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.”
The search for the next James Bond is over—Charlize Theron is perfect for the role. Proof positive: In Atomic Blonde, in theaters July 28, Theron displays her suave spy talents as Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin in 1989, five days before the Wall falls. As Lorraine, Theron is an exhilarating mix of icy beauty, alluring mystery, in-your-face sexuality, and fierce, fearless fighting skills.
In one epic battle, she takes on a team of brutal bad guys on a staircase, pummeling and decking them one by one while looking stunning in thigh-high boots and a shaggy bob. It is a triumphant female-power moment that is rarely seen in cinema, and Theron owns it completely.
“I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” Theron told me at the W photo shoot, which channeled the late-1980s, gritty punk-meets-glam mood of the film. “It would be so boring to just be ‘the girl’ and wait for the guys to come in when there’s a fight. Instead, I thought about Atomic Blonde the way I imagine men think about parts in action films. I was intrigued and challenged.”
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