Interview: Prometheus Star Charlize Theron Talks About Working With Practical Sets vs. CG, Responds to Internet Theories About Her Character and More
Article from /Film
Last week in London I had the opportunity to sit at a table with other journalists and interview Prometheus star Charlize Theron.
Charlize talks the evolution of the script from when she first read it to shoot, the secrecy of the production, the brilliance of working on practical sets vs. cg, the extent that Ridley Scott went to make everything feel real, gives a little bit of insight into the backstory of her character, being frightened by the unknown, deciding not to rewatch the Alien films before shooting, having fun with Fassbender in between takes on set, theories about her character, the delivery of dialogue, preparing for Mad Max: Fury Road, making big movies vs. making smaller movies, producing tv projects with Ridley Scott and David Fincher, the attraction to do tv over films, her obsession with HBO and Game of Thrones, finding time to take a vacation, and much more.
Read the entire interview after the jump. It contains only very minor spoilers (I have made any mild spoilers invisible, you need to highlight to reveal).
Question: Can you talk about how the script evolved from when you first read it?
Charlize Theron: Well, from the time that Ridley sent it to me, it was probably in a two-week period discussed it on the phone and he introduced me to Damon, and we kinda just had like a back and forth for a couple of days. Then Damon went for, I think just two weeks and did some writing and came back with a really, really good foundation. Then it kind of just continued, as all movies do. This wasnt an unusual experience for me, that you then sit down and have more discussions about it and more things come out of it and little tweaks here and there and things come in and go out. You know, thats kind of like ongoing for me on every movie, so thats kind of how this came about.
Q: Is it nice to be able to finally talk about the film a little bit?
Theron: (Laughs) Like that much more? Everybodys like, I saw it that late. I just came out of a press conference and I saw some lady just go like this when I said something, like a Rottweiler, her ears went up. So yeah, I dont know how much we are actually allowed to talk about it. (Laughs) But truth be told, its nice to not say everything about a movie. I wish all movies were somewhat like that. Theres something nice about a film just speaking for itself and you cant do it with every movie. This movie kind of is a pedigree that people know what to expect, so you can get away with it. But its my favorite way to go and sit in a theater and have the lights go off and just not know what the fuck youre going to see. I feel like everything is given away these days. For me, it wasnt hard at all not to talk about it. I could just be really cheeky and blame it on the studio.
Q: One thing I like about the movie is its really hard to tell where there are sets and where he used green screen environments? I was curious about that. Was it a lot of it actually built on set?
Theron: The entire ship was built. Yean, an entire ship was built, I mean, like every button, every wall, every hallway, ever. I think Arthur did an amazing job. The green screen that I saw was through the windows. That was it. Even what the monitors were showing like the scene where Im watching Weyland (spoiler invisotext) out in space, he had pre-CGId all of that for us on videos so that it was projected for us to watch. It was so little green screen, for me, anyway, and from the inside of the ship, very, very little.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the first day you stepped onto the set? Im sure you were told youre not going to have to worry about green screen, but theres something to be said about walking into that environment and seeing these.
Theron: Its amazing. I mean, I didnt realizeyeah, I mean, I dont think we had a clear understanding of how much of it was going to be tangible, but that was ridiculous. I mean, the day that the projectors started showing the scene, I was like, Ridley, now youve really crossed the line. (Laughs) You know, I can act, too, a little bit here. I mean, you dont have to. But hes that kind of director. I think he comes from the school of understanding that the marriage between that real set and CGI is what makes it good, because to have the actual set is helpful for your actors. And so, it helps raise the stakes for the performances, which makes the movie better. I know that what we did as actors in this film would not have been what it is if we were just acting with green screens around us and stuff like that. It was amazing. I mean, I walked on and had a bit of aI could like chill my ego down because I was like, My ship, my ship, my ship
Q: Did that actually kind of feed the character a little bit?
Theron: My ego? Yes. (Laughs)
Q: You said you liked exploring characters where people arent born bad, so what do you think was driving Meredith?
Theron: Well, its a tough thing to talk about Meredith without giving the movie away, but I think there is a great quoteand I feel horrible that I dont know who said thisbut it was a great quote, it says, The only difference between all of us are the ones who are loved and the ones who are not. I feel like Meredith falls in that category really well.
Q: A lot of the stuff that the film explores thematically, existential questions, theres some body horror in the film. What component of film are you personally frighted by?
Theron: Frightened by? Oh, its the unknown. When I watched the film for the first time, I had a bruised elbow because I knocked my elbow into the steel part of the chair next to me like, three times. All of those moments were once they were out there in the unknown. I think theres something incredibly scary about that. I mean, and that fucking tagline is still on my head, When youre in space, no one can hear you scream? That screwed me up for life. Like, sometimes Im by myself and Im like, When youre in space. No one can hear you. I mean, that just screwed me up. So I think that stuff for me coincides with wanting to believe that youre going to get an answer to something, and then discovering, obviously not, and the discovery is just fucking horror. Thats scary.
Q: Were you one of these people that wants to rewatch all the other Aliens films? Have you seen all of them?
Q: Did you rewatch them?
Theron: No, no, I didnt. No, because it didnt feel necessary. I think there is a part of me thats always a little bit like, Why would I torture myself? Just in case you forgot how big the shoes are youre walking in, take a look again, you know what I mean? Like, I think I pussy out. So, Im not that kind of person. There was nothing that was relevant for me to have to do that because we werent making a prequel or a sequel or anything like that. It was just a similar world, and that was really it. So I didnt feel like it was a part of my homework. I also didnt want anything to kinda throw me or maybe in my subconscious, influence me in what I ended up doing in the film.
Q: Regarding the world and your homework, how much were Damon and Ridley there to give you background that didnt make it into the movie, but that sort of opened different doors within this future?
Theron: A lot. There was a lot of stuff that didnt end up in the movie, but I think you cant be attached to those things as an actor. I want to be in a good movie, and so the narrative is way more important. I think that stuff helps create maybe a thickness to her that wouldnt have been there. I think in the long-run, all of that stuff was really important. They were great. I mean, Damon was always around. Ridley was just always asking questions. It was just one of those environments where we were always talking about it, always, and there were even moments where Michael Fassbender and I would kind of enhance on our scenes and talk about it. Ridley was incredibly just open to all of that stuff. It was just a very collaborative set, and my fear was that we were trying to answer things that you cant answer, and thats when it becomes problematic, and it wasnt that kind of set. We really just enjoyed asking all the big questions, and not necessarily finding the answers.
Q: Did you have much fun on the set even though its an intense film?
Theron: Yeah, I mean, I like to work that way. I dont know how to not work that way. So, I mean, I always have a good time because God, I mean, were just a bunch of kids who never got to grow up, and now were playing on a spaceship. How can you not enjoy that, you know? So yeah, I had a great time making this film.
Q: Youre known for your comedy so did you take the lead on that?
Theron: I think Fassbender took the lead on this one. He took it to a whole new level because he always had his computer around, which I dont travel with props. I just travel with my talent. Yeah, he always had a computer around, and fuck me, that bastard can pull some nasty shit up. There was a lot of that like, in the corner. Wed be waiting for people or whatever, and Fassy would always be on his computer like, Check this out. Im like, Oh my God! I have to do a scene right now, you asshole.
Q: Like what? I feel we need a detailed description of one.
Theron: No, oh God, no. No, Im not even going to fall for that. Im not that jetlagged. No, and he was a blast. We had these little dorm rooms in Pinewood, and mine and his were right next to each others, so that was the little like high school. But, it was such an ensemble cast. It was nice that everybody had a good time, you know? When you have to do the work, you do the work. I think actors who know their job know thats how you do it. You dont show up and make people miserable. That poor grip whos standing there, he just wants to feed his family. He doesnt need to hear about your psychosis on life and love and death.
SPOILER QUESTION BEGIN
Q: After seeing the movie, people were theorizing that your character might be an android. Thats not said in the film and probably is not even true. I wanted to know if you thought of that.
Theron: (Laughs) We played around with a lot of stuff, Ill just say that, nonspecific things. I dont think we ever went like that. (puts her finger down as if pressing a button) But we played around with a lot of stuff, and we threw a lot of stuff out there very loosely, and maybe they influenced some of it a little bit, but there was definitely something that happened once David and I kind of stood next to each other, where I started feeling like his posture was overtaking my posture. Theres the good age-old question like, Is the chicken before the egg? Like, is it him or is it me or is it part of my DNA in him? We did talk about that a lot, that it was nice to have something ambiguous about the origins of both of us, maybe, like why do we look so much alike? Why am I walking so much like him? Is it that I am an android or is it that I gave him human qualities, that I gave him my DNA? We played with a lot of that shit, which was fun.
Spoiler Question End
Q: The dialogue was delivered in a very specific way. It kind of reminded of Alien, in a very Kubrick kind of way. Did Ridley give you any direction of how he wanted your character to deliver the dialogue?
Theron: We just talked a lot, because when you play a character that is somewhatthere is a power struggle here for her. She is very much in constant need to want to be in control of everything. Thats all shes doing. From the moment that the movie kind of takes off, shes up first, shes making sure… Theres always something about her trying to control the situation. Ridley and I talked a lot about people, especially women who come from these kind of dynasties that are kinda set up by men, their fathers usually. There might be other sons in the family, but for some reason, the girl just kind of has the DNA of the dad. We wanted to have something of her kind of come across that was reflective of those people that Ive seen and know. When I watched those women, there was something very interesting about her almost being condescending and passive-aggressive in the way she talks, you know? Its tricky because you dont want the audience to kind of go, Euuch. I liked that because it made her a little bit more interesting to me than someone who was just completely confident and theyre in control the entire time, or not. I didnt want to play it in the extremities. I wanted it to just be kind of that she was condescending most of the time and she was very passive-aggressive. I think all of that comes from a horrible place of insecurity and vulnerability.
Q: What are your thoughts on being in the spaceship, being in space, on extraterrestrial life? What do you think?
Theron: Ive always thought it was very plausible. I havent really like experienced anything in my life that changed that, so I think that its very, very, very possible. I mean, factually we know that theres living cells out there, so we know that. If you read science, we can go by that. So are there actual full creatures? I wouldnt say no.
Q: What scene did you most enjoy shooting?
Theron: I cant really talk about the scenes. (Laughs) Oh Im itchy all over. (Laughs)
Q: Youve got to use the flamethrower so I wondered if it was that.
Theron: Yeah, right, like you guysI have to trust you. No, I mean, look. Ill say in general, I liked all the stuff that (spoiler invisotext) really kind of dived into her real agenda, Ill say that. I like all of that stuff because thats when you find the truth of the character. The human condition is all about us pretending to be something sometimes that were not. When you get into the core of people kind of stripping all of that away, thats for me, as an actor, always the most fun stuff to do.
Q: Im really looking forward to a certain Mad Max movie that is coming up. What can you tell people about that project and when do you begin filming?
Theron: I leave in like two and a half weeks and we start shooting I think around mid-July in Namibia. Im fucking dying, too, its been three years. Its time to skin this cat already, so yeah, Im very excited about it.
Q: To follow-up on that project obviously its been start, stop, start, stop. Is the script that you were given all that time ago exactly what youre still doing?
Theron: Yes, exactly the same script. I know. It was more logistics. It was the fact that he had to finish Happy Feet. Then there was terrible floods in Australia, and the desert just never recovered from it. That sounds horrible. It did recover in a beautiful way, but not in a way that we needed it to, so that was a huge problem for us.
Q: What is it about that project that youre looking forward to taking on?
Theron: I think that just like this thats an interesting world. I feel that I have a real interest in this world, and I think people will have an interest in this world because Alien kinda set that up for us. I feel like the original Mad Max created such a vivid world, that to go back and re-imagine it and kind of replay in that sandbox sounds like fun to me. George really created a female character that Ive never read anything like this. I mean, Im scared shitless, yeah.
Q: What is it hes asking of you? Is it something youve never done?
Theron: No, its a really challenging piece of material. I think for me originally when they were like, Oh, Mad Max. I was like, Uh, Im not going to play the fucking girl for Mad Max. Then I read it and I was like, Oh, Mad Max. I feel sorry for you. (Laughs) That rarely happens. Its just really, its two great characters. Its not the original Mad Max. Its the revamped Mad Max. Its Tom Hardy, whos incredible. So, the whole thing is just exciting, very, very exciting.
Q: Are you as excited to be back making huge movies?
Theron: I just want to make good movies. Honestly, the only difference for me with this stuff is that there is more people on the set. You know, the narrative for me is always the most important thing. I feel like 15 years ago you could compartmentalize these things. You could be like, Well, thats your little indie movie, and this is your big film. I feel like now, movies like District 9, I think studios have learned that you can merge the two. A good narrative and a big blockbuster is a good fucking movie, so why separate the two? So, those are the kind of movies that Im looking for. I dont want to separate like my good work from my big studio movies anymore. I just want to be a part of some good storytelling.
Q: So do you feel you have a new lease of life, tackling harder subjects and tricky films?
Theron: I mean, Ive had a really great last year. Everything from Young Adult to this, I feel very creatively satisfied and going on to Mad Max. So I feel really, really lucky, yeah.
Q: You were involved in a small indie movie that went to Sundance a couple of years ago, so are you still involved in production?
Theron: Yeah, we produced Young Adult. Then, I think we have eight projects now that are being greenlit for next year. Ill go right into one in January. But yeah, we have about eight movies. Weve got two shows at HBO, one with Ridley, one with David Fincher. We wrote a Chris Buckley movie there, that Id like to do. We have a deal at ABC. We have some shows there.
Q: Will you be involved at all as an actor as well?
Theron: On the projects? Some of them, yeah, some of them Im involved in, some of them, Im not, no.
Q: Whats the deal with TV? You mentioned a lot of those networks
Theron: I think some of the most creative work is coming out of television. I felt its very immediate and I like that. Its really fast. Its got a pace to it, and thats why I think everybody in my field wants to just do good material. We want to push the envelope. Whatever field you can do that, thats where you want to do it, and I think thats why people like David Fincher and Ridley Scott are interested in it, too, because when you sit down on a meeting in HBO and theyre like, More, more. Youre just like, Oh yeah, I love this. Sometimes its a little harder in film. I think also its a great audience, take advantage of it. Its a great audience.
Q: I think most of us agree that TV right now is the best its possibly ever been. What are some of the shows that you just cant get enough of?
Theron: I like a lot of different shows. (Laughs) I watch a lot of stuff that people are somewhat shocked by, but I am absolutely like foaming at the mouth with Game of Thrones. Like, I can not not get enough of that. When my son came in my life, that was a bottle feed because I couldnt watch television, I used to watch so little. That was my TiVo feed every two hours, was watching Game of Thrones. My mom was like, Do you think its fine that youre feeding your son while theres like sword fights? I was like, Its fine, Mom. Its fine. So, Im somewhat obsessed with that right now. I like Veep. Im really excited for Aaron Sorkins new show.
Q: I have to ask you a follow-up. If they reached out to you to do Season 3 or 4 of Game of Thrones, is that the type of show youd be like, Im going?
Theron: Id be totally open to it. Im open to anything, dude. Im open to anything. Thats what I would ask the aliens. Id be like, Do you watch Game of Thrones? Yeah, Im open to do anything. Id be like Hey, alien ,what do you think of Game of Thrones? Lord Snow, really? (laughter)
Q: When did you last take a day off? When are you planning to take a day off?
Theron: Oh my God, yeah, its been a little crazy. Did you hear that, Kate? I need a day off. Tell that bitch over there. (Laughs) She keeps working me to the bone. I am going home and I think in a week or so, hopefully, Ill be done with all the press stuff, and then I can kind of into my cave and start preparing for Mad Max.
Q: Are you going to go down to South Africa?
Theron: Yeah, Im there until the end of the year, so Ill definitely make a trip down there, yeah.
Q: I wanted to ask about Mad Max. Is that one of those films where its going to be PG-13, or are you guys pushing for a hard R? Do you know?
Theron: I cant say. I mean, ultimately its going to be up to George Miller, but it feels like
Q: I know theres some violence.
Theron: Yeah, yeah, theres some bad-ass violence in it. I mean, if we do what the script is, I dont know how you can do, but then I feel like PG-13 is pushing a little bit, too, which is good. It feels likeI dont know. I remember being like, young watching Alien and loving it.
Q: You said that the physical part of this role took you by surprise?
Theron: On this? No, the gear was tricky and I have like an old injury on my neck, so that space thing just wasnt great for me, but yeah, when I read it, it was like this much of a description. With Ridley, that turned into like, a three week shoot. I was like, Dude, it said I was running for this much. Why are we still running? Why am I still running? (Laughs) Thank you, guys. Thank you.
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