Her friend Woody Harrelson, her costar in North Country and Sleepwalking, notes that her glamour belies her tomboyishness. On location in Minnesota for North Country, they spent their downtime in local bars, belting out karaoke to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “She’s not like a delicate girl,” Harrelson says. “She’s like a classic broad, in terms of being a beautiful woman, incredibly talented and also able to tell more vulgar jokes than you and drink you under the table.”
While Theron, a former model, has no qualms about trading on her looks—she’s the face of Dior’s J’Adore fragrance and has bared a lot of flesh for magazine shoots—her beauty has never been the raison d’être of her acting career. “It’s very unusual for someone that beautiful to not affect the way they present themselves to the world,” notes her Elah costar Tommy Lee Jones. “Rather than exploit her own beauty, she just plays the character.”
Her choice of roles, says Theron, is driven by good material, period. “More interesting stories come my way about what we consider real people than about glamorous, beautiful people,” she explains. “It really irks me that people think I choose these roles because if I’m not looking attractive, they will take me seriously. I’m sorry, but if I’m going to play a cop, I’m not going to be wearing eyeliner. I’m not going to wake up in a scene with lip gloss on, because that’s not how women wake up, not even the most beautiful women.”
For most of her career, Theron’s insistence on playing more than simply the hot chick has meant she’s chosen smaller, character-driven films rather than event films. (The most notable exception, 2005’s Aeon Flux, turned out to be a commercial and critical disappointment.) But her new movie, Hancock, is about as big as they come: An effects-heavy action-comedy, it’s headlined by the industry’s reigning box office champ, Will Smith, and opens just before the Fourth of July weekend.
Blink and you’ll miss Theron in the trailer, but she has one of the biggest parts in the movie. However, Sony, the studio behind the film, is trying to keep the details of her character under wraps, due to a clever twist. This much can be told without ruining anything: The story is a smart and original take on the superhero genre. Smith, in the title role, is a foulmouthed drunk with superpowers and a tendency to do more harm than good when he rescues Angelenos in peril. Jason Bateman plays a publicist who wants to overhaul Hancock’s public image, and Theron stars as Bateman’s wife, Mary, whom one draft of the screenplay describes as “uncharacteristically hot.”