Young Adult - Charlize Theron
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) © 2011 Paramount Pictures and Mercury Productions

Charlize Theron’s career took off in the late ’90s with movies such as Mighty Joe Young, The Cider House Rules and The Advocate. In 2004 she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Other prominent movies followed, including North Country, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers and Hancock. She was due to start shooting a sequel to the Mad Max films, called Mad Max: Fury Road but it has been postponed until next year, giving her the opportunity to star in Jason Reitman’s new movie Young Adult, written by Diablo Cody.

In the film she plays Mavis Gary, a newly divorced writer of teen literature, who has lost her way in life and is trying to regain her sanity by returning to her small town in Minnesota to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). When things don’t go the way she plans, she forms an unusual bond another former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt).

Do you consider Mavis to be mentally ill?

Young Adult - Charlize Theron
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) © 2011 Paramount Pictures and Mercury Productions

I’ve never been a fan of labels. I think it’s very easy to look at somebody and kind of throw a label on them, ‘they’re crazy.’ And I’m not a big fan of overly justifying bad behavior, or why people are the way they are. I think that’s a cop-out. I don’t have a lot of empathy for that.

I thought the things that Mavis did were pretty despicable, but then again, not to the point where I was disgusted by her.

I never had a hard time liking her. I would love to go and have a beer with her. I would never let her hang out with my boyfriend, but I would love to hang out with her. She’s entertaining about all of her stuff. She has a funny way of sucking the air out of the room. I found her fascinating.

What I liked when I read Diablo’s script was the idea of a woman who’s dealing with very common mid-to-late 30’s issues that women can really relate to; but because of how she went through life, is dealing with them the way a 16-year-old would deal with them.

I thought that was really fascinating. Here she is a 37-year-old trying to get her life together, but she just doesn’t have the tools to do it.

We’ve seen a lot of movies recently where women behave badly, including your character. Do you see this as a sign of progress for women or as a step backwards?

Young Adult - Patrick Wilson and Charlize Theron
Buddy Slad (Patrick Wilson) and Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) © 2011 Paramount Pictures and Mercury Productions

I talked a lot about this when I did Monster. I think women are more conflicted than men, and I think we come from a society where we’re very comfortable with the Madonna whore complex. We’re either good hookers or really good mothers. But we’re not bad hookers and we’re not bad mothers, and we’re nothing in between.

I grew up on cinema where Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro got to play those kind of honest characters, and I saw a little bit of myself in those kind of struggles. It’s so great as an actor to get the opportunity to do something that’s incredibly truthful. It’s been very nice.

Your character was a beautiful, popular girl in high school. What type of girl were you in high school and did you experience any ‘mean girl’ moments?

Young Adult - Charlize Theron
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) © 2011 Paramount Pictures and Mercury Productions

I was pretty much a mess after primary school. I really experienced a lot more of that stuff from the ages of 7 to 12, where there was a really popular girl in my school and I was obsessed with her. I mean, you would go to jail for that stuff today. And I’m so embarrassed, because I actually was in tears one day because I couldn’t sit next to her.

And then three weeks ago I was in London, I’m shooting a film there (Snow White & the Huntsman), and I was in a fitting. And this girl goes, ‘Oh I know Charlize.’ And it was that girl that [screwed] me up in primary school, who now lives kind of a sad life.

I got that out of my system, so that by the time I went to high school, I was broken in and more immune to all of that stuff. I wasn’t really in the popular crowd. I went to art school. I was obsessed with ballet. I wore really nerdy glasses. I was blind as could be, and boys didn’t really like big nerdy glasses.

There’s a buzz about an Oscar nomination for you for this. What would that mean to you?

Young Adult - Charlize Theron
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) © 2011 Paramount Pictures and Mercury Productions

I can’t even think about anything like that. I know it sounds unbelievably cliche, but I haven’t worked in three years.

To have the opportunity to come back and do something like this, with Diablo and with Patton, with Jason, who I really wanted to work with, with this kind of material, and to see people respond to it, has been the greatest gift. And so I can’t even think beyond anything like that.

It’s just really nice to have people come up to me and have these little tiny anecdotes with what they connected with in the movie. The movie kind of puts them in a little bit of a Mavis mood, so they feel really free to admit that they’ve done things like Mavis, which is just so endearing.

How did you spend the last three years? Were you looking for scripts or on vacation?

On my couch. Potato chips. Unemployed. No, it sounds like it was that, but actually I was getting ready to go to do Fury Road with George Miller in Australia.

Initially I had to pass on this because when Jason came to me, I was packing and going to Australia to start pre-production on Fury Road, which was a year shoot. And I was in Australia for two weeks, then they pushed the film [to next year], and I came back.

Jason called me up and said, ‘Let’s do this in a month.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ But I was waiting for that film to happen, and I had other things in development. Creatively I was very satisfied.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.