Entertainment Weekly’s yearly celebration of the actresses in movies and television who kick the most ass changed things up a bit for Comic-Con 2017. This iteration, dubbed “Icon Edition,” focused on one ass-kicker in particular — someone who has quickly earned a spot in action movie hall of fame.
Charlize Theron took the stage in Hall H at Comic-Con for an in-depth, one-on-one conversation with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Sara Vilkomerson ahead of her new film Atomic Blonde (out July 28). Theron told Vilkomerson that Atomic Blonde came out of looking for something specific, wanting to play an unrepentant woman who plays by the rules men get to play by.
“Women in film typically need a reason to become warriors — losing a child or husband. They can just be warriors,” she said. “That’s what Atomic Blonde is supposed to portray. Lorraine is simply herself. There’s no explanation for why the way she is the way she is.”
The fans in Hall H were also treated to an extended look at the ’80s-set spy thriller. In a long-take fight between Theron’s Lorraine Broughton and a group of thugs in an East Berlin stairwell, Lorraine takes plenty of hits but is absolutely merciless — and the audience in Hall H responded with huge applause. (“Thanks, guys. Can I bring you everywhere I go?” Theron joked.)
The epic sequence was shot over three-and-a-half days. “We really didn’t think we would be able to pull it off,” Theron said.
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.
Playing an ass-kicking international spy can’t be easy, but Charlize Theron really suffered for her craft in “Atomic Blonde.” She twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and had to undergo extensive dental surgery, because she clenched down so hard on her jaw she cracked two teeth while getting in shape to throw burly men over her shoulders.
“It happened the first month of training,” Theron says. “I had severe tooth pain, which I never had in my entire life.” She thought it was just a cavity at first, until her dentist told her she’d need to have an operation before leaving for the shoot in Budapest. “Having to cut one of the teeth out and root canals,” Theron says. “It was tough. You want to be in your best fighting shape, and it’s hard. I had the removal and I had to put a donor bone in there to heal until I came back, and then I had another surgery to put a metal screw in there.”
It’s the kind of confessional that would make even the toughest male star wince. But Theron tells the story matter-of-factly, offering a look to a reporter that signals: Next question?
“Atomic Blonde,” a high-adrenaline action movie that feels like a mash-up of “The Bourne Identity” and “Alias” set in 1989 Berlin, is poised to be a summer hit when Focus Features debuts it on July 28. Following the success of “Wonder Woman,” which has grossed more than $350 million at the U.S. box office, it just may be that female action stars are finally getting some respect in the business where cash speaks even louder than sexism. At the same time, their macho big-screen counterparts, Tom Cruise, the Rock and Charlie Hunnam, have suffered costly box office disasters this summer.