She grew up during apartheid in South Africa and fought her way to Hollywood greatness. Now Charlize Theron squares off with her biggest challenge yet: parenthood, both onscreen and off. Chelsea Handler gets her to go deep.
Charlize Theron opens up to IRL BFF Chelsea Handler.
MOTHERHOOD, AND ITS IMPACT ON identity, is weighing on Charlize Theron’s mind. She recently finished promotion for the film Tully, her second collab with Young Adult director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Theron plays Marlo, an overwhelmed and over-it mother of three who plunges to staggering depths of exhaustion before finding relief in the form of the titular night nurse, Tully, who is perhaps too good to be true.
The actress, who adopted her two children— Jackson (Jacks), six, and August (Auggie), two— gained 35 pounds for the part, and not since her Oscar-winning turn as Aileen Wuornos in Monster has the 43-year-old been more unrecognizable. Up next is dark comedy Flarsky, with Seth Rogen, which she’s filming in Montreal, and, in the future, a role playing Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, to be directed by Jay Roach.
In a phone interview with her good friend Chelsea Handler, who has famously chosen “otherhood”—a.k.a. not having children—Theron unloads everything that’s weighing her down.
CHELSEA HANDLER “Let’s start with Tully. You gained a lot of weight for this film. Which you did for Monster, but you’re obviously older now, and this time was different. It was an emotional experience.” CHARLIZE THERON “Yeah. I filmed Monster when I was 27, and I just stopped snacking for three weeks and was back to my normal weight. This time it really hit me hard. I was constantly fucking eating. And I love carbs. But I sort of plateaued on carbs. So I started eating and drinking a lot of sugar. It really messed with my head. I had depression for the first time in my life shooting this film. I felt like I was in a dark cloud. Getting back to normal took a long time.” CH “I love what you and Diablo do together. Young Adult and Tully are so unglamorous, which strikes a chord because you’re a supermodel and blah blah blah—we don’t want to talk about how pretty you are, that’s boring, but it’s nice to see a woman be so real.” CT “If you look at my career, I have done more work in realism than the glamour stuff. It’s what I wanted to build my career on and why I fought so hard to not just play the ingenue or the girlfriend. It’s strange to me that people still go ‘Oh, this is such a nice surprise!’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s not a surprise anymore!’ For 25 years, I’ve been consistently trying to explore real people. Every once in a while, I do something crazy, like Atomic Blonde, but that’s rarer for me now.” CH “Tully is about motherhood. What have you learned about yourself as a parent?” h
CT “Perspective. I just see things clearer. When I was in my 20s, a child was the scariest idea I could think of. When I got to my 30s, I was so ready. But there’s a moment where you’re like ‘Oh, God, I hope once I have my kids, I’m still going to want to be a parent this much.’ I have bad days. I make mistakes. Going through the tantrum stages when they’re such little assholes. And they choose the worst moments. It’s a lot for one person. But after six years of having my two nuggets, there’s not a day when I wish I hadn’t done this.” CH “And you co-parent with your mom, Gerda.” CT “I knew that I would have to have my mom help me if I was going to do this as a single parent. To not acknowledge her in co-parenting my children would be a lie. She jokingly said, ‘Being a grandparent is what I was born to do.’ I was like, ‘Yo, bitch! What about me? Was it not to raise me? I’m your kid!’ But I’m so lucky to have that. I would feel pretty alone if I didn’t have a partner in crime in all of this.” CH “How would you describe your 20s versus 30s versus 40s?” CT “My 20s were everything I wanted them to be. I had a partner. He was an adventurer, and I was an adventurer. We would pack backpacks, go to a country for five weeks, climb mountains, stay in people’s homes. I partied. I did it all. We didn’t have a care in the world. Then, when I ended that relationship, I had a strong need to be a mom. It was all-consuming. I didn’t need to travel or go out constantly or drink anymore. But I struggled mentally through the adoption process. Some of the lowest points in my life were dealing with the first time I filed; it really took an emotional toll. There were many situations that didn’t work out, and you’d get attached and have all your hopes up and then just get crushed. So I was in a different mind space. I had different needs. I have never loved an age more than my 40s. Forty to me feels like Goldilocks—like I’ve finally found the perfect-size bed, the perfect-size mug.” CH “I’ve seen Diablo raise her three kids. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that only you know what’s right for you and your children. People have their own style of parenting.” CT “I’ve had a lot of moms come up to me and tell me I’m screwing everything up. Both my kids grew up on formula, and I remember a mom saying to me ‘You should really buy breast milk.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ That’s a line you just don’t cross. My oldest just started big school. She’s not even there a full year. So I’ve not gotten into the whole [judgy moms at] school thing yet. The good thing about me is I’ve never given a shit about what people think. That’s the only quality I have that has probably helped me in being a mother.” CH “You’re raising two children of colour. Obviously, coming from South Africa, you know a lot about racial inequality, but what are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter and our current climate?” CT “Being raised during the apartheid era in South Africa made me so hyperaware of equality and human rights. Of course, I have two black kids, but that was always something I was passionate about. I don’t even know how to talk about the past year under our new administration. But racism is much more alive and well than people think. We can’t deny it anymore. We have to be vocal. There are places in this country where, if I got a job, I wouldn’t take it. I wouldn’t travel with my kids to some parts of America, and that’s really problematic. There are a lot of times when I look at my kids and I’m like, ‘If this continues, I might have to [leave America].’ Because the last thing I want is for my children to feel unsafe.” CH “It’s a tough conversation to have.” CT “We’re not there yet, but, trust me, we talk. I want them to know who they are, and I want them to be so fucking proud of who they are. Building confidence for them right now is an oath I made to myself when I brought them home. They’re going to have to know that it’s a different climate for them than it is for me and how unfair that is. If I can do something about that, of course I’m going to.” CH “Let’s talk about Hollywood. You work with a ton of women. But how do you see your role in terms of getting more opportunities for women?” CT “That our world is being run by men is something that we have to change. As a producer, I look at not just directors but my crews, the writers, editors, composers across the board. I take that responsibility very seriously. I was just on a film where there wasn’t one woman in the sound department and I was like, ‘No! We have to hire smarter.’ In saying that, I don’t want to ever sound like I’m doing women a favour. I’m not carrying some mission on my sleeve. But there are women out there who are fucking crazy talented. And I’m hiring them because they are the best at their job!” n