When 41-year-old Charlize Theron started training for the role of Lorraine in Atomic Blonde, she thought the fight scenes’ fists, knees and faceplants into walls would be, you know, ‘Hollywood’. Apparently not…
RISING How does your character Lorraine break the usual action movie rules?
CHARLIZE THERON ‘Her motivation is not only a need to survive but also to win, badly, at any cost. That’s her life blood, she's playing by the same rules men play by in this harsh, icy world. She is a gender neutral, interchangeable character which I hope we see more and more on the big screen. My hope is for movie storytelling to evolve in that direction. That was most of my motivation in playing Lorraine, because I was looking for a character who had the interchangeability, could exist in both spaces occupied by men and women. The same rules that men live by. I wanted to find and stretch the boundaries for action roles for women and this ticked all the boxes for me. I just loved her, and everything she represented.’
‘We’ve turned this genre on its head and yeah, I’m really pleased with that result’
RISING So, Lorraine could be called Laurence and played by a male actor, then?
CT ‘If you made Lorraine a man, the story and everything that happens remains exactly the same and that was something I was very proud of. We've turned this genre on its head and yeah, I'm really pleased with that result. And can I just say, it's not about fighting like a guy, acting like a guy, being a guy. It's about embracing who we are as women and using what we have to get the same, if not better result. You know, she uses her fucking high heel, that was like, poetic to me. I loved it.’
RISING There’s a single-shot fight scene that goes on for five minutes and is pretty brutal?
CT ‘We set the standard really, really high. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to do any of it! I mean nothing terrible happened, thankfully because there was the potential there for some serious shit to go down. But there was some contact, a few strikes that I worried about. Yeah, I did feel terrible and really scared that I was actually hurting anyone – my face is Lorraine, cold and unfeeling but in my mind I'm like: “I’m so sorry, please don't hate me!”’
RISING So that was all real, then – no CGI?
CT ‘No effects, no magic, which shocked me. I’d say: “But that's going to be done in post right, there’s no way he’s going to get kicked in the fa… nope, he’s getting kicked literally in the face.” OK then, shut my mouth, haha!’
RISING There’s a price to pay for realism, usually in bruises – did you miss the CGI?
CT ‘Never, I wanted it all done practically on set. I never wanted anyone watching to sit there and say, “That’s fake. There’s no way they could do that.” I didn't want anyone to be able to say, “A woman couldn't do that.” Well a woman did and will do it again!’
RISING It must have put a lot of pressure on you to get the fight sequences right?
CT ‘It was one of the toughest things I've ever done for a movie. I worked with eight different fight trainers and they helped me so much because I really had doubts that I'd be able to get to the level I needed to for those fight sequences. But it was pretty amazing when it came to things I never thought I'd be able to do; throwing myself on my back and then throwing these big dudes around. I’d say: “We’re gonna pretend that I'm doing that, right?” and David [Leitch] would say: “No you're gonna actually throw big dudes.”’
RISING How much fight training did you have to do before the cameras rolled?
CT ‘I did three months of four or five hours a day, learning Asian martial arts and training for specific fight sequences. David was very detail oriented and he wanted to make sure that we were all prepared for those scenes. It’s odd in a way but one of the hardest things was learning how to show yourself taking a [real] hit and not look fake when you're doing it.’
‘Do not get so frustrated with yourself that you clench your jaw tight enough to break your teeth’
RISING David Leitch directed Keanu Reeves in John Wick. Did you ask Keanu for any tips?
CT ‘No, but I was training in the same gym where Keanu was working out for John Wick Chapter 2. We would sometimes spar together and it felt very macho! But it's still a matter of putting in the work and being able to learn the moves and techniques.’
RISING There’s a scene in the film where your face get slammed very hard into a wall?
CT ‘Yes, that was in fact my face! And while I was training for the film, I cracked two back teeth clenching while fighting. Lesson for the day kids: do not get so frustrated with yourself that you clench your jaw so tight, it breaks your teeth! It's not worth it, don't get so mad. It wasn't a cool story like getting punched. It’s still a little sensitive – I really don't like the dentist so this was yeaaaaaah, not fun for me. They had to be removed.’
RISING Injury isn’t new to you though – you nearly became paralysed filming Aeon Flux?
CT ‘That was in another category, another league of pain and potential permanent damage. It's made me a little wary because I'm fully aware of the damage I could cause myself. That's why I'm so focused on training and getting it right to the very last move, because that's how you protect yourself from injury.’
RISING It all sounds punishing – what was it like coming home to your two kids?
CT ‘Some nights, it was painful to pick up my kids, everything hurt. My muscles were in agony. Sometimes the older one would jump on me, want to play and I was crying inside, but I never showed it. My Mom, she was out here with me while we were filming looking after my kids and I'd come home in the evening, a little battered and shaken and she's look at me and say: “Do you have to put yourself through this? Why do you have to do everything?” And I was like: “Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. I've made this commitment, this is what I have to do.” Even though my body was like: “Please, it's been six months, please stop.”’
RISING You’re known for your independence – where does your confidence come from?
CT ‘Being intelligent is just as much a part of being sexy as anything else about a woman. I've always admired and been drawn to women who are motivated and ambitious. Ambition in a man is seen as being very attractive and inspiring, but an ambitious woman is usually regarded with suspicion or hostility. It’s considered unfeminine. But I was lucky to have the best female role model a young girl could ever have. My mother is an intelligent woman who was already dressed and ready for work at seven in the morning when she would come into my room in the morning to get me to wake up and get ready for school. During my childhood she taught me to be self-confident and not be afraid of anything.’
RISING Your sex scene with Sofia Boutella, who plays Delphine Lasalle, is pretty intense – what was it like to shoot?
CT ‘Yes, Sofia is a beautiful woman but you never see it that way, because it's all so technical. And technicality and sensuality rarely mix, if ever. It's all about the camera angles, hitting that mark, it's as choreographed as the fight scenes Sofia is a dancer, and we both treated that as a choreographed dance. It was about Lorraine exhibiting and allowing herself to be vulnerable with someone who reacts and shares her vulnerabilities and plays up her difficulties with intimacy. It wasn't about labels because labels matter less and less. It didn't matter whether it was a man or a woman but I'm glad it was a woman. I didn't want the only time she allows those guards down, only briefly, to be with a man, to be about a man.’
RISING We heard that Chris Hemsworth believes you are the next James Bond – would it interest you?
CT ‘I think we've created our own version with Lorraine, you know, I feel like she’s it in many ways.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch Atomic Blonde’s kick ass trailer…