While Entertainment Weekly’s annual “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at Comic-Con has traditionally involved a group of actresses and/or other talents like writers, showrunners or directors, the magazine did something different this year: the panel focused for the first time on a single, more in-depth interview with one individual woman.
The inaugural choice for this new format was Charlize Theron, who, at nearly 42, is breaking through the wall that Hollywood imposes on women who reach a certain age plateau. While always making a diverse range of films, the Oscar winner (for Monster) has also reinvented herself in the past few years as a full-fledged action star of ferocious intensity, first in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road and now in Atomic Blonde, which opens next Friday (July 28).
Welcomed to the Hall H stage by EW senior writer and moderator Sara Vilkomerson, Theron was self-deprecating and candid throughout the 45-minute talk. She began by recalling one of her first inspirations to act: “I remember being really young and seeing Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, and that changed girlhood and womanhood for me,” she recalled, adding, “There are so many great females who hold their own in the genre, but Sigourney holds a place in my heart with that one.”
Speaking about Atomic Blonde, on which she is also a producer, Theron said she simply wanted to select a project on her own terms: “I wanted something very specific…I was about to turn 40 so I decided to take matters in my own hands and actively go after something.”
Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Atomic Blonde casts Theron as Lorraine, an assassin for a secret U.K. government agency who is as ruthless and pragmatic as she is enigmatic. From the outset, Lorraine is a singular force — she doesn’t have to “become” the precision killer that she is, an aspect that Theron admired about the material.
“When a story doesn’t quite work, I find that the female characters in the movie are the ones used to emotionally manipulate the audience in a way that men aren’t,” she explained. “We’re known as nurturers and not warriors, so there always has to be a reason for us to become a warrior in the story. But we are warriors already.”
Theron added that Lorraine is “simply herself…we don’t explain why she exists or why she’s good at her job. She’s just there.”
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The centerpiece of the film is an eight-minute sequence late in the story in which Lorraine does vicious battle with an onslaught of attackers in first an office building and then in a heart-stopping car chase, all made to look by director David Leitch like it was done in one continuous take.
“We really didn’t think we’d be able to pull it off,” said Theron about the showstopping sequence, which took three and a half days to film. “Every move in the fight sequences I was asking, ‘Could a girl do that?’ It was important to me to not have someone say, ‘Girls can’t do that.'”
The film also features a sex scene between Theron and a female French agent played by Sofia Boutella (The Mummy), about which Theron remarked, “I could have hooked up with a guy, but it’s great that I hooked up with a girl, and the story gets furthered through that relationship more than it ever would have if I had hooked up with a man.”
Theron said she’d love to make more films about Lorraine if Atomic Blonde does well and sees the character as potentially a female counterpart to James Bond. With regards to her other recent action role, as Furiosa in the fourth Mad Max film, Theron said she “loved playing that character” and would love to star in a rumored fifth installment for director George Miller: “(But) if George is not ready, I’ll wait for him.”
Theron and Vilkomerson ended the interview with Theron encouraging the audience — partially in response to a fan’s question — to support more genre films such as Atomic Blonde or Wonder Woman that are driven by women. “We’re just as good as the guys,” she said, jokingly adding, “Plus we have boobs!”
Atomic Blonde opens in theaters this Friday (July 28).