Eye on the Oscars: The Actress - Leading Role: Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron isn’t afraid of being unlikable. She is, after all, the actress who played a serial killer to masterful, Oscar-winning effect in “Monster.”

Still, even she wasn’t initially sure what to make of Mavis Gary, the monstrously self-absorbed teen-lit author who seems incapable of growing up, in “Young Adult.” Which is precisely why she realized she had to take the role.

“As an actor, you want to be scared,” says Theron. “You want something that makes you doubt if you can pull it off. Besides, I’m a bit ADD, so I think I’d hang myself in my trailer if it wasn’t something that kept me on my toes.”

Fortunately, Theron found a kindred spirit in director Jason Reitman, who also dislikes “fussing about” with rehearsal and shot many scenes from Diablo Cody’s darkly comic script in as few as one or two takes.

“He’s a maniac, but I had such trust in him,” Theron says affectionately. “If Jason said, ‘Jump off a building,’ I actually would because, for whatever reason, it would probably be a good idea.”

Not that the actress didn’t have her own very specific opinions about how much of a hot mess Mavis should reveal herself to be. Filming a scene where the character, in a rare moment of vulnerability, strips down in front of the disabled classmate she mercilessly tortured in high school, was memorable.

“I was obsessed with my chicken cutlets,” Theron says with a laugh. “I was like, ‘One has to be droopier than the other, and the panties can’t match.’ Jason was like, ‘Stop already!’ But when a girl takes her clothes off, like, just let it be real.”

That authenticity permeates every frame of Theron’s unflinching performance, whether the drunken, delusional Mavis is trying to win back her now happily married high-school sweetheart or having a meltdown of epic proportions in front of the mortified residents of her Minnesota hometown.

“It’s definitely a highlight of my career,” says Theron, who was last Oscar-nommed for 2005′s “North Country.” “I think this film, on a very deep level, deals with real human conflict, and some of it is not pretty.”

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