. It’s funny you get a name in a movie because that’s what we do socially. The movie is so bare in its explanation of who they are. So you find yourself in the midst of the movement already. So I found something really powerful about the name (Furiosa). You didn’t even need to know anything about her. You were drawn to her because of the name. So anything that was driving her was already represented by her name. And it’s such a cool name.
Q: Did your dance training play a big factor in this? It seemed almost like a Martha Graham movement when she finds out that the green place has disappeared, and she’s crushed.
Theron: George and I spent a lot of time on that because George is fascinated with that world. But it was a long time since I’d been on stage telling a story with my body. This was another extreme. We talked about it a lot, and George is truly fascinated by that. As actors, we were fighting that tooth and nail because of fear, because dialogue is a crutch.
It’s so easy to have a great writer write you a line, and George was so adamant about keeping this on track: the understanding of the world being so bare. Language would be a luxury that these people would never have access to. In the beginning, all of us were like, “Can I get one line here?” And for the first couple of weeks, you’re just feeling like you’re doing a lot of this. (She makes exaggerated facial expressions). But for me, five weeks into shooting, it became a little more second nature, and it became easier. When I watch the movie now, it’s so evident that that was the way to tell it.
Q: You have a lot of female co-stars, which is unusual for an action movie. How was it working with Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the other women in this?
Theron: I don’t get to make a lot of movies with this many women. I was surrounded by women, so that was a breath of fresh air for me. I knew George has an innate understanding of what women represent in society, and he wanted that to reflect in a post-apocalyptic world in the most truthful way possible. It’s interesting having people tell us we’re strong women, and we’re just women.
The truth of women is powerful enough, and we don’t need to be put on pedestals. So we don’t need to be portrayed in positions that we’re not capable of doing. What we’re capable of doing is amazing, and is special for a story like this. The idea of creating a world and understand that obviously for procreation, you’re going to need us, but we’re so much more than that. I was very touched by this character, and George and I spent a lot of time talking about this.
Q: How would you describe Furiosa?
Theron: She’s about the most broken woman that you can imagine. And in many ways, socially, she’s been a disappointment, and has been discarded. And by being discarded, that made her want to show you a real woman. She was stolen as a young child, she was barren, and she ends up fulfilling her destiny, which is being herself.
Q: Since you were shooting this out in the middle of nowhere, where did you go to unwind in between takes?
Theron: It was really hard to escape it. I think George planned it that way.
Q: There are more roles coming out for women in bigger films. Are you seeing this in your own career?
Theron: Yes and no. I think it is a complicated question to answer. I think it was not so much the quantity, we just want good quality. There are women in these types of movies all the time. There were whispers about this new female character that would stand right next to Max. You think it’s awesome, and then you remember that you’ve heard that before. And I thought maybe I’d just be the chick in the background with the push-up bra and the hair in my mouth. So the cynic in me had doubts. But I’ve been doing this for a while.
Q: What did you think when you first met George Miller?
Theron: There was something about him that I believed him that he wanted to do something that felt really truthful. It’s in the quality of this role as opposed to just being a girl in this movie. Women are eager to feel that we’re on an equal playing field. I don’t want to be anything other than what I really am: just an authentic woman. In a lot of movies, you’re either a really good hooker or a really good mom. That conflicted nature is missed in film and just not celebrated enough in society. So when you come across that rare filmmaker that really wants to embrace that, it’s really nice. There should be more of that. It’s really strange to me when these women come on screen, and they are always embraced very positively, and we should keep exploring that.
Q: When we see you in a fragrance commercial on TV, you look so glamorous. You have such a non-hairdo-do in this film. Did you have to be dragged to the chair to get your head shaved? What was that experience like?
Theron: I didn’t get dragged to it. The movie stopped and started several times. The more time we had, the more the story informed both of us. As an actor, you’re just trying to fit into the world, and I didn’t know how to fit into this world. There was something nice about the element of surprise. We weren’t trying to hide her as a woman, but she really melted into this underworld mechanics place where she was almost forgotten as a woman, and there was something nice about the element of surprise. Like, what? She made a left?
I wanted something that could kind of disappear. And I didn’t know how to do that with a ponytail. My hair was really fried, and I wasn’t really convinced, so I asked George if I thought I should shave my head. He was really quiet, and took a deep breath, and I took that as a positive. And I found out yesterday that he was very concerned about the shape of my head. About 45 minutes later, I didn’t have buzzers, so my friend Enzo brought them, and 45 minutes later, it was off, and we sent a selfie to George, and he was awesome.
Q: Do you recommend that look to other women?
Theron: Here’s the amazing thing about that. I was 20 minutes early to everything in my life. It’s amazing how much time we spend on our hair. There was something very freeing about that. It’s nice to think about your femininity, and have it mean more than just your hair. But it’s also so nice to have hair.
Q: What was the most daunting stunt that you had to do yourself?
Theron: I had a rough time with the scene where Max (Hardy) falls off the hood of the car, and Riley’s character and I have to grab hold of him. It was on my mechanical arm, so I couldn’t use my own body strength to hold Tom up. So I was leaning out of the window, and thought this could be really bad. Of course I was concerned with Tom’s head hitting the ground, but I’d be going with him. I’m hooked to him. I was definitely a bit of a ***** that day for sure.