By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—The last time audiences saw Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron and “Family Guy” comedy writer/producer Seth MacFarlane in the same room, it was the 2013 Academy Awards that MacFarlane was hosting. He was singing an off-color tribute to the esteemed actresses in the Dolby Theatre audience called “We Saw Your Boobs!” and the camera cut to Theron holding her head in disgust. We found out later that she and some of the other world-famous women name-checked in the song were in on the joke. (Her reaction was actually pre-recorded.)
Now, the unlikely duo appears together in MacFarlane’s new comedy, “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Theron plays a gunslinger, who rides into a dusty Arizona town in the rough and tumble 19th century, where she meets a broken-hearted sheep farmer who has lost his girl to a wealthy arrogant businessman in town after he weasels out of a gunfight. Anna (Theron) tries to instill self-confidence in Albert (MacFarlane), by teaching him how to shoot. Their friendship turns into something more, but Anna has a secret that could ruin their budding romance.
Theron, 38, captivated audiences as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s “Monster,” for which she won an Academy Award. She played a factory worker who stands up for gender rights in “North Country,” which earned her another Oscar nomination. More recently she’s starred in fantasy films including the sci-fi epic “Prometheus” and the fairy tale villain in “Snow White and the Huntsman.”
Romantically linked with fellow Oscar winner Sean Penn, Theron doesn’t discuss her personal life. But she is happy to talk about her first-ever comedy and working with her pal MacFarlane.
Q: How did Seth convince you to do the role?
Theron: I got to read (the script) pretty early on. There was talk about him doing this film. Even before I read it, just the idea of doing something that’s pitched in this very unusual way of a comedy-western situation and him at the helm of it was already very intriguing. That already had me very interested. Then reading the material and just how well it was written—yeah, I really liked this character. I felt like I could bring something to the table, so I definitely did some chasing.
Q: What was it like shooting on location in New Mexico (subbing for Arizona)?
Theron: Look, it’s a gorgeous place. I understand why you want to paint it. (She laughs.) I wouldn’t necessarily want to go and shoot in it again. The weather was just unbelievable. I thought that we were in biblical times and we were all going to die a horrible death by weather. There was one night we were shooting when Seth left before me and I got a text from him that literally said: “The road is washing away. Get out of your trailer right now and start driving!” And I was like, “I’m going to die on this movie!”
Q: You’ve got some great comic actors in this like Neil Patrick Harris and Sarah Silverman. How did it feel to be a part of a comedy ensemble?
Theron: Liberating. Everything about it was liberating. I think what we do (as actors) is liberating. You have to be able to feel that you can play way outside the box. If you’re with a great filmmaker and someone that you trust, who is encouraging—Seth was definitely that kind of filmmaker and co-star. Every day just felt like endless possibilities. At the same time, there was a really good foundation that we had laid because of him two weeks leading up to the film—just really knowing what he wanted and how we could be that color for him to paint on that canvas. So (he’s) very clear, very precise and he’s a fun guy to be around. It was definitely not like going to the dentist everyday! Doing this with him is like going to the dentist!
Q: There are some fun cameos in the movie such as Ryan Reynolds. We heard he was working on another film nearby and you invited him over?
Theron: He came over to say hello, and I was like: “Do you want to be in our movie?” He was doing a western, so he was already in hair and make up from his movie and so we just threw him in.
Q: What was it like working with Liam Neeson, who plays your dangerous and cruel husband?
Theron: He’s great. There is something about him. He’s not just a one-dimensional actor, no matter what he does. That’s why people are so endeared by him and why you emotionally tap into him, no matter what he plays. He plays the baddie so convincingly, but there’s realness about him. He’s not putting it on. He’s always coming from a place of understanding and empathy. It’s not plastered or mechanical. All of us were all a little star-struck. There was definitely (whispers), “Liam’s here. I saw a car by his trailer. Is he here? He’s coming onto set?” I was trying to be cool when I first met him. He’s one of the sweetest guys I’ve ever been around. He couldn’t be sweeter. He’s funny too. Like, he had really funny moments. Everybody was really surprised by that. That day we had to do the slap and the Mark Twain line, I think I laughed through most of it. Normally, you should stop laughing after getting slapped.
Q: How about the rest of the cast?
Theron: Everybody was really great. Seth did a really good job casting this movie and there really wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch. There was just a really great bunch of people together having fun, working hard. They were there for the right reason and all wanted to make the best movie they possibly could. We laughed a lot and drank a lot, and almost died together a lot, so we are bonded for life.