Vanity Fair: How are you different now than a year ago?
Charlize Theron: Whoa, that’s a big old question. I think I am way more anxious than last year.
This year has definitely amped up my angst, my anger. I think it just, like, heightened all of those human feelings.
And to complement that, two questions back to back: What has made you the angriest and what gives you hope from this past year?
It’s hard to try to quantify what, amongst the horrible events that we’ve had in this last year, are the worst. They are all pretty fucking shitty. Dealing with a virus and the amount of human loss that we’ve had—that’s pretty fucking shitty. The pain and the suffering that I have seen my friends of color go through during this period…I mean, I’m hoping it’s an awakening. I’m really hoping that it’s our rock bottom. And what happened yesterday [during the insurrection at the Capitol]. It’s just all pretty fucking sad. The only thing that makes me feel like I can think of the glass as half full, instead of half empty, is that I’m hoping that out of a lot of this really deep, deep, deep pain and suffering, we will come to realize that we can’t keep going this way. That’s all I could think about yesterday. I was like, this to me looks like rock bottom. What more can happen? We have to be able to be the alcoholic that just fucking surrenders now, and just goes, “Whoa, this isn’t working.”
Is there anything you feel particularly galvanized by?
I’m always just super galvanized by young people. I really am. When I started my program [to address HIV among children] in South Africa, CTAOP, it came from this real inspiration that I get from young people. Watching big change happen in any capacity—for me the correlation has been young people. I’m just really impressed by how resilient they are and how willing they are to just keep fighting. And I don’t think they get enough credit for it.
When you’re thinking about starting or joining a film project, how important are your politics or activism in that decision-making process?
It’s not always the same. I’ve tried to create a career that’s based on real interests, and those interests are trying to find complicated people to portray—people who challenge my thinking—and to go and live vicariously through them for a couple of months. So it might not always be political, but the human complexities of the characters that I’ve been intrigued by have always challenged me on my own beliefs.
I think it’s just a natural thing for artists to lean into storytelling that maybe reflects their beliefs. It’s the easier thing to do. But I definitely have been more challenged in wanting to try to understand. I think, to me, that’s what empathy is. I just want to understand why somebody might do something that I don’t agree with. And I think a lot of the characters that I’ve played lived and breathed in that space. I’m intrigued by aberrance or not-so-great behavior when it comes to people—the complicated stuff, the things that we might not be so proud to think of [having done]. Through characters, I think there’s something for me that’s very cathartic in trying to understand why people do horrible things.
Did your feelings about fame change at all in this last year, being tucked away at home for the most part?
Listen, I’ve got a five-year-old and a soon-to-be nine-year-old that I’ve been homeschooling. I will say that, in general for me, I have never been comfortable with fame. That’s probably the one thing that I really don’t like about my job. When I became interested in movies and acting, I was living on a farm community in South Africa, where there were no materials, there was no reading about celebrities. I loved Tom Hanks movies and Goldie Hawn movies. But, I didn’t know who they were or what their names were.
I think that has always been weird for me, coming into [Hollywood]. When I started almost being famous, being followed, it was a bad thing…. I honestly went through periods, when my kids were a lot younger, where that really did bother me. I think I was aggressive about it. And then I worked my way to a place where I just didn’t think about it so much and didn’t have it consume me—the worry or the hatred of people following you or following your kids. And so, I had to do some work on that because it’s definitely not something that I like. I still wish that I could just…I know this is not how it works. I get it. I’m not an idiot. But, I still wish I could go and do my job, and not have to be fodder for tabloids or have my family members see that. So, this year has been…I miss my friends, and I do miss to travel. But outside of that, not having to do things or be seen, it’s been very refreshing.
You mentioned being a homeschool parent in the midst of the pandemic. Is there anything from your work that has maybe prepared you or not prepared you for this experience?
No, God, nothing prepares you. I know this for fact because I have had many boozy Zooms with other moms. Nothing prepares you for this. It’s also the first time in my life that I really had to confront how shitty and how terrible I am at something, like true failure. I’m a horrible teacher, a horrible teacher. I’ve had to really sit in that uncomfortableness and acknowledge that and just be with it because I don’t have any other choice right now.
Was there anything that you watched for fun or for comfort this past year?
I watch a lot of cooking shows with my kids, a lot of Nailed It! and The Great British Baking Show. Those are so comforting because it’s just full inspiration for what we can bake and eat. After a while, there’s only so much you can watch with young kids before your brain explodes. So, that was really a lovely thing. And then we went on a binge of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I will always think of that show as our family corona show that I had to prewatch every episode and figure out which ones were appropriate and which ones weren’t. But, that was a fun family thing for us too, that just puts a smile on my face.
I saw that on Twitter you mentioned that you would be down to do a lesbian spin on Die Hard. If you were actually offered that project, would you jump on board?
Yeah, I mean, it’s a great idea. That’s why I replied on Twitter. Because I just thought that was kind of brilliant. I was like, “This person needs to start pitching. That’s a great idea.” And the fact that it would be two women, I was like, “Yeah, sign me on.”
Interview by Cassie Da Costa. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Hair by Adir Abergel; Makeup by Kate Lee; Manicure by Thuy Nguyen. Coat by Richard Quinn; shirt and shorts by Reebok by Pyer Moss; gloves and boots by TITLE Boxing Club; hair products by Virtue; makeup by Dior. Set Design by Gille Mills; Photography Assistance by Moses Berkson; Digital Tech Pamela Grant; Film Assistance by Dominic Haydn Rawl; AC/Media Manager Lili Soto; Lighting Assistants Phil Blair, Michael Kinsey; On Set Sittings Editor Simon Robins; Tailor Olena Survilo (Michael B. Jordan), Karina Malkhasyan (All Others); Produced on Location by PRODn.
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