EW’s Women Who Kick A** Icon Charlize Theron At Comic Con 2017

Charlize Theron (pictured) believed in “Atomic Blonde” so much she spent years bringing it to fruition. Photo courtesy: Focus Features.

By: Marjorie Galas

Walk through any hall or arena at San Diego’s Comic Con and you’ll see a wealth of fan love for female characters.  From Daenerys Targaryen to Wonder Woman, from Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace to “Eleven” from “Stranger Things” – people of every gender and walk-of-life were either dressed up as, or sporting T-shirts honoring, their favorite woman warrior (many men, apparently, want to be the mother of dragons!)  A few years ago, Entertainment Weekly (EW) launched their “Women Who Kick Ass” panel at Comic Con, placing the actresses behind these multi-faceted and powerful characters at the forefront of Hall H – a 5,000 seat arena.  The lines for these panels far exceeded capacity from the start.

This year, EW offered a special “Women Who Kick Ass” panel – “The Icon Edition.”  Their inaugural icon was Charlize Theron.   Moderated by EW senior writer Sara Vilkomerson, this special panel focused on Theron’s love of encompassing multi-dimensional characters, from her Oscar-winning portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos to her critically praised and ultra-physical take on Imperator Furiosa in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”  Now in her forties, Theron has doubled down as producer and lead in “Atomic Blonde” – a story set in Cold-War Berlin, highlighting MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, an extremely intelligent and lethal agent Theron feels rivals James Bond.

Vilkomerson kicked off the panel by asking Theron who the women were that she looked as a youth.  While her mother was her ultimate role model, Theron felt there were many women in the action genre that could “hold their own.”  She took particular inspiration from actresses Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton – actresses she felt particularly embodied the fact that women were as capable and as powerful as men, and  perhaps, smarter too.

After showing an extremely tense action sequence from “Atomic Blonde” that featured Theron’s character taking on three armed and aggressive male spies in a stairwell, Vilkomerson asked Theron what it was about the film that not only resulted in the actress stepping into a producer role, but also took her years to develop.

“Was there a lack of scripts?” asked Vilkomerson.

Theron explained that she wanted a specific type of role that went beyond the typical nurturer out for revenge story.  Noting that a woman can be a warrior without needing a specific explanation for her physicality, she began engaging in her own search for material. After discovering the 2012 graphic novel for “Atomic Blonde,” Theron immediately fell in love with the character that could “live and play in a man’s world.”

“We all need to find these stories outside of the Madonna/whore complex,” said Theron.  “There are different ways to tell an emotional story without having to manufacture (these types of situations).”

Theron spent two and a half months physically prepping for the role.  She joked that after her first four-hour work out she couldn’t even bend over for a bathroom break, but was right back in the gym the next day for five hours.  Despite her personal doubts that she’d nail the intensely physical stunt work, she remained focused, recognizing it was a crucial part of her performance and essential to the believability of the film.  Aside from scenes too dangerous to risk injury, such as one that involved a fall from a sky-scraper window, Theron performed her own stunts.   An important aspect of ensuring believability in the fight sequences was ensuring a woman of her size and stature would realistically be able to engage in the physical combat portrayed.  She worked closely with the stunt time to craft a sequence that was designed appropriately for her body mass and density.

“With every move we would ask ‘Can a girl do that?’  We wanted to be authentic.  I fight like a woman would; I use the environment and my two hands, elbows, knees and my own body weight,” said Theron.  “I only punch with my fist once; a woman could break every bone in her hand by doing that.  We can’t fight the same way, but we can fight just as much.”

Vilkomerson asked Theron if her training as a dancer helped her wrangle some of the physical demands of stunt work.   Theron felt growing up on a farm, where she was driving a tractor at age five, had more to do with her abilities.  She admitted she was never technically the best dancer for she wasn’t a fan of the training.  What she loved most from her days as a dancer was the ability to tell a story, and some of her practices in that regard have been a great aid in her acting career.

“A physical presences can be so much more powerful than what you say, from a slight shoulder move to a hand’s placement,” said Theron.  “A slight drop of the head – it’s very subtle, and very powerful.”

Theron also appeared on the cover of EW’s bonus issue, “Inside Comic-Con” – which was distributed to Comic-Con attendees throughout the weekend. Visit EW.com for more information and to find back issues.