When Charlize Theron received word that the American Cinematheque wanted to honor her with its award this year, her response was somewhat unique. “My go-to reply is always: ‘Are you sure?’” Theron says with a laugh. “The human being inside of me still can’t believe all of this is happening.”
Theron might be the only person caught off guard. She was the unanimous choice of the Cinematheque board of directors for her work not only as an Oscar-winning actress, but also a producer. Earlier this year, Theron played an aspiring presidential candidate in “Long Shot,” a film that was developed and produced by her Denver and Delilah Productions. The company has produced such TV shows as “Mindhunter” and “Girlboss,” along with films like “Tully” and “Atomic Blonde.”
Theron’s first credit as producer was “Monster,” about serial killer Aileen Wuornos that grossed $60 million on a budget rumored to be around $1 million (some press reports have put it as high as $8 million, which director Patty Jenkins disputes). The film also earned Theron an Academy Award for lead actress for her transformative performance; the actor gained 30 pounds and donned prosthetic teeth to play Wuornos.
Theron is currently earning raves for another remarkable metamorphosis: She is virtually unrecognizable as Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly in the upcoming “Bombshell,” which Lionsgate will release on Dec. 20. The film chronicles the women of Fox News who came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against CEO Roger Ailes. Theron is joined by Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as a rising producer, along with John Lithgow as Ailes.
Theron was sent the script by Charles Randolph, an Oscar winner for “The Big Short,” and approached as both producer and actor. “Producing was a no-brainer,” Theron says. “Wrapping my head around playing Megyn Kelly was a little harder.”
Kelly has long been a divisive figure, having asked tough questions of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a debate but then stirring controversy with various statements, such as defending blackface. At a recent Q&A, Theron remarked that playing Kelly was even harder than playing convicted killer Wuornos.
“When I made that comment I was making a joke of it because obviously there is no comparison that you can put on one character versus another. The circumstances of those two women are night and day different,” Theron notes. “But also, walking into ‘Monster,’ I didn’t have any preconceived ideas of Aileen Wuornos. I was a sponge, I was ready to soak up any information because I didn’t know anything about her. Whereas with Megyn, I know her the way most of us know her, from her TV show and some of the comments she’s made and the fact that she can be polarizing. That was what made this harder for me, because I had to get past a lot of my own personal stuff because there’s no other way around it.”
Theron says finding Kelly took a longer journey than usual. She read Kelly’s books and studied her interviews. “The more I did that, the more it became clear to me that there’s a complicated person there,” she says. “It was incredibly hard for her to be vulnerable. I get that, I’m sometimes like that.”
She adds that it helped that the film was set in a specific time period. In addition to the Ailes scandal, it details the period of time when Kelly challenged then-presidential candidate Trump on his treatment of women and the backlash she received. “I do not think it would have been possible for me to do the Megyn Kelly biopic,” Theron emphasizes. “It’s not just the story of her, but a lot of women and what happened in that period of time. It was such rich material.”
Theron also adds that the film doesn’t try to make you like Kelly. “People are so wrong in thinking we’re trying to turn these women into heroes. We’re just telling their stories,” she says. “The rest is up for you to decide. That’s the job of the audience. We never went in with anything but wanting to stay on that road to the truth. This story is so fascinating; we should tell it.”
Becoming Kelly physically also took some time. When the first teaser trailer for “Bombshell” dropped, Theron looked so eerily like Kelly, viewers assumed special effects were involved. But it was all the work of makeup designer Kazu Hiro, the same genius who won an Oscar for transforming Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”
“The first makeup test we did was really terrible and aside from Kaz, we were a little nervous,” she admits with a laugh. “I did not look anything like Megyn Kelly.”
(In fact, Theron says she sort of resembled Glenn Close.) Hiro explained this was the process, and he needed time to work with her face. “The second test was day and night. I couldn’t believe it,” she raves. “I knew we would get there but to be honest, I never thought we would get as far as we did.”
Theron also worked with dialect coach Carla Meyer to nail Kelly’s specific voice — something that ended up taking its toll. “My throat started cracking and breaking and I went to a specialist and it turned out I had stressed my vocal cords trying to stay in her register and speed,” she says. “I had to take three weeks off, which was stressful. Leave it to me to find some kind of an injury on the set of a movie where there should be none.”
Up next, Theron will return to the blockbuster franchise world with “Fast & Furious 9” and the Gina Prince-Bythewood drama “The Old Guard” for Netflix. And she’s looking forward to taking the stage at the Cinematheque Awards. “I’ve presented awards in the past and I love the event,” she notes. “It feels so all-inclusive. It’s a bunch of storytellers from every aspect.”
Sid Grauman Award Honors Adam Aron
For the fifth year, the American Cinematheque event will present the Sid Grauman Award. This year, AMC chief executive officer Adam Aron will accept the award, designed to “honor an extraordinary individual who has made a significant contribution to the Hollywood film industry in the continuing advancement of theatrical exhibition.” Since January 2016, Aron has served as CEO, president and a director of the theater chain.
“It’s so fitting that AMC Theatres is being honored with an award named after the famed master showman, Sid Grauman, as both Mr. Grauman and AMC are woven so tightly into the history of theatrical exhibition,” says Aron. The largest theater chain in the U.S. and the world, Aron notes that AMC will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. “And what a 100 years it has been, as AMC has been at the forefront of the industry and blazing new trails.” This includes the moviegoing subscription program AMC Stubs A-List and AMC Theatres on Demand, which Aron says allows “guests to watch movies at home in addition to doing so at our theaters.”
In speaking about what sets AMC apart from other exhibitors, Aron says: “Any given day we have more than 35,000 AMC associates in 15 countries across three continents working hard to make sure that movie-goers are receiving the very best experience at their local AMC. We have another 700 dedicated professionals at our home base in Leawood, Kan., who are supporting those at the theaters, and they’re also continuously working on ways to enhance what I believe is already the best way to go to the movies. Our people are truly committed to innovation, and never resting on our laurels. Creating a new and different future for moviegoers is the hallmark of AMC.”
What: 2019 American Cinematheque Awards
When: Nov. 8
Where: The Beverly Hilton