With Atomic Blonde (in theaters July 28), Charlize Theron produces and stars as undercover MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, an ass kicker of epic proportions sent to 1980s Berlin to recover essential information after another agent’s murder. Costarring James McAvoy and John Goodman, and directed by John Wick’s David Leitch, Atomic Blonde — which is screening for SDCC badge holders (21 and older) on July 22 at 8 p.m. at Horton Plaza Park — is just the latest in a long line of titles to cast Theron in a ferocious role. Think Cipher in The Fate of the Furious, Ravenna in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. The Oscar winner, who appears on the cover of Entertainment Weekly‘s Comic-Con Special Issue (not to be confused with EW’s Comic-Con double issue, which is on stands now), chatted about love scenes, playing by the rules, and evolving into Hollywood’s fiercest female.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about Lorraine and Atomic Blonde that appealed to you?
CHARLIZE THERON: I was looking for something that had a female protagonist that was unapologetic and could play by the same rules as men. I think what happens a lot with women [characters] in film is that we go to these easy, sometimes manipulative places of throwing children or a dead husband into their history. The truth of Lorraine’s world is that when you see her body beaten, you see the consequences of the world she’s living in. That’s where you get the empathy. To me, it felt more authentic than going to this place where we are oversaturated with explanation. Like, “Hey, this is a woman! So let’s remind you that they are mothers and nurturers.” We’re so much more than that. Lorraine just is, and I love that about her.
Your sex scene with Sofia Boutella has already generated quite a bit of early buzz, mainly because it isn’t romantic. That makes sense to me. James Bond didn’t “date” most of the women he bedded.
He doesn’t fall in love with them, he doesn’t have a family with them — I could go on and on. I read a lot about these agents, and I can’t even imagine living that life — it’s self-combusting. A lot of them have sexual encounters in order to survive. So [it was important] that it felt honest: She meets this girl, they go to her place, and they have sex! They’re not making love, it’s sex. [Laughs] We shot it that way, and I take full ownership as a producer. There’s a real power in a woman taking ownership. It’s weird how we get weirded out by women doing that.
How intensely did you have to train to be able to do some of these action scenes?
I trained really hard for two and a half months before leaving for [shooting] in Budapest and continued there.
You were a dancer at the start of your career. How much does that help when you’re learning the choreography of a fight?
I think the muscle memory is always there. You do learn things easier and faster than if you didn’t have that training.
Early in your career, did you ever feel that your beauty was holding you back from certain roles?
I think there’s a period where you have to fight it and there’s nothing you can do about it. I got lucky because I got to do [2003’s] Monster, and after that I became more confident about knowing I had more to bring to the table. Lorraine is gorgeous, and she thrives on it. I think I would have been scared of that [when I was younger] because I would have felt like people would have seen just that and nothing else. Monster gave me confidence, but so has just being 41. I’m maturing into a woman that has a much wider backbone now. I can’t ever be jaded about that.
Did you ever think you’d be 41 years old and an action star?
I remember being 21 years old and three journalists back-to-back asked what I was going to do after I turned 40. I have an awareness of that, and I have a real sense of gratitude that I’ve been doing this for a long time and audiences are responding. Also? I worked really f—ing hard.
You have two kids under 6. Do they know that their mom can do these things?
They think I’m great for a whole bunch of other reasons. That’s the best part about motherhood. It has nothing to do with all this other stuff. They don’t care that I have an Oscar. They think I’m awesome because I can make pancakes or really awesome French toast on a Sunday morning.