'Prometheus' Interview: Charlize Theron on Her Fear of the Unknown

Next Friday director Ridley Scott's highly anticipated return to sci-fi, Prometheus opens in theaters in the U.S. We are here in London for the world premiere of the film - where we've had the opportunity to speak with several members of the cast about their work on the film and what we can expect from Scott's epic return to the sci-fi genre.

Take a look at our roundtable conversation with Charlize Theron (who also talked to us about Mad Max: Fury Road) below and stay tuned for more from the cast and creators of Prometheus.

Note: A quick warning to more sensitive readers, the following interview contains profane language.

Question: Can you talk about how the script evolved from when you first read it?

Charlize Theron: "Well, from the time that Ridley sent it to me, it was probably in a two-week period, we discussed it on the phone and he introduced me to Damon (Lindelof), and we kinda just had like a back and forth for a couple of days. Then Damon went for, I think just two weeks, and did some writing and came back with a really, really good foundation. Then it kind of just continued, as all movies do. This wasn’t an unusual experience for me, that you then sit down and have more discussions about it and more things come out of it and little tweaks here and there and things come in and go out. You know, that’s kind of like ongoing for me on every movie, so that’s kind of how this came about."

Q: Is it nice to be able to finally talk about the film a little bit?

Theron: (Laughs) "Like that much more?  I just came out of a press conference and I saw some lady just go like this when I said something, like a Rottweiler, her ears went up. So yeah, I don’t know how much we are actually allowed to talk about it. (Laughs) But truth be told, it’s nice to not say everything about a movie. I wish all movies were somewhat like that. There’s something nice about a film just speaking for itself and you can’t do it with every movie. This movie kind of is a pedigree that people know what to expect, so you can get away with it. But it’s my favorite way to go and sit in a theater and have the lights go off and just not know what the fuck you’re going to see. I feel like everything is given away these days. For me, it wasn’t hard at all not to talk about it. I could just be really cheeky and blame it on the studio."

Q: One thing I like about the movie is it’s really hard to tell where there are sets and where he used green screen environments? I was curious about that. Was a lot of it actually built on set?

Theron: "The entire ship was built. An entire ship was built, I mean, like every button, every wall, every hallway, ever. I think Arthur (Max), the production designer, did an amazing job. The green screen that I saw was through the windows. That was it. Even what the monitors were showing like the scene where I’m watching (A SUPER SECRET EVENT THAT YOU CAN LOOK FORWARD TO) out in space, he had pre-CGI’d all of that for us on videos so that it was projected for us to watch. It was so little green screen, for me, anyway, and from the inside of the ship, very, very little."

Q: Can you talk a little bit about the first day you stepped onto the set? I’m sure you were told you’re not going to have to worry about green screen, but there’s something to be said about walking into that environment and seeing things.

Theron: "It’s amazing. I mean, I didn’t realize—yeah, I mean, I don’t think we had a clear understanding of how much of it was going to be tangible, but that was ridiculous. I mean, the day that the projectors started showing the scene, I was like, 'Ridley, now you’ve really crossed the line.' (Laughs) You know, I can act, too, a little bit here. I mean, you don’t have to…. But he’s that kind of director. I think he comes from the school of understanding that the marriage between that real set and CGI is what makes it good, because to have the actual set is helpful for your actors. And so, it helps raise the stakes for the performances, which makes the movie better. I know that what we did as actors in this film would not have been what it is if we were just acting with green screens around us and stuff like that. It was amazing. I mean, I walked on and had a bit of a—I could like chill my ego down because I was like, 'My ship, my ship, my ship…'"

Q: Did that actually kind of feed the character a little bit?

Theron: "My ego? Yes." (Laughs)

Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in 'Prometheus'

Q: You said you liked exploring characters who are less defined and that people aren’t born bad, so what do you think was driving Meredith?

Theron: "Well, it’s a tough thing to talk about Meredith without giving the movie away, but I think there is a great quote—and I feel horrible that I don’t know who said this—but it was a great quote, it says, 'The only difference between all of us are the ones who are loved and the ones who are not.' I feel like Meredith falls in that category really well."

Q: The film explores a lot of existential questions but there’s also some body horror in there. What component of film are you personally frightened by?

Theron: "Frightened by? Oh, it’s the unknown. When I watched the film ('Alien') for the first time, I had a bruised elbow because I knocked my elbow into the steel part of the chair next to me like three times. All of those moments were once out there in the unknown. I think there’s something incredibly scary about that. I mean, and that fucking tagline is still in my head, 'When you’re in space, no one can hear you scream?' That screwed me up for life. Like, sometimes I’m by myself and I’m like, 'When you’re in space. No one can hear you.' I mean, that just screwed me up. So I think that stuff for me coincides with wanting to believe that you’re going to get an answer to something, and then discovering, obviously not, and the discovery is just fucking horror. That’s scary."

Q: Were you one of these people that wants to rewatch all the other Aliens films? Have you seen all of them?

Theron: "Yeah."

Q: Did you rewatch them?

Theron: "No, no, I didn’t. No, because it didn’t feel necessary. I think there is a part of me that’s always a little bit like, 'Why would I torture myself? Just in case you forgot how big the shoes are you’re walking in, take a look again,' you know what I mean? Like, I think I pussy out. So, I’m not that kind of person. There was nothing that was relevant for me to have to do that because we weren’t making a prequel or a sequel or anything like that. It was just a similar world, and that was really it. So I didn’t feel like it was a part of my homework. I also didn’t want anything to kinda throw me or maybe in my subconscious, influence me in what I ended up doing in the film."

Q: Regarding the world and your homework, how much were Damon and Ridley there to give you background that didn’t make it into the movie, but that sort of opened different doors within this future?

Theron: "A lot. There was a lot of stuff that didn’t end up in the movie, but I think you can’t be attached to those things as an actor. I want to be in a good movie, and so the narrative is way more important. I think that stuff helps create maybe a thickness to her that wouldn’t have been there. I think in the long-run, all of that stuff was really important. They were great. I mean, Damon was always around. Ridley was just always asking questions. It was just one of those environments where we were always talking about it, always, and there were even moments where Michael Fassbender and I would kind of enhance on our scenes and talk about it. Ridley was incredibly just open to all of that stuff. It was just a very collaborative set, and my fear was that we were trying to answer things that you can’t answer, and that’s when it becomes problematic, and it wasn’t that kind of set. We really just enjoyed asking all the big questions, and not necessarily finding the answers."

Prometheus Movie Space Map

Q: Did you have much fun on the set even though it’s an intense film?

Theron: "Yeah, I mean, I like to work that way. I don’t know how to not work that way. So, I mean, I always have a good time because God, I mean, we’re just a bunch of kids who never got to grow up, and now we’re playing on a spaceship. How can you not enjoy that, you know? So yeah, I had a great time making this film."

Q: Was the physical part of the role a bit tricky?

Theron: "On this? No, the gear was tricky and I have like an old injury on my neck, so that space thing just wasn’t great for me, but yeah, when I read it, it was like this much (an inch) of a description. With Ridley, that turned into like, a three week shoot. I was like, 'Dude, it said I was running for this much. Why are we still running? Why am I still running?'"

Q: You’re known for your comedy so did you take the lead on that?

Theron: "I think Fassbender took the lead on this one. He took it to a whole new level because he always had his computer around, which I don’t travel with props. I just travel with my talent. Yeah, he always had a computer around, and fuck me, that bastard can pull some nasty shit up. There was a lot of that like, in the corner. We’d be waiting for people or whatever, and Fassy would always be on his computer like, 'Check this out.' I’m like, 'Oh my God! I have to do a scene right now, you asshole.'"

Q: Like what? I feel we need a detailed description of one.

Theron: "No, oh God, no. No, I’m not even going to fall for that. I’m not that jetlagged. No, and he was a blast. We had these little dorm rooms in Pinewood, and mine and his were right next to each other’s, so that was a little like high school. But, it was such an ensemble cast. It was nice that everybody had a good time, you know? When you have to do the work, you do the work. I think actors who know their job know that’s how you do it. You don’t show up and make people miserable. That poor grip who’s standing there, he just wants to feed his family. He doesn’t need to hear about your psychosis on life and love and death."

Q: The dialogue was delivered in a very specific way. It kind of reminded me of 'Alien,' in a very Kubrick kind of way. Did Ridley give you any direction of how he wanted your character to deliver the dialogue?

Theron: "We just talked a lot, because when you play a character that is somewhat—there is a power struggle here for her. She is very much in constant need to want to be in control of everything. That’s all she’s doing. From the moment that the movie kind of takes off, she’s up first, she’s making sure... There’s always something about her trying to control the situation. Ridley and I talked a lot about people, especially women who come from these kind of dynasties that are kinda set up by men, their fathers usually. There might be other sons in the family, but for some reason, the girl just kind of has the DNA of the dad. We wanted to have something of her kind of come across that was reflective of those people that I’ve seen and know. When I watched those women, there was something very interesting about her almost being condescending and passive-aggressive in the way she talks, you know? It’s tricky because you don’t want the audience to kind of go, 'Euuch.' I liked that because it made her a little bit more interesting to me than someone who was just completely confident and they’re in control the entire time, or not. I didn’t want to play it in the extremities. I wanted it to just be kind of that she was condescending most of the time and she was very passive-aggressive. I think all of that comes from a horrible place of insecurity and vulnerability."

Q: What are your thoughts on being in the spaceship, being in space, on extraterrestrial life? What do you think?

Theron: "I’ve always thought it was very plausible. I haven’t really like experienced anything in my life that changed that, so I think that it’s very, very, very possible. I mean, factually we know that there’s living cells out there, so we know that. If you read science, we can go by that. So are there actual full creatures? I wouldn’t say 'no.'"

Q: What scene did you most enjoy shooting?

Theron: "What scene did I like shooting?"

Q: Yeah, most enjoy?

Theron: "I can’t really talk about the scenes. (Laughs) Oh… I’m itchy all over." (Laughs)

Q: You’ve got to use the flamethrower so I wondered if it was that.

Theron: "I mean, look. I’ll say in general, I liked all the stuff that really kind of dived into her real agenda, I’ll say that. I like all of that stuff because that’s when you find the truth of the character. The human condition is all about us pretending to be something sometimes that we’re not. When you get into the core of people kind of stripping all of that away, that’s for me, as an actor, always the most fun stuff to do."

Prometheus opens in theaters in the U.S. on June 8th.

Follow me on twitter @JRothC

Martin Scorsese Marvel
Martin Scorsese Clarifies His Marvel Movie Criticism

More in Movie News