Lynn Hirschberg: You star in Mad Max: Fury Road, which is a new chapter of the director George Miller’s Mad Max films. Did you watch the first Mad Max as a young girl growing up in South Africa?
Charlize Theron: I saw Mad Max, and I remember certain images: the road, the cars going really fast. But I didn’t know who Mel Gibson was. I thought he was just some dude who had a really cool job. In South Africa, we didn’t have the whole celebrity thing—I had no idea that people knew actors’ names.
LH: But I seem to recall that you had a teenage crush on Tom Hanks!
CT: I loved him without knowing his name. He was that guy with the dog shaking its drool all over the place in Turner & Hooch. I loved Tom Hanks as “the guy.” South Africa then was a different culture, but I must have sensed something: I was restless. I remember the first time I saw a map and realized that South Africa was all the way at the bottom and there was a whole other world out there. Everything—not just moviemaking—felt like it was happening “over there.” So, at a very young age, I wanted to explore that “over there.”
LH: You filmed Fury Road in Namibia, which is in the part of the world where you grew up. Did you like being close to home?
CT: I was conflicted. Everybody knows that feeling of going home and being giddy and then, at the same time, wanting to projectile vomit. [Laughs] The shoot lasted an eternity—we were there for seven months.
LH: At what point did you decide to shave your head for the role?
CT: At first, my character was going to be ghostlike and albino. And then I thought it would be stronger to shave my head. I called George [Miller] and told him my plan. He went silent, which I thought was a good sign. So I borrowed some clippers and buzzed it all off.
CT: That question is a little sexy. [Laughs] Well, yes, it was really fun to shower with my bald head. You have not showered until you’ve showered hairless. That’s all I have to say.
LH: When you left South Africa as a teenager, you went to New York to become a dancer. Weren’t you very tall to be a dancer?
CT: Absolutely. But I was a hard worker. I wasn’t, technically, a great dancer. I was a good actor who could dance.
LH: I loved when you danced with Channing Tatum at the 2013 Oscars.
CT: God bless that man. He’s got some strength, because there was a lot of body for him to pick up, and he never complained. Thank God for those big shoulders. I hadn’t planned on dancing at the Oscars, but Seth MacFarlane was hosting, and I really wanted him to cast me in his comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West. I thought he wouldn’t give me the job unless I did something for the Oscars, and it turned out they wanted me to dance. After all, I’m not on the Top 10 list of people they consider for comedies. All of my movies are so intense: I did A Million Ways to Die purely because my friends refused to go to my premieres anymore because they found my films so depressing. Usually, premieres of my movies don’t even have afterparties. They just hand out Percocet to people after the screening and say, “Sorry that was so heavy.”
LH: Your son Jackson is now 3. Once you became a mom, did you find you wanted to take on less intense characters? Was it hard to go home and shake off a dark persona?
CT: I’ve never been a fan of bringing my characters home. Even when I just had my dogs at home, I didn’t feel like it was fair to them: Cocker spaniels don’t deserve Aileen Wuornos [the serial killer Theron played in Monster, for which she won an Academy Award] walking in the door. If anything, I’m more attracted to dark material since becoming a mother. I look at Jackson and I want to fight harder to stop AIDS and tell stories that shed a light on injustice. I feel like he deserves a better world.
LH: I always knew you’d be a good mother—because you were so good with your dogs. Dogs are like training wheels for child rearing.
CT: They’re all my children. I know people get weirded out when people talk that way about their animals, but love is love and care is care, and just because one needs a diaper and the other does not doesn’t mean you don’t have a deep feeling for them. The loss of some of my dogs has been just as devastating as the loss of a family member. Having said that, I do know that choosing to be a mom in my late 30s has been really great for me. It’s given me perspective.
LH: How so?
CT: I think, like many women, I was judgmental toward women as they aged. Women, in our society, are compartmentalized so that we start to feel like we’re cut flowers and after a while we will wilt. I realize now that’s not the case—we can celebrate every age. That’s my encouragement to 20-year-olds who are terrified of getting older: Don’t have a nervous breakdown and don’t hit the Chardonnay too hard. Getting older is not that bad. [Laughs] Actually, I’m a complete alcoholic, but, please, don’t worry. [Laughs again]
LH: What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
CT: I would say, “Calm down.” I was always in a rush. I felt like time was going to run out. Now that I’m older, I know I’m not missing out on anything. Now, I go home, and that feels really good. When I hit 30, I realized I didn’t have to please everybody. I could actually enjoy life, which is not a bad thing at all.