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.
When Hollywood was flush with cash, major stars were awarded production deals that rarely resulted in actual movies being made. That’s not the case anymore, with the likes of Brad Pitt’s Plan B, Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard and George Clooney’s Smokehouse Pictures — which have backed Oscar-winning dramas (“Moonlight”) and buzzy cable shows (“Big Little Lies”) — on the scene.
If “Atomic Blonde” becomes a summer box office hit, it will elevate the profile of Charlize Theron’s Denver & Delilah Prods. (named after her dogs), a boutique label that churns out indie films and TV series.
Theron didn’t become a producer only to find better roles for herself. Instead, she wanted her voice heard on important behind-the-scenes decisions. “I really think I became a producer because I love the nuance of storytelling,” says Theron, who gravitates to riskier material.
The company, which has a first-look deal with Universal Cables Productions, is managed by Theron and her producing partners Beth Kono and AJ Dix. “It’s been fun going to test screenings and hearing people say, ‘I’ve never seen action like that before,’” says Dix about “Atomic Blonde.”
On the movie side, the company also has Amazon Studios and STX’s “Gringo,” an action film starring Joel Edgerton (Theron has a supporting role as a corrupt boss); Lionsgate comedy “Flarsky,” co-starring Seth Rogen and Theron; the Netflix drama “Brain on Fire,” headlined by Chloe Grace Moretz; as well as Jason Reitman’s “Tully,” another collaboration with the “Young Adult” director. “Our process is that we’re really close,” says Reitman. “I feel like we talk about everything.”
For TV, Denver & Delilah is developing “Mindhunter,” an FBI detective drama that Netflix will premiere in the fall. And a few other deals are coming together soon.
With projects like “Atomic Blonde,” Denver & Delilah is telling stories that are different from regular studio fare. “We are mindful of finding all representation behind the camera,” Kono says. “Charlize has had some of her best work with women. A lot of our stuff is female-centric stories about complicated women.”