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 wasn’t 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, that’s kind of like ongoing for me on every movie, so that’s 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? Everybody’s 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 don’t know how much we are actually allowed to talk about it. (Laughs) But truth be told, it’s nice to not say everything about a movie. I wish all movies were somewhat like that. There’s something nice about a film just speaking for itself and you can’t 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 it’s my favorite way to go and sit in a theater and have the lights go off and just not know what the fuck you’re going to see. I feel like everything is given away these days. For me, it wasn’t 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 it’s 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 I’m watching Weyland (spoiler invisotext) out in space, he had pre-CGI’d 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? I’m sure you were told you’re not going to have to worry about green screen, but there’s something to be said about walking into that environment and seeing these.
Theron: It’s amazing. I mean, I didn’t realize—yeah, I mean, I don’t 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 you’ve really crossed the line.” (Laughs) You know, I can act, too, a little bit here. I mean, you don’t have to…. But he’s 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 a—I 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 aren’t born bad, so what do you think was driving Meredith?
Theron: Well, it’s a tough thing to talk about Meredith without giving the movie away, but I think there is a great quote—and I feel horrible that I don’t know who said this—but 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, there’s some body horror in the film. What component of film are you personally frighted by?
Theron: Frightened by? Oh, it’s 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 there’s something incredibly scary about that. I mean, and that fucking tagline is still on my head, “When you’re in space, no one can hear you scream?” That screwed me up for life. Like, sometimes I’m by myself and I’m like, “When you’re 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 you’re going to get an answer to something, and then discovering, obviously not, and the discovery is just fucking horror. That’s 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 didn’t. No, because it didn’t feel necessary. I think there is a part of me that’s always a little bit like, “Why would I torture myself? Just in case you forgot how big the shoes are you’re walking in, take a look again,” you know what I mean? Like, I think I pussy out. So, I’m not that kind of person. There was nothing that was relevant for me to have to do that because we weren’t making a prequel or a sequel or anything like that. It was just a similar world, and that was really it. So I didn’t feel like it was a part of my homework. I also didn’t 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 didn’t 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 didn’t end up in the movie, but I think you can’t 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 wouldn’t 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 can’t answer, and that’s when it becomes problematic, and it wasn’t 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 it’s an intense film?
Theron: Yeah, I mean, I like to work that way. I don’t know how to not work that way. So, I mean, I always have a good time because God, I mean, we’re just a bunch of kids who never got to grow up, and now we’re playing on a spaceship. How can you not enjoy that, you know? So yeah, I had a great time making this film.
Q: You’re 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 don’t 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. We’d be waiting for people or whatever, and Fassy would always be on his computer like, “Check this out.” I’m 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, I’m not even going to fall for that. I’m 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 other’s, 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 that’s how you do it. You don’t show up and make people miserable. That poor grip who’s standing there, he just wants to feed his family. He doesn’t 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. That’s 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, I’ll just say that, nonspecific things. I don’t 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. There’s 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 somewhat—there is a power struggle here for her. She is very much in constant need to want to be in control of everything. That’s all she’s doing. From the moment that the movie kind of takes off, she’s up first, she’s making sure… There’s 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 I’ve 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? It’s tricky because you don’t 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 they’re in control the entire time, or not. I didn’t 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: I’ve always thought it was very plausible. I haven’t really like experienced anything in my life that changed that, so I think that it’s very, very, very possible. I mean, factually we know that there’s living cells out there, so we know that. If you read science, we can go by that. So are there actual full creatures? I wouldn’t say “no.”
Q: What scene did you most enjoy shooting?
Theron: I can’t really talk about the scenes. (Laughs) Oh… I’m itchy all over. (Laughs)
Q: You’ve got to use the flamethrower so I wondered if it was that.
Theron: Yeah, right, like you guys—I have to trust you. No, I mean, look. I’ll say in general, I liked all the stuff that (spoiler invisotext) really kind of dived into her real agenda, I’ll say that. I like all of that stuff because that’s when you find the truth of the character. The human condition is all about us pretending to be something sometimes that we’re not. When you get into the core of people kind of stripping all of that away, that’s for me, as an actor, always the most fun stuff to do.
Q: I’m 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. I’m fucking dying, too, it’s been three years. It’s time to skin this cat already, so yeah, I’m very excited about it.
Q: To follow-up on that project obviously it’s been start, stop, start, stop. Is the script that you were given all that time ago exactly what you’re 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 you’re looking forward to taking on?
Theron: I think that just like this that’s 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 I’ve never read anything like this. I mean, I’m scared shitless, yeah.
Q: What is it he’s asking of you? Is it something you’ve never done?
Theron: No, it’s a really challenging piece of material. I think for me originally when they were like, “Oh, ‘Mad Max.’” I was like, “Uh, I’m 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. It’s just really, it’s two great characters. It’s not the original “Mad Max.” It’s the revamped “Mad Max.” It’s Tom Hardy, who’s 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, that’s 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 I’m looking for. I don’t 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, I’ve 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. I’ll go right into one in January. But yeah, we have about eight movies. We’ve got two shows at HBO, one with Ridley, one with David Fincher. We wrote a Chris Buckley movie there, that I’d 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 I’m involved in, some of them, I’m not, no.
Q: What’s 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 it’s very immediate and I like that. It’s really fast. It’s got a pace to it, and that’s 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, that’s where you want to do it, and I think that’s why people like David Fincher and Ridley Scott are interested in it, too, because when you sit down on a meeting in HBO and they’re like, “More, more.” You’re just like, “Oh yeah, I love this.” Sometimes it’s a little harder in film. I think also it’s a great audience, take advantage of it. It’s a great audience.
Q: I think most of us agree that TV right now is the best it’s possibly ever been. What are some of the shows that you just can’t 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 couldn’t 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 it’s fine that you’re feeding your son while there’s like sword fights?” I was like, “It’s fine, Mom. It’s fine.” So, I’m somewhat obsessed with that right now. I like “Veep.” I’m really excited for Aaron Sorkin’s 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 you’d be like, “I’m going?”
Theron: I’d be totally open to it. I’m open to anything, dude. I’m open to anything. That’s what I would ask the aliens. I’d be like, “Do you watch ‘Game of Thrones?’” Yeah, I’m open to do anything. I’d 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, it’s 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, I’ll 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, I’m there until the end of the year, so I’ll definitely make a trip down there, yeah.
Q: I wanted to ask about “Mad Max.” Is that one of those films where it’s going to be PG-13, or are you guys pushing for a hard R? Do you know?
Theron: I can’t say. I mean, ultimately it’s going to be up to George Miller, but it feels like…
Q: I know there’s some violence.
Theron: Yeah, yeah, there’s some bad-ass violence in it. I mean, if we do what the script is, I don’t know how you can do, but then I feel like PG-13 is pushing a little bit, too, which is good. It feels like—I don’t 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 wasn’t 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.