LOS ANGELES—Yes, Charlize Theron was a cool, tough, Metallica tee-wearing villain Cipher in “The Fate of the Furious.” But “Atomic Blonde” is Charlize’s biggest action role since we all cheered for her as Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
In David Leitch’s first solo directing film since he codirected Keanu Reeves’ “John Wick” (he was uncredited), Charlize is a badass MI6 spy, Lorraine Broughton.
Charlize’s new action heroine is assigned to Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and find a list of double agents being dispatched to the West. We’ve all joked that stilettos can be deadly weapons, but Lorraine shows just how red heels can indeed come in handy. And a rope, too.
Of course, Lorraine is just as deadly with guns. She fires them and then coolly sips vodka.
In her major return to the action genre, Charlize tapped David, whose next directing assignment is just as cool—“Deadpool 2.” If Charlize kicks ass again, it helps that her director has mastered all those fight scenes. David was a stunt double for Brad Pitt (five times) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (two times).
James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella costar in the film that is also produced by Charlize.
Looking sedate in an all-black ensemble of jacket, blouse and pants, Charlize was complimented about being a ferocious woman in “Atomic Blonde.” “I’m a ferocious woman in general,” she quipped with a laugh.
The South African stunner recalled how a female action protagonist made a big impression on her. “The first time I saw Sigourney Weaver in ‘Alien,’ her character Ripley really woke something in me as a young girl.”
Reading Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel, “The Coldest City,” immediately inspired Charlize. “When I read the first ideas about this, like I got 10 pages of the graphic novel that was unpublished at the time, it sparked something in me. A lot of my motivation to spend as much time and dedication in developing this film came from a place of a film lover.
“I looked at this and I secretly wanted something like this for myself to see. As a moviegoer, I wish there were more films like this.”
On the need for more action films with female protagonists, she pointed out, “We aren’t consistent with it. As soon as a film with a female lead doesn’t work, all of a sudden, everything gets halted—and nobody wants to make another one. So that’s problematic.
“We’ve lived in a society where for a long time we wanted to believe that women just didn’t like the genre. It’s now been statistically proven that women play video games, like UFC and genre films.”
Excerpts from our talk:
How did it feel punching and kicking so many bad guys? There’s something about training that hard for something, it’s not just the physical. You’re releasing endorphins in your brain and the mental aspect of it is really amazing. To feel that strong and capable and to have a clear mind about movement, distance between a face and a punch, and do hand-to-hand combat that feels real, but obviously you can’t really do all of that stuff. It still feels just as good.
I haven’t actually been in fights like that, so I don’t know what the real version feels like (laughs).
Can you talk about the physical challenge you had to hurdle? I don’t think I would have been interested if I didn’t see a real attraction to the challenge. A lot of that challenge was the physical storytelling aspect. My history as a ballet dancer always made me fascinated by that idea.
Some great Hong Kong filmmakers have been good at utilizing action to tell story, and not just using action for the sake of action. There was something about Dave Leitch that made me realize that he really wanted to do something that was going to push the envelope. He had great ideas, but with great ideas come the realization of what that actually translates to the screen.
You have to shoot it in a certain way that makes it look new. And that makes it physically challenging, so there were a lot of mornings where I couldn’t get out of my car (laughs).
My kids made fun of me but, other than that, you get past that point and you actually feel like a machine. You feel strong and capable. Once I hit that place, it gave me great confidence to do more.
Can you talk about your first impression of David? What made you take a chance on him? I have a very vivid memory of meeting him. He came into my office. He opened his laptop and started showing me all these real images of the underground movement that was happening with the revolt of the youth in the East and West. I have not seen them before. I got excited because I wanted to create a character that was provocative and that would be super entertaining to watch.
The more we read about how that revolution was driven by the youth, and they got together in this underground world where the punk scene was big, that’s when I knew he was the right guy. I knew he could handle all of that.
It was exciting to look at Helmut Newton photos of girls in short miniskirts and garter belts and going, God, this is so Lorraine Broughton.
To actually turn that into reality in a film became really challenging. We never settled for anything mediocre. We pulled off that image, that whole fight scene that I have in that apartment with a miniskirt and garter belts on (laughs).
Did you take that ice bath yourself?
No, I’m not that brave (laughs). The idea of doing all of that in an actual ice bath would have been very problematic for many parts of my body.
Will you continue doing more action roles? I like good storytelling. At the end of the day, I’ve never been driven by genre. [But] I don’t think there’s a genre I don’t like. Film to me is not that compartmentalized. I’m moved and inspired by good storytelling—whether that comes in the form of gaining 40 pounds for “Monster” or getting in shape, having a football player’s knack for “Mad Max”—that to me is secondary.
For me, there’s always been a real fascination and wanting to explore action more because I think storytelling through physical action is rare. There’s a lot of action movies with fight scenes in them, but there are a few filmmakers who really know how to tell a story through physical action. I’m fascinated by that.
It’s from my years of being a ballerina. That was my first encounter with storytelling without using words and just using your body. That is still a very deep connection for me—and I like that.
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