Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb – Sleepwalking Through Real Life
by Jay S. Jacobs
Originally posted on March 21, 2008.
Though she has lived a rather glamorous life – born in South Africa, travelling regularly to Europe and the US, becoming a top actress in films like The Cider House Rules, The Italian Job and In the Valley of Elah – lately, Charlize Theron has shown a fascination with the less glamorous side of the human condition. That was dramatically shown in her Oscar-winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the drama Monster – which was also Theron’s debut as a film producer.
Just like on Monster, Theron has taken on the dual role in Sleepwalking. She toiled behind the scenes to put the film together and get the money to get it made. She also took on the supporting role of Joleen – a conflicted woman whose life is a series of guys and legal problems. When her latest lover is arrested for growing drugs, Joleen and her daughter Tara are homeless again. They stay in the decrepit apartment of her soft-spoken and shy brother James (Nick Stahl of Terminator 3 and Sin City). Then, after a few days, Joleen just leaves without a word, leaving her brother to raise her daughter – despite the fact that he had neither the experience nor the money to care for an eleven-year-old girl.
For the vital role of the daughter, the filmmakers knew they had found their perfect fit with AnnaSophia Robb. Though the young actress was best known for lighter fare – stuff like Bridge to Terabithia, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Because of Winn-Dixie – Robb quickly proved that she could handle the deep emotional requirements of the role.
A couple of days before Sleepwalking’s New York and Los Angeles opening (and a little over a week before its wider national release), Theron and Robb met with us at the Regency Hotel in New York to discuss the movie.
We just got finished talking to Nick, and he was telling us that the temperature at some of the sets were 50 below, which makes me think there must have been a lot of love for this project. What attracted you to this material?
Charlize Theron: You know, it’s really hard. I like to read a lot of material. A lot of stuff gets submitted through the company. I really just enjoy the process of reading through material. I think a lot of my decision-making process comes from – it just either emotionally happens or it doesn’t. I’ve many times had scripts sent to me where people [who] I really respect their opinions say, “It’s an amazing piece.” You read it and it is an amazing piece – but there is no chemistry there. This [screenplay] stayed with me. I liked it. It felt like real people. It didn’t feel like a watered-down version of a dysfunctional family. I thought it was ballsy. I thought it had great wit. I thought it was incredibly real, but incredibly hopeful at the same time. That hope is something that I am very attracted to. It’s the one thing that we all have in common, no matter where we come from [or] what our circumstances are. We all have hope.
Do you look at scripts now both as an actress and a producer? Do you look at them from two different perspectives? This script, you may love it as an actress, but as a producer do you think, “How will we ever sell this?”
Charlize Theron: It’s interesting, the producing aspect. I don’t really compartmentalize the two. You don’t read something and go, “I love this. I’m going to produce this.” (laughs) It’s a much longer process than saying yes to an acting role and then two months later you’re on set doing it. Somebody has already done all that work. We have a lot of material. Development is really just a fancy word for basically just saying we’re praying and hoping. You have a lot of stuff that goes through that development process. This industry is really changing nonstop as far as financing aspects of independent filmmaking. You’re always meeting with new financing entities. You’re always let them know what you have. They look at it. If they’re interested they might step in and you get lucky. Then for me, another element of that is really the cast. I don’t want to just go make something. I want to work with people that I really want to work with. I love this, but it took us a year-and-a-half to two years to get a financier to jump on board and step up with the money that we needed. Then Nick [Stahl] came on, which was great, but I knew this story was going to work with the dynamic of Tara and [James, the character played by] Nick. No matter how great Nick was going to be, we needed to get a young girl that could emotionally carry the same amount of weight. That’s tricky. It is heavy material for a child. You can’t pretend your way through it. So when AnnaSophia came in and played with us for day, that’s when I fully committed to it. I knew we had the money and the talent to pull it off.
AnnaSophia, would you say this was your most adult role? You’ve mostly done kids’ films before…
AnnaSophia Robb: Yeah. It’s my first adult film. Thankfully, this is my first real strong adult film and Charlize was there to help me, support me and talk to me and…
Charlize Theron: Beat you up.
AnnaSophia Robb: Yeah beat me up. (smiles) Just curse me out. (They both laugh) She was just there for me every day. She made a very comfortable environment, so I felt safe. I felt open to try anything and everything. We wanted to make a good movie. I wanted her to push me. I’m thankful for that, because it made me not scared to do heavy material. To be able to get down into those dark places but then come back up. Everytime there was a scene like that, she was there for me. I think I’m going to be a healthier actor because of this.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned when you’ve done a movie as both an actress and producer?
Charlize Theron: The first time we produced was on Monster and that was a really incredible experience, so it set the bar really, really high. But the one thing I walked away from in that experience that I really wanted again was this incredible partnership with everybody in making a film. That kind of collaboration where you don’t feel like you’re shooting a film, you’re basically just documenting. That was how Monster felt, and that was how this felt. That’s what makes it not compartmentalized for me. It’s not like this-this-this-this and then oh my God, now I’m in front of the camera. It’s a creative process. All we’re doing all day long is discussing and debating: who these people are, what the world is, how to make it authentic. You’re just constantly in that, so that when you put the wardrobe on and you walk up on the camera, you can roll and shoot. Then, when we’re done, we’re done. I took that from Monster. That’s how I really enjoy making films. I hope to continue doing that.