Y’all ready for this?

Charlize Theron tells Tara Brady about putting on her com­edy spurs

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE - TARA BRADY

Ac­tor and pro­ducer Charlize Theron walks up to me look­ing like . . . well, do you re­ally need me to tell you she wasn’t ex­actly ham­mered with the ugly stick? Any­one who en­coun­ters Theron uses words like “stun­ning” and “stat­uesque”. And then there’s the per­fect red lip­stick (none on her teeth, ob­vi­ously) and the silky hair (wran­gled and golden). A deft shimmy folds her into a per­fect perch on the edge of a sofa, a heav­ily cush­ioned af­fair seem­ingly de­signed to make most mor­tals flop in­del­i­cately. That must count as a 10.0 dis­mount, surely?

Be­fore we can be­gin chat­ting, an as­sis­tant, pos­si­bly a spe­cialised shankol­o­gist, checks how her legs look from the front and the side: said limbs do go on for a bit and re­quire some de­gree of man­age­ment.

A for­mer dancer and model, Theron ought to be 10 kinds of girlie. But that’s not her at all.

“I’m a 50/50 split per­son,” she say. “There has al­ways been a part of me that wants to climb trees and ride mo­tor­cy­cles and run around bare­foot and loves fast cars. But I was al­ways a kid who loved putting on my mom’s heels and try­ing on make-up and all that stuff. I’m a very will­ing par­tic­i­pant in both camps.”

Many com­men­ta­tors write about Theron’s South African child­hood like it’s a su­per­hero ori­gins story, but they’re not too far off. The de­scen­dent of hardy Boer pi­o­neers and Huguenot set­tlers – her great-great un­cle was a com­man­der at the Bat­tle of Spion Kop – Theron was present when her mother shot and killed her fa­ther in self­de­fence.

Within a year, the 16-year-old won a modelling con­tract that brought her to Mi­lan and then New York, where she at­tended the Jof­frey Bal­let School. Her dancing ca­reer was ended by a knee in­jury. She was in a funk. But not for long.

“Once I lost that, I had to sit down and an­a­lyse why I loved dance so much. And that’s when I dis­cov­ered it wasn’t dance at all. It was sto­ry­telling. For years, I could do that through dance. I would get on stage and even though I was never tech­ni­cally the strong­est dancer, I suc­ceeded in it be­cause I could trans­form into a swan or what­ever.”

She swears she’s not all about tri­umph over ad­ver­sity: “I can com­plain about stuff as much as the next guy. I’m not tough and cool about things all the time.”

And yet Theron’s ca­reer forms an “against all odds” arc to ri­val any of her movies. Within five years of a 1995 in­aus­pi­cious screen de­but in Chil­dren of the Corn III (1995), she had worked with Tom Hanks ( That Thing You Do!), Al Pa­cino ( The Devil’s Ad­vo­cate), Woody Allen ( Celebrity), Johnny Depp ( The As­tro­naut’s Wife) and Robert Red­ford ( The Leg­end of Bag­ger Vance).

In 2003, she took things up a notch as the star and pro­ducer of Monster, the Aileen Wuornos biopic that won her an Os­car, a Golden Globe and a SAG award. Much was made of the 30-pound weight gain and pros­thet­ics re­quired; much has been made of her sub­se­quent phys­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions for the screen.

The con­stant fo­cus on her ap­pear­ance can be te­dious, she says. “When people talk about that in this iso­lated man­ner, it starts to sound like its schtick. And it’s not schtick. It’s part of the job. It’s in­ter­weaved with per­for­mance and story and all that stuff. If you break it away and just fo­cus on that one as­pect, it sounds like dress-up. That can bother me a lit­tle.”

Fair enough. Af­ter all, no­body could fault Charlize Theron for ef­fort. She throws her­self into her roles with a drive and in­ten­sity: she her­ni­ated a disc in her neck film­ing Aeon Flux (2005) and in­jured her vo­cal chords film­ing the labour scenes on The Road (2009). She’s a go-get­ter, right?

“You know what? When you love some­thing – I mean re­ally, re­ally love some­thing – I be­lieve, or I want to be­lieve, that your pas­sion will carry you through and make you good at it.”

She speaks like she looks: el­e­gantly and flaw­lessly and with­out a trace of her na­tive Afrikaans. That’s what I think: she in­sists she’s just get­ting by.

“Some­times people think I can speak English per­fectly,” she laughs. “And then I’ll make some ba­sic gram­mar mis­take and they’ll be re­ally shocked. I only learned the lan­guage at 19. And I do this hor­ri­ble thing where I take a phrase and trans­late di­rectly from Afrikaans and hope for the best. And that can sound very bizarre. People turn around and go ‘the camel

and the horse do what on the roof?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, you don’t have that say­ing?’”

She has a par­tic­u­lar af­fec­tion for Ire­land: when we meet in Lon­don, she’s ex­pect­ing a gag­gle of her Ir­ish friends to de­scend the next day. In 2009, dur­ing the re­hearsal for the 2010 Fifa World Cup Draw, she called out Ire­land in­stead of France, a lit­tle dig at the ex­pense of Thierry Henry’s fa­mous handball.

“That was only fair. But you should have seen them. They were so pan­icked about it. They re­ally, re­ally thought I was go­ing to do that on the day. I gave them all a heart at­tack.”

A com­mit­ted ac­tivist, Theron has long cam­paigned for an­i­mals and Peta and same-sex mar­riage. She was close to the late Nel­son Man­dela and at­tended his me­mo­rial ser­vice ear­lier this year. “It’s so sad,” she says. “It wasn’t a sur­prise. But that doesn’t take away the sad­ness of it.”

She has re­ferred to her re­cent screen work in Prometheus and Snow White and the

Hunts­man as her “bitch pe­riod”. And now for some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Seth Mac­Far­lane’s A Mil­lion Ways to Die in the West sees Theron tu­tor­ing Mac­Far­lane’s cow­ardly sheep farmer in the art of the shootout.

Theron has starred in come­dies be­fore, no­tably Ja­son Reit­man’s darkly hu­mor­ous Young

Adult. But A Mil­lion Ways is the first time she

“You know what? When you love some­thing – I mean re­ally, re­ally love some­thing – I be­lieve, or I want to be­lieve, that your pas­sion will carry you through and make you good at it”

has worked with horseshit gags. The com­edy western fol­low-up to Mac­Far­lane’s wildly suc­cess­ful Ted is very much in keep­ing with the R-rated tone Mac­Far­lane’s TV hits, Fam­ily

Guy and Amer­i­can Dad. “I love those shows. I’ve been a mas­sive fan for many years. Apart from any­thing else, you felt like you had to watch them be­cause he was shak­ing things up. He plays by his own rules. He’s like this uber-tal­ented Re­nais­sance man. I never wanted to go make a com­edy just for the sake of it. But I love R-rated come­dies. So it felt like a nat­u­ral fit for me.”

It is, de­spite her pro­lific ca­reer, the clos­est Theron has ever come to play­ing a con­ven­tional romcom hero­ine, I note.

“Yeah. But at the be­gin­ning my ca­reer just nat­u­rally took a very dra­matic turn. And when you started in a dra­matic films, you stayed in dra­matic films. And I was very happy there. Cre­atively speak­ing. I think to­day it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. That bar­rier has been bro­ken. People don’t nec­es­sar­ily think that a dra­matic ac­tor has to do drama all the time. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, there was def­i­nitely an idea that you don’t play on my field and I won’t play on yours.” Was her process any dif­fer­ent? “Well, it’s weird. Com­edy is harder than° drama be­cause drama is very gen­eral, whereas com­edy is very spe­cific. We all have a sense of hu­mour that de­ter­mines if we find some­thing funny or not. And that can vary wildly from per­son to per­son.

“But I ac­tu­ally didn’t have to do a lot other than ser­vice the story. There was a time when I thought – and I think all ac­tors get this – that un­less you’re com­pletely sub­merged in a role, un­less you’ve com­pletely trans­formed yourself phys­i­cally, and found a voice that is not your own – then you’re not do­ing your job right. This was a bit of a rev­e­la­tion. Be­cause I didn’t have to do any of that stuff. When I watched the movie, I could def­i­nitely see me on screen.”

Theron has a son, Jack­son, whose adop­tion was an­nounced in March 2012. Has that had an im­pact on her work, I won­der?

“Not so much. He’s re­ally young right now. He’s not in school. So he gets to come on lit­tle ad­ven­tures with me. He loved the set for this movie. There were so many an­i­mals around and lots of dirt. And be­yond that, it’s some­what ef­fort­less be­cause I don’t ever for a sec­ond ques­tion it.

“I’m very lucky. I’m in a po­si­tion where if I don’t want to work I don’t have to. It’s a re­ally nice place to be and I don’t take that for granted. Not for a sec­ond.”

A MIL­LION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST ★★

Di­rected by Seth Mac­Far­lane. Star­ring Seth Mac­Far­lane, Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Har­ris, Gio­vanni Ribisi, Sarah Sil­ver­man, Liam Nee­son

16 cert, gen­eral re­lease, 115 min 1882. Ari­zona. When cow­ardly sheep farmer Al­bert Stark (Seth Mac­Far­lane) runs away from a gun duel, he loses face and drives Louise, his gold-dig­ging school marm fiancee (Amanda Seyfried), into the arms of the fop­pish owner of the lo­cal mous­tache em­po­rium (Neil Patrick Har­ris).

Heart­bro­ken, Al­bert re­treats into drink­ing and ob­sess­ing about death with his gorm­less chum Ed­ward (Gio­vanni Ribisi) – un­til the mys­te­ri­ous Anna (Charlize Theron) ar­rives in town. Anna quickly schools Al­bert in rootin’, tootin’ and shootin’ so that he might win Louise back.

How­ever, un­be­knownst to our hap­less hero, Anna’s hus­band Clinch (Liam Nee­son) is the mean­est out­law in the west, and he’s head­ing their way.

Oh dear. Sad­dles do not quite blaze in Seth Mac­Far­lane’s com­edy western. A ram­shackle collection of early Fam­ily Guy cut­away gags and poo sight­ings can’t com­pen­sate for the un­der­de­vel­oped, un­der­writ­ten screen­play. The cen­tral tit­u­lar premise is half-re­mem­bered, then promptly for­got­ten. The mu­si­cal num­bers are hardly vin­tage Mac­Far­lane: If You’ve Only Got a Mous­tache has noth­ing on bar­ber­shop You’ve Got Aids. A sub­plot in­volv­ing Ed­ward and his pros­ti­tute sweet­heart (Sarah Sil­ver­man) floats around like some­thing that just didn’t flush prop­erly. Mostly, Sil­ver­man is re­quired to say “ass­hole” and “anal” a lot. Which might have been hi­lar­i­ous if ev­ery­thing else wasn’t so lack­lus­tre.

How can the cre­ator of Fam­ily Guy and Amer­i­can Dad have got it so wrong? Un­hap­pily, the pri­mary prob­lem is Mac­Far­lane him­self, who, we soon learn, should stick to voic­ing er­rant bears and stoner dogs. Struc­turally, Al­bert is a crooked key­stone and too nice by half. Mac­Far­lane’s best-loved cre­ations – Peter, Stan, Ted – are jerks. They speak with­out fil­ters or self-aware­ness or any trace of em­pa­thy. Al­bert is merely a whiny neu­rotic: he’s all fil­ters and self-aware­ness.

To be fair, all the starry folks on screen ap­pear to be hav­ing a whale of a time. And, in com­mon with a lesser episode of Fam­ily Guy, A Mil­lion Ways to Die in the West passes the time in a way that’s fun, but never ex­actly funny.

If you love The Cleve­land Show, then this is the movie for you. Maybe.

Liam Nee­son as an evil varmint

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