Q&A: Charlize Theron bulks up, de-glamorizes and ‘deflates’ to revisit motherhood for ‘Tully’

“We always joke that he casts me as miserable women,” Charlize Theron says of working again with director Jason Reitman, this time in the May release “Tully.” “He always says, ‘That’s my favorite. When I see you being miserable, for some reason I just love that.’”
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Now that Academy Award winner Charlize Theron has been directed twice by Jason Reitman — in writer Diablo Cody’s dark character studies “Young Adult” and this year’s “Tully” — she has a sense of what roles he likes her in. “We always joke that he casts me as miserable women,” says Theron. “He always says, ‘That’s my favorite. When I see you being miserable, for some reason I just love that.’”

Reitman has a lot to love in Theron’s “Tully” character, Marlo. The sleep-deprived fortysomething mother of three — including a newborn — with a distracted husband (Ron Livingston) is falling apart at the seams. Then, help arrives in the form of a supportive, chatty young night nurse (Mackenzie Davis). To portray ragged Marlo, Theron drew on her own experiences: “I’ve seen so many movies where the mom wears lip gloss and has enough energy to move about,” says Theron, who, with her own mother, is team-raising a son, Jackson, and a daughter, August, both adopted. “She’s so deflated from everything — even trying to get a baby to sleep is a deflated act.”

Recently, Theron spoke by phone about weight gain, Marlo’s outfits and why she finds producing “refreshing.”


Charlize Theron stars as Marlo in Jason Reitman's "Tully."
(Kimberly French / Focus Features)

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How did the reunion with you, Reitman and Cody come about?

Jason and I became really good friends after “Young Adult,” and we were hanging out and he said, “Diablo has an idea for us to get back on the set. It’s this idea [about] if a younger you arrived at your moment of most need and rescued you.” I said, “I’m in. Tell her to write fast.” And she did. Six weeks later, we had the script. It was everything that she’d talked about. When I read it, my second kid was six months old and I was just coming out of that tunnel. Reading it was really powerful. Those details, it was like PTSD. All of that made saying yes to it a very raw kind of reaction.

You gained 50 pounds for the part. Did you ever discuss just wearing a padded suit?

I don’t think we ever had that discussion. I don’t think that’s where my head goes. Jason and I work from a place that’s so real. I was in great shape [from “Atomic Blonde”]. And I think he did say jokingly, “Well, you know what you have to do,” and I said, [resigned] “I know, I know.”


Have you ever stepped on a scale and seen that number?

No. The last two weeks before we started shooting, my body hit a certain weight. That set the tone for the whole movie — mentally and physically. I remember coming to Vancouver and [doing] the first fitting. I was so lethargic, so out of breath. I could barely bend down to put on shoes. I wasn’t expecting the mental challenge that came with gaining weight. It was a hard shoot for me. Physically, mentally. I’d never dealt with depression. I had two little kids while I was working with twins, a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old [actor].

Your children were on location?

My baby was with me the whole time because she was very little. My older one went to a little school there. I worked the schedule out where I could drop him off at school then go to work. Then my mom would pick him up, bring him to set and we’d hang out in the afternoon. There were days where I was just so tired, I’d just sit on the couch. But at least I got to see them.

The “Tully” costume designer, Aieisha Li, said she wanted to “dim” your light. Explain.

Whenever we put something bright on me, I always had this line in my head. When women are pregnant, we walk up to them and go, “You’re glowing.” And they’re not really glowing. And after [you have the baby], you are for sure not glowing. So if I put something on and I was glowing? It didn’t make it. We tried to eliminate things that made it feel like a movie. What are you wearing when you feel you look like a whale? When you don’t care?

Is it true that you like to do your own hair and makeup?

I do my hair and makeup a lot. I tend to be in movies involving real people in real circumstances. I’ve done lots where I drive from my hotel or my home straight to set. Sometimes I even take my [wardrobe] home. I’m not wearing makeup in [“Tully”]. Jason wanted me really clammy at all times. So I’d put lots of moisturizer on my face and that was it.

How does being a producer make you a better actor?

Producing makes me not overthink the process of acting. It’s really good for me. You have to switch off the emotional process and think about other things. Lots of actors come in and make it about themselves. Once you actually produce a film, you understand the entirety of what it is to really tell a story, the entire story. Taking that two-hour break to go and do something else? Problem solving, not getting a location, having financial limitations. It’s almost a way of refreshing myself. I think every actor should produce.