Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb
Sleepwalking Through Real Life
by Jay S. Jacobs
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.
Do you have any recent films which inspired you?
Charlize Theron: There were a lot of great films this year. I really loved Julian Schnabel’s film (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly). I really loved the Coen Brothers film (No Country for Old Men). I loved There Will Be Blood. I thought the Marion Cotillard was just absolutely brilliant (in La Vie en Rose) and I really loved the film as well. I was just – wooh! Loved that, loved that. I walked out of the theater and was like: Yeah, let’s go to work! I was really, really happy for her. There were a lot of great films. I really loved Sean Penn’s film, too – Into the Wild. That, wooh… amazing – really amazing.
Do you have an affinity for characters with tough and grim backgrounds? You come from a very different place.
Charlize Theron: I think what you’re referring to are Monster and North Country and this. All those characters come from the same economical stature. The one thing that I learned – and maybe that I have in common – is when you come from a harsh landscape you become incredibly resilient. I think that makes you feel they’re kind of in the same world there. But I’ve been doing this for fourteen years and I’ve made close to thirty films. If I’m going to have to start saying no to good stories just because there is some correlation there somewhere, I’m not going to be working as an actor very soon. (laughs) The understanding comes from – I have a real obsession with human behavior. I love reading about it. I love observing it. I like asking questions about it. I’m fascinated by how we function as human beings. I think all actors secretly have that. It’s interesting for us to go and try and find the empathy within that adversity – to try and find the authenticity of that person, or the flaws, the beauty, and the hope. It’s a great gift if you’re into that thing.
There’s that scene when you’re driving away from the house where your boyfriend is busted, and you roll down the window and flip the police off. It really seemed faithful to the character. Was that in the script, or did you just do it?
Charlize Theron: It was in the script. But I was supposed to originally be mad, and I was like no, I can’t see that. It’s a moment of glory – her flip off to authority. But I also thought it was important to show that this was a woman who was quite reckless. She didn’t really understand any sense of responsibility. There were all these little signs that we had to get across in the first fifteen minutes of the film – that showed somebody very conflicted and making a really horrible decision [to leave her child]. In our society [it] is very unforgiving and should be. At the same time, [we were] just showing the openings. The moment where she says, “How old do I look?” You see a woman who’s very insecure and feels like the only thing she really has to give is what she has physically. She doesn’t really think a lot about herself. Where she says to the guy: “Tell me you love me – even if it doesn’t mean anything.” You find all these little moments that give you some kind of an idea that something’s not quite right. At the same time, it all comes down to empathy.
AnnaSophia, you had some scary scenes with Dennis Hopper. What was your impression of him? How terrifying was the slap?
AnnaSophia Robb: When I first met Dennis, well first of all, he gave Charlize a big hug. Then I was like, oh, well, he’s all good. (laughs) He has such a presence, and he is such a kind man. He has so much to offer as an actor. We had a read through, and I just saw this man as a mean, nasty old man who had been abused before and that’s why he acted like this. I found so much more to that, just talking about why he did this thing this way and thinking about where his wife had gone – all these different questions brought up that I had never thought about. I was just so in awe of him. How he was excited about the work he was doing and really thinking about his character. It wasn’t like he was just coming on to be on the shoot for eight minutes. He was really investing in the character.
Charlize Theron: You know we actually paid him a lot of money. (Both laugh)
AnnaSophia Robb: Okay, well that makes sense now. After every take, no matter if it was a really dark one or it was tense but not extremely emotional, he would always say: “That was a good take,” or “Are you all right?”
Charlize Theron: He didn’t physically hit her, really. Tell about the little trick he taught you.
AnnaSophia Robb: He had a glove and he’d take it off and he’d just use the fabric.
As a producer, what went into deciding that he should get the role?
Charlize Theron: I feel incredibly blessed because when I read, I do imagine faces and actors who would be really brilliant in certain roles. I’ll never forget the first time I read it. The opening scene with the dinner was written beautifully. There was an incredible amount of charisma that this guy needed to have. When I think of that kind of really conflicted [person] – you just don’t know what you’re going to get, so charming that you want to hug them but you’re kind of scared – Dennis Hopper just comes to mind. He’s so good at doing that. I got the dream cast I really hoped for. As a producer, it’s always a little bit tricky, because you want to work with the people you really feel are right for the role. Who are going to inspire you – who I want to surround myself with and work with. At the same time financiers want to have some kind of guarantee. What is considered a guarantee in our business today – there’s this idea that some actors are more bankable or more of a box-office draw than others. It’s a very tricky thing as a producer to find that medium where you can get the right guy for the right draw – instead of just getting somebody because they’re kind of hot at the moment. It’s just too much work for me not to do it with the people I really, truly believe are right for the role – that I want to make it with.
Anna Sophia, what’s one thing you learned from working with Charlize?
Charlize Theron: (mouths silently) Nothing. Nothing.
AnnaSophia Robb: (laughs) Yeah, really nothing. I would say just having…
Charlize Theron: (teasing, threateningly) Watch it…
AnnaSophia Robb: The passion for all the projects that we’re doing. Just loving what you are doing.
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 21, 2008.
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