On Friday afternoon, Charlize Theron did a Comic-Con @ Home conversation—I can’t call these panels, they’re just not a comparable experience to what Comic-Con usually is—titled “Evolution of a Badass”, about her career, specifically, as an action hero. I wrote recently about Theron’s interesting evolution into an action star, and how she is driving that by developing these projects for herself. Her conversation elucidates some her motivation in going after these roles, growing up with a mother who loved the movies of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris and a father who loved Mad Max, and also being inspired by Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Alien. She hopes that Imperator Furiosa will, in turn, inspire another generation of girls to grow up wanting to be action heroes. I don’t think she has to worry about that—Furiosa is every bit the symbol Ellen Ripley is.
What really sticks out to me in this conversation is two things: 1) the sideswipe at Mark Wahlberg during the filming of The Italian Job, and 2) her comments about wanting to play difficult, challenging women in action movies. First, on The Italian Job, Theron was scheduled for six more weeks of training than the men involved on the movie, including Wahlberg, which smacks of stereotypical “women are bad drivers” bullsh-t. But Theron took everyone on that project to school by mastering her driving stunts—which sounds a little above-average dangerous and professional drivers exist for a reason—and out-driving the dudes, including Wahlberg, who at one point had to pull over and throw up because “he was so nauseous from doing 360s”. That’s just a fun anecdote, that one time Mark Wahlberg puked during stunt training while Charlize Theron literally drove circles around him.
As for the difficult, challenging women, Theron’s action heroines are certainly all a different kind of ass-kicker. From Aeon Flux to Furiosa to Andromache of Scythia, Theron doesn’t play “rah-rah” heroines like Carol Danvers and Diana Prince. She plays heroines that are a little bit twisted and dark in their intent, which is great because we ALSO have the rah-rah heroines, and it takes all kinds and it’s nice to have all the flavors of the rainbow available to suit every type and taste.
And actually, Theron doesn’t care for the word “hero”, saying, “I have a knee-jerk reaction whenever anyone pitches me a story with a first line like, ‘She is a warrior and she is a hero.’ It oversimplifies the complexities and the beauty of what it means to be a woman. And I’ve never strived to underline those characteristics in any of the characters I’ve played. All of my characters have this sense of, they’re all survivors. They’re all just trying to survive. And that I can relate to. I am not a hero, I don’t relate to heroes, I think the people who inspire me are the people who don’t think of themselves as heroes. They put their head down, they do the work.”
This is reflected in her dramatic work, too. One of her best performances—and one of my favorite movies of the century so far—is in Young Adult, in which Theron plays a deeply dysfunctional, alcoholic writer who wreaks havoc on everyone around her. Theron is GOOD at playing unlikeable, even unpleasant characters, something last year’s rom-com The Longshot leans into. While I think we need the inspiring heroes, too, it is important to also have those action heroes that aren’t trying to save the world, they’re just trying to get to the next day. Sometimes that’s all we have, and while it would nice to be Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman, more often than not we’re Furiosa, driving a carful of teenagers someone we’d rather not go.
Anyway, you can watch Charlize Theron talk about being a badass here: