Charlize Theron :: A corporate suit (with balls) in ’Prometheus’
"Prometheus" is the long awaited return of Ridley Scott to both the sci-fi genre, and the world of "Alien" in particular. Set before the events of the 1979 classic, "Prometheus" centers on an earlier space expedition funded by the Weyland corporation. Charlize Theron stars as Meredith Vickers, the head of the company in charge of the mission.
Theron was almost unavailable for the film. She was set to star in another sci-fi franchise, the fourth "Mad Max" film. Delays on that film allowed her to be in "Prometheus."
"I was in Malaysia and my manager called and said, ’I’m sending you this script,’" Theron said. "I’ve known Ridley for a couple years socially. So I knew that he was working on this and I was supposed to go off to Australia to do ’Mad Max.’ I was jealous. When ’Mad Max’ got pushed, he reached out to me. It was like: read it in 30 minutes and it will explode. It was so secretive. I was in the middle of a rainstorm on a mountain trying to read this script because it was the only place I could get reception."
Where’s the green screen?
For Ridley Scott, it was worth it. "You can ask any actor this, there’s always that one director that’s like the dream," Theron said. "Ridley was that for me. I used to always joke and I’ve had bad experiences with first time directors and I’d turn to my manager and say, ’I want to work with Ridley Scott.’ He was always that guy I fantasized. I really wanted it to work out."
Once she got on the set, Ridley Scott was everything she imagined he’d be and more. For one thing, all the sets and locations of "Prometheus" were real. "I was working for three weeks and was like where’s the green screen?" she said. "Ridley’s like, ’I’m not doing green screen.’ Everything was built and if it wasn’t built, if you were looking out a window of a ship, he would have computerized it and done this CGI imaging that would play the scene for you of what was happening outside. It grounds everything so much for actors. It’s all there so it’s all physically being lit."
Changing her character
"Prometheus" actually began as a direct prequel to "Alien." "Lost" creator Damon Lindelof was hired to rewrite the script to make it a stand-alone film. "That script was written by a guy named John Spaihts," Lindelof said. "I think it had a lot of cool really cool ideas in it but it was most definitely an ’Alien’ prequel. I think Ridley really wanted to push the movie into original territory. One of the pitfalls of a prequel if you don’t handle it right is that the audience kind of knows what’s coming because they’ve seen the sequel. They’ve seen the original movie.
"He was also driven by bigger thematic ideas about what this movie could be about. We started having conversations and as a result of those conversations we worked very closely together for a couple of months, rewriting the script until he was satisfied that it felt like it was its own movie."
That’s when Theron and Lindelof crossed paths. When she became available, the role of Meredith Vickers grew. "When you’re first writing the movie, you’re trying to get all the foundation, the building blocks of the story and character comes next," Lindelof said. "When Ridley thought he could get Charlize to play this character, a good character but one note. It was like holy shit, this is an Academy Award winner movie star playing this bit part. Suddenly it was, ’wow, if we’re going to entice her to be in this movie, we’re going to have to do some more work on this character.’"
Theron has played physically tough women in movies like "Hancock" and "Aeon Flux," and emotionally tough ones in "Monster," "North Country" and "Young Adult." Either type of role is highly coveted in Hollywood, and Theron is one of the select few stars who get either type, let alone both.
"I don’t ever set out to play a character with strength," she said. "I try to find the circumstance and be as honest as I can with the circumstance. There’s nothing faker than stepping in the wardrobe and the shoes of a character that doesn’t authentically own those characteristics. Once we understood the world, where we wanted to go with her, what we wanted to explore with her that that seeps in. All of a sudden you put that suit on and it’s like yeah, I want to order somebody around. You just find it."
Negotiating those details with Lindelof was a lively section of preproduction. "We then explored, when Damon and I spoke, to explore how to make her more layered," she said. "That was when I really got excited. You’re two months away from shooting and you get on the phone with the writer. You’re just batshit crazy going, ’I don’t know, but what if...?’ You’re throwing these crazy ideas at someone who you admire. A week and a half later I got this draft and I was like ’wow, it’s really flattering.’ I was really excited to be partners with Ridley to go and do this."
Time to dance
The "Alien" series is credited with paving the way for female heroines in all of movies, let alone sci-fi. Theron follows in Sigourney Weaver’s tradition. "Ripley is like the classic, right?" Theron said. "[When I] saw that, I was like yeah, it’s time to dance. I do think that [Ridley Scott] was the first person really to take full advantage of how you could explore not only that genre but themes that I think mostly men in cinema had been allowed to explore.
"The great thing about him is I think it lives under his skin. I think he has that kind of view of women. He naturally carries that. After we’d talked about doing a rewrite on the role and you throw all those layers in, the way he shoots women, he’s constantly layering, he’s constantly adding. It’s a pretty special thing for a male director to have, to have that awareness constantly, of like how can you elevate this every single day even if it’s not on the page? I think he has that innately in him because I think he feels that way about women. He likes those kind of women."
Unlike Ripley though, Meredith Vickers is not the action hero fighting the monster screaming, "Get away from her, you bitch!" though. "She is really the suit," Theron said. "She runs the company that’s put this whole thing together. We’re talking about a lot of money. The first conversation I had with Ridley, he always brings it back and grounds it to reality, all these tycoons some of whom are in trouble right now. Not gonna say any names."
Real life corporate women did provide Theron with some inspiration. "I watch the Trump family for instance," she said. "I’m sure the boys do a lot. I don’t know them, but I know Ivanka Trump, she’s running that shit. Women who come from those environments tend to do really well. There’s something about a girl being in the shadow of her father. There’s interesting things to play upon if you’re creating this woman who comes from incredible strength and just real balls."
The crew of the spaceship Prometheus includes Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a scientist, Janek (Idris Elba) the captain, and David (Michael Fassbender), the resident android. Vickers provides a unique angle on the discoveries the Prometheus makes.
"I thought there was great potential to explore the themes that the movie was already exploring through the eyes of a character that was so different from everybody else who’s on this mission," Theron said.
"These scientists are going out there, one’s a believer, one isn’t, and you play on all these themes and experience all that stuff from the point of view of somebody who comes from a much more cold economic business ’suit’ sense of it."
"Prometheus" opens Friday.
Watch the trailer to "Prometheus":