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Q&A: The plan was for Furiosa to be an amputee, and Charlize Theron made sure they stuck to the plan

"In the ultimate hardcore action film they’re going to make the female lead be an amputee? This is ... great," Charlize Theron says of "Mad Max: Fury Road."

“In the ultimate hardcore action film they’re going to make the female lead be an amputee? This is ... great,” Charlize Theron says of “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

She’s an Amazon, a beautiful powerhouse whose sharpest weapon is her mind. And the character she played in “Mad Max: Fury Road” was no slouch either.

Charlize Theron’s fierce Imperator Furiosa was arguably the star of “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the latest entry in director George Miller’s franchise. Furiosa is that rarity in Hollywood: a female lead, terrifying and compassionate in turn, and every bit the male lead’s equal. Theron recently chatted with The Envelope about the role, the shoot and the repercussions. Sporting a cropped haircut, at one point she jokingly asked if she looked like Justin Bieber.

This from the woman who shaved her head for the role, unbidden?

It felt right for the character, and also felt logistically right for the long shoot. But it’s weird, sometimes you tap into something you can’t explain. Once I got George to commit, and he felt it was the right thing to do, then we were just fearless with it.

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So much of this movie was in George [Miller’s] head, so there was a lot of trusting we had to do.

Charlize Theron

How long were you filming in southern Africa?

Seven or eight months, but we were also there three months for rehearsal. We went out there and the whole stunt department was set up already.

What was the shoot like?

We didn’t have a script, or scene numbers. We had storyboards. For 138-whatever days, we were shooting one giant scene. So much of this movie was in George’s head, so there was a lot of trusting we had to do. There was a lot of fear behind it. Now I look at the movie and think a lot of that actual fear came into play, and that’s really how we felt certain days. It’s like, “What’s going on?” It was definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

When it came out, it received acclaim for being a kind of stealth feminist movie. But it also stirred up some controversy with a couple men’s rights activists who called the film feminist propaganda.

Yeah, but it was four crazy dudes who’ve never dated a day in their lives, sitting in front of a computer; they’re just angry.

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The most radical aspect may have been that Furiosa was a warrior with a disability.

When I looked at the storyboards before, I relished the idea of playing an amputee and hero. I was like, this is not going to come around anytime again. In the ultimate hardcore action film they’re going to make the female lead be an amputee? This is … great. Now the responses coming back have been so — I can get choked up. I get so many emails from — not just young girls but amputees, not just women, just people, saying it’s about time that we see more of this. Selfishly, I didn’t think about that. I wasn’t on some high horse. I knew that it would be a great thing for me to utilize as an actor.

And I do remember a moment where it became very expensive to do it, and there was talk about not doing it. I said, “George, you have to promise me that halfway through the movie we’re not going to decide that it’s cheaper to add my arm back on.” He was really great in protecting that. And then I was so blown away by what I was capable of doing with one arm — because for a lot of that, there was no way I could utilize my real arm — so that says a lot. Not to get on some kind of mission statement about it.

There was no back story or explanation, which is also rare.

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She is. Not because of: She is. And I love that.

You’re in talks to star in “The Gray Man,” in a role initially intended for Brad Pitt. How does it feel that they’re considering changing it to a woman’s role for you?

Going back to my worry that I’m a man! No, no. I do think there’s something great about it. People might generalize it like, “I’m tired of seeing women wanting to be men.” That’s not the idea behind this at all. It’s something that you have to look at and go, this is a story that works both ways. And I think good storytellers know that. Women want to be women. I know I want to be a woman in a movie. Even when I was doing “Mad Max,” I kept saying to the stunt guys, what would really happen, even if I were Furiosa? They were like, you’d get your ass kicked. That was so important to me. Every time she takes a hit, every time she gets thrown, you see the impact of that; it’s really painful to be in a fight. It’s the same with this. I have no desire to go and be a man.

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