Lynn Hirschberg: In Young Adult, you play Mavis Gary, who is stunning on the outside and a mess on the inside. Returning to the small town in Minnesota where she reigned as the beauty/bitch of her high school, Mavis sets out to reclaim her ex-boyfriend, now married. She is self-involved, delusional, and generally hard to like, which is rare for a female protagonist in a comedy. Do you have to like a character to play her?
Charlize Theron: I liked Mavis, but no, I don’t think I need to like my characters. I do think empathy is very important. It’s crucial to understand circumstance and story to grasp the role in a truthful manner. Your characters are like your children: Sometimes they make you proud, and other times, you think, Oh, really?! In Young Adult, I wanted to show some cringe-worthy moments that only women will get.
Like the “cutlets.” Mavis wears flesh-colored glue-on gel-filled “breasts” over her real ones.
I wear those! If you don’t have boobs, you wear those cutlets. I heard a story of a girl who was on a date, started making out, and thought, Oh, he’s going to touch the cutlets! So she went to the bathroom to take them off, but her purse was too small to put them in there. I always thought that was a funny image, a woman not knowing what to do with these things that you stick onto your boobs. It’s just the most bizarre, unsexy thing there is—so I added that to Mavis.
Growing up in South Africa, were you always tall and blonde and beautiful?
For the first eight years of my life, I didn’t have front teeth. I was pretty sick as an infant, and antibiotics rotted them. But then I started to take dance classes, and I eventually got some teeth [laughs]. When I was 16, I went to Milan to model.
Did you dream of being an actress?
I wanted to be a ballerina, but I was too tall, and I had too many injuries. What I loved as a ballerina was telling stories, and I could also do that with acting, so I eventually moved to L.A.
You had a star-is-born moment as a result of your first role. For 2 Days in the Valley, you were on a billboard over Sunset Boulevard for a very long time. What was the audition for that movie like?
I remember I was in a catsuit. I’d never auditioned before, and I almost brought a bottle of ketchup and squirted it all over myself for the scene where I got shot. I looked like a maniac. It was a dying scene, so I barged through the door and started crawling on the floor. I think they were too scared not to give me the role.
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