South African actress, producer, and activist. Theron is the recipient of several accolades including an Academy Award and a Golden GlobeAward. In 2007,She created the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We met with Theron in Los Angeles to talk about movies and the power of storytelling.
What are your criteria when you choose a project?
Is there something in this that scares me, that I haven’t done before, that I feel like maybe I can’t do but want to try? I mean the obvious things like filmmakers and writers and actors that I want to work with, but I think if you look at my career, especially in the last decade, I have definitely tried, not only for my audience, but for myself, to shake myself outside whatever that box is that Iaminat that moment. I am so blessed that I have the luxury of not having to go to work to put food on the table and I don’t take that for granted. So, it’s really nice to be in a position to say okay, I want to do something that I never thought I would be able to do and I never thought I would be in a romantic comedy. So, that is really fun and also scary.
You produce films. You are also co-producing a currently untitled project about Roger Ailes. And so it seems like you have been getting involved as a producer in your films. Do you find that you almost need to create and go find films and the roles that you want to portray? Do you have a very proactive role in that?
Yeah. I think in this day and age, to have a production company, there is a bar that has been set and it’s pretty high. The days of vanity deals are completely gone and you are wrong if you just want to throw your name on as a producer. I think that it still kind of sometimes happens but it’s looked upon really badly, because there are real producers out there who started out as actors or writers, but the concept of “oh if you are an actor you can’t be a producer,” that is so compartmentalized and those days are gone. So, in order to have a successful business, you have to be at the wheel and you can’t go sit by your big pool and hope that your business is going to succeed. You have to be actively involved in it and I think that is a throwback to what I said earlier. We are actively developing and finding material every single day, not just because it is our job, but because we actually really love the process. I never think of it as “oh God, I have to go and do this.” I always felt like I was an actor who cared about more than just hitting a mark and saying my lines. I want to tell stories that I want to go and see and that is usually how I look at stuff. I am like do I want to see this on TV and do I want to see this in a movie and do I want to see this on Netflix? That’s my gauge and it’s the only gauge that I can go by.
If I were to uncover a video of younger Charlize... What she wanted her future to be, playing it now with you today, how close of a correlation would there be between your dreams and aspirations and thoughts at that point in your life and now?
So there actually is video of me at 16 being asked that question, yes. And I think, maybe not verbatim, but I think I said something about wanting to be an actor, not thinking that that ever was going be a reality. And when I think back on the things that I wanted to and hoped my life would include as far as a job and what I could survive on, it was always in storytelling, and it was always something to do with storytelling. So, the fact that I actually get to do that today is an incredible gift and one that I am incredibly grateful for, because I wake up every morning not feeling like I have a job.
Your latest movie Long Shot, it was funny. You mixed the truth of politics and humor, but what politics is for you? How political are you?
I don’t know how political I am. I would say that I am a person who really lives by wanting to have an awareness of what is happening in the world, and I have an urge to not walk this Earth, just completely ignoring what the rest of the world looks like, or how policies and things will change the value of my children’s lives and my life, or the quality of the planet, those are concerns that we can all agree on. I find that if you get stuck in the anger it doesn’t necessarily resolve anything.
You are so busy with work, do you ever feel like you are missing current pop culture references and something maybe your kids said where you felt like you had no idea what they were talking about?
A huge part of it has to do with that I was raised in a country that was sanctioned for most of my young adult life, my teenage life, my kid life. So I didn’t grow up with a lot of pop culture. We didn’t have access to it, so it was different for me as a kid. It doesn’t mean that I was completely isolated from it but I definitely now know that I had a limited access to it versus what my friends here in America had. And, of course, with my kids it’s exaggerated, it’s like a whole other generation of stuff and yes, they literally talk about, they say these names and I am like, I need to Google and make sure this person is safe... But yeah, I am constantly feeling like I am trying to play catch up.
Films... Even if it is a comedy and it is light and even if it's just for a laugh... Even those films bring a message to people, right?
Yes, social commentary, for sure. I think as storytellers, no matter what your genre is, you have to understand that you have to deliver on many things and you can’t just make a comedy and just make jokes. I think good storytelling is about not getting too caught up in genres. Because a good story has many different things, like a good horror film has an element of humor to it. And so I think that commentary has to be reflective and I don’t think you want to ever, I mean of course you can, but I don’t want to ever make movies that feel too heavy-handed on their one-sided messaging. I always say I don’t want to wear it on my sleeve and I want people to discover it for themselves a little bit, but I also want there to be an intelligence to ask questions like that and to show things like that. And I think that is what makes storytelling feel relevant.