Charlize Theron: Bowled Over
If you make a list of today’s A-list actresses, Charlize Theron has to rank somewhere near the top. Not only has she headlined her share of hit movies, Theron also won an Oscar for her performance in the 2003 biopic, Monster. But twenty years ago, she was a relative newcomer. When an injury prematurely ended her career as a ballerina, Theron turned to acting and immediately turned heads with her performance in 2 days in the valley. In the November 1997 issue of Movieline magazine, Theron discussed her next feature, Devil’s Advocate, while bowling.
New-beauty-on-the-HoIIywood-block Charlize Theron wants to be interviewed while tossing bowling balls. Hey, I’m game. But when she hits the lanes at a Santa Monica bowling alley, the 22-year-old seems traumatized by the fashion disaster that’s going on at foot level.
“These are the ugliest shoes in the world,” she groans.
“They make them ugly so people won’t walk off with them,” I point out.
“Like I don’t already look like an idiot when I bowl,” says the 5-foot-9 blonde. “I’m too big and when I bend down I look like a grasshopper trying to eat or something.”
After scoring her first strike, Theron, who looks nothing like a grasshopper, says, “I get lucky in the beginning and then I just start sucking.”
If there’s anyone who should know about luck it’s Theron. She moved to Europe from her hometown of Benoni, South Africa, at age 16 to pursue modeling, but ended up in New York City studying ballet at the Joffrey. One knee injury (and a brief relocation to Miami) later she was on a plane to L.A. to pursue movie stardom. One year after that she landed the plum role of Helga the hit woman opposite James Spader and Teri Hatcher in last year’s crime comedy 2 days in the valley. She then cranked out small roles in Tom Hanks’s That Thing You Do! and Trial and Error. And now she’s playing Keanu Reeves’s wife in Taylor Hackford’s Devil’s Advocate, a thriller about a hotshot attorney who has a devil of a boss. Next summer, she’ll be the star of the big-budget Mighty Joe Young, a remake of the ’49 classic about a girl living in Africa, and her 15-foot-tall performing gorilla. It may be an ape flick, but it’s her ape flick.
As Theron scores her second strike, it hits me that she may not suck anytime soon.
DENNIS HENSLEY: Is it true that you had an affair with James Spader while making 2 days in the valley?
CHARLIZE THERON: No, the tabloids ran pictures of me with him and said he was leaving his wife and kids for me. I was the Blonde Girl Who Came on the Set. They didn’t even know I was an actress working on the set.
Q: But they did when the movie came out because you knocked everyone’s socks off.
A: The fact that people still remember me from that film really surprises me because when I first saw it, I honestly thought that was going to be it– Hollywood was over for me.
Q: What’s your character like in Devil’s Advocate?
A: I play Mary Ann Lomax, Keanu’s wife. She and Keanu are from Gainesville, Florida, but they move to New York City when he gets offered a great new job at a law firm. Her only passion is to start a family, and then she finds out she can’t get pregnant.
Q: Keanu shoots blanks?
A: It’s her problem. It’s actually the Devil, played by Al Pacino, who’s sabotaging them. She’s the only one who knows what’s going on and everybody starts thinking she’s going crazy. Finally, Keanu puts her in a madhouse.
Q: Did you land Devil’s Advocate because of your performance in 2 days?
A: Actually, they were saying, “You’re too beautiful for the part.” Which is a killer, because it’s something I can’t control–it’s not like they’re saying, “Wear another dress.” And frankly, I think that’s a very bad excuse. Of course, I know there are some parts I could never play, but I think it’s all about what’s inside. So I had to do four screen tests.
Q: Did you roll around in the dirt before the audition?
A: I’d wake up at six and really beat myself up. I’d wear no makeup and dirty hair to the audition, and then cry my heart out in the screen test. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a part as badly as I wanted this one.
Q: Do you and Keanu have a love scene?
A: Yes. We’re husband and wife, Dennis.
Q: That doesn’t necessarily mean you get it on–ask anyone who’s married.
A: Well, our love scene is really interesting. It starts with me just leaning against this wall and he comes over and starts kissing me and then he puts me down on the floor. I hate it when there are love scenes in a movie and you go, “Why did that just happen?” Sex in films, to me, is there to cause an effect and that’s what this love scene is all about.
Q: So shooting it was a good thing?
A: Anything naked with Keanu is a good thing.
Q: You were naked?
A: Well, Dennis, when you make love, you have to be naked.
Q: Sometimes you hear how actors wear sweatpants or little socks.
A: [Laughs and shakes her head “no” as she picks up her purple bowling ball] Keanu was so comfortable with his body and he was so funny while we were shooting sex scenes that I would sit completely naked and laugh, and then a half hour later finally say, “Where’s my robe?”
Q: So what’s the funniest thing he said to you during the sex scenes?
A: There was one point where I was completely naked and he had all his clothes on. Well, I had an idea to hook my toes into his pants and pull them down, and it just didn’t work on the first take. So he got up and he’s all flushed and all of a sudden he looks like he’s on the stage at the Comedy Store and he goes, “Isn’t it funny how you sometimes find yourself making love to your wife and she’s naked but you’re still wearing all your clothes?” Shit like that would just crack me up.
Q: I guess you had to be there. So did you ever get his pants off?
A: Well, after all that happened, his pants were on his hips and I just undid them.
Q: With your toes?
A: That I did with my tongue. No, Dennis–I used my hands.
Q: Well, I don’t know. Anything else I should know about Keanu?
A: Just that he’s just about the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet in Hollywood. He’s the most polite person I’ve ever met in my life. Everything is “please” and “thank you” to everyone on the set, and I thought that was pretty impressive. A lot of people think of him as someone who can’t put two and two together, but he’s very smart and intellectual. I couldn’t believe how funny he was–he made me laugh every single day.
Q: Well, that’s it. [The first game’s over and I’ve beat Theron 146 to 101]
A: I can’t believe you kicked my ass. Well, I haven’t bowled in it a long time. I used to come here like a year ago with my ex-boyfriend.
Q: I bet your ex was a curve-ball guy. Those types get all the chicks.
A: No, he wasn’t. Isn’t that depressing? I’ve never dated a curve-ball guy.
Q: Is being here bumming you out?
A: No, I’m so over it. Nothing could depress me now. I’m madly in love.
Q: Who’s the guy?
A: [Actor] Craig Bierko, who’ll be in Sour Grapes next year. We’ve been together for a year.
Q: Can I expect a wedding invite in the mail soon?
A: I know I’ll get married one day, but that’s not something I want right now. My life is pretty perfect. I’m working on stuff that I want to work on, and I’m so in love. So I’m like, “Why fuck with a good thing?”
Q: How did he deal with your love scenes with Keanu?
A: He’s been very supportive. If you’re smart you’ll be very supportive, and if you’re stupid you’ll cause a big issue. Craig has been very, very smart.
Q: Where did you meet him?
A: At the premiere of The Long Kiss Goodnight.
Q: My friend calls it The Long Kiss My Ass.
A: I changed 2 days in the valley to 2 years in high heels because the shoes were killing me.
Q: Speaking of doozy titles, your next movie is Mighty Joe Young. No offense, but gorilla flicks haven’t exactly been packing people into theaters lately.
A: Aren’t you Mr. Positive!
Q: Well, look at Rene Russo in Buddy.
A: I didn’t see it.
A: I’ll be honest with you–I wasn’t going to do it. I read the script and thought, “I’ve never pictured myself doing a movie like this.” Director Ron Underwood didn’t even want to see me for it because he saw 2 days and said, “We want someone who’s very natural.” My agent finally got me a meeting. When he made the offer I was really surprised. I waited a week before I said yes, because I thought, “I’m not going to do this just because it’s the lead and it’s for Disney.” Then I went to a couple of banquets for animal cruelty and realized it could be great to make a movie you could walk away from and say, “Some people will do anything and everything to save an animal and it’s OK.”
Q: What was your worst audition?
A: After my third film, Trial and Error, I went in for a small cameo in an independent film that I thought was quite brilliant. The character was a prostitute, but she comes across as this innocent little girl, so I wore a sundress and didn’t wash my face or hair.
Q: So if you ever look like shit, it’s because you’re auditioning?
A: [Theron doesn’t blink as she scores her second strike in a row] Right. So I read for the part and they said thank you. Afterward, when the director was giving my agent the feedback, he said, “Why didn’t Charlize wear any underwear?”
Q: Did you just forget?
A: I never wear a dress without panties. What, like I’m trying to show my crotch off to everybody? Someone actually thought I would go into a two-scene cameo audition for an independent film that was probably going to pay me butt-fucking nothing, and not wear underwear. God, I hope I never see those people again.
Q: What’s the lowest point you’ve had in your life?
A: I was in New York in ’93 studying ballet at the Joffrey when I got a knee injury. My mother was visiting me and I didn’t want her to think I was unhappy because if she found out she’d send me home. But every single day she was there I broke down because I realized performing was being taken away from me. My mom said, “What do you want to do?” I said I wanted to be an actress, but didn’t know how to do it. She said, “How will you know unless you buy a one-way ticket to Hollywood and try it?”
Q: Didn’t you live at the cheesy hotel the Farmer’s Daughter when you arrived in L.A.?
A: Yeah, I lived there for about a month. I had no money. Somehow a survival thing inside me kicked in and I said to myself, “You’re going to make this happen because if this doesn’t work out, your ass is going back to South Africa and you’re going to work in a supermarket.”
Q: Ever see any weird things at the Farmer’s Daughter?
A: I saw the same guy bring three different women back to the hotel within six hours.
Q: Wait, that was me!
A: Actually, no. I’m dating that guy now–just kidding.
Q: Was losing your virginity a thumbs-up or thumbs-down experience?
A: I don’t know if it was thumbs-up, but it wasn’t terribly traumatic. I was a late bloomer and I ended up at a point where it was like, “Enough already! I gotta get rid of it because it’s driving me crazy.”
Q: Didn’t your mom explain the facts of life to you after taking you to see Fatal Attraction?
A: Yeah. My mom would take me to the drive-in on weekends and we never knew what was showing until we got there. So one night we were watching Fatal Attraction and all this shit was happening and she realized that this was the time to let me know what it was all about.
Q: She warned you there were men with flat asses like Michael Douglas?
Q: What’s something unconventional that you find attractive in a guy?
A: Big heads are really sexy. The boyfriends I’ve had have all had really big heads.
Q: Do you have your green card yet?
A: No. Every time I work the studio gets me a visa. It’s stuff like being in this magazine that will finally get me a green card. It’s all about press and showing that you’re an asset to America.
Q: So in other words you’re just using me?
Q: [Our last game is over and Theron has kicked my ass by seven pins. I walk her outside to her Honda where she throws her belongings in the trunk] It’s not often that an interview subject suggests doing something as potentially embarrassing as bowling.
A: [Looks down] Oh my God, my shoes! [She runs inside to take them off and returns curbside] Doing an interview this way, I can play around and do whatever I want. Someone like Barbra Streisand, she couldn’t do an interview while bowling, not with all those skeletons in her closet.
Q: The nails alone would blow that idea. Ever feel like you’re going to wake up one day and discover this whole Hollywood thing was just a dream?
A: I always fear that if I don’t make people believe anymore, I’m going to lose my job–because that’s the reality of it. That’s what makes me get out of bed every morning and go, “Don’t do what all the other actresses will do. Make interesting choices.”
Q: So what are you going to do after the gorilla flick?
A: I’m definitely not taking a break. I’m going to ride this baby for as long as it allows me to ride it.
Dennis Hensley interviewed Vince Vaughn for the September ’97 issue of Movieline.