Bombshell got made, with a bulletproof cast alongside her—Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as a fictional producer named Kayla Pospisil. The trailer is tantalizingly silent: The three women share an elevator, the atmosphere is taut, and Robbie appears to be stricken with nerves. In real life the main characters, apart from Ailes, who died from hemophilia complications in 2017, are still very much alive. And the subject matter—Ailes’s prolonged and hiding-in-plain-sight sexual harassment of female colleagues—is provocative. But Theron, 44, likes her subjects knotty. It wasn’t a straight- forward decision to make the movie; Theron says she thought about it for months before committing. “I think I was scared of it,” she says. But once she was signed up, the project gained automatic heft and the potential to wedge a controversial story about sexual harassment into mainstream consciousness. For Theron, it was just another example of her refusal to make safe choices. “A lot of projects I’ve been involved in are not necessarily projects where everybody has gone, ‘Yeah, this is going to be great, you should do this!’” she says, smiling. “It tends to be projects where people are like, ‘I don’t know about this Monster movie. Really?’ ”
Monster, the story of infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos, was the movie that turned Theron from a reliable leading actor to one of the most ambitious and fearless stars of her generation. It was the earliest of many unnerving physical transformations she’s made in her work: Theron unrecognizably haggard, more than 30 pounds heavier, her beauty obscured by prosthetic teeth, limp hair, bleached eyebrows. She won the Academy Award for her performance and has since forged a singular career in which she leaps deftly from playing a shaved-head, gun-wielding war captain in Mad Max: Fury Road to pulling all-nighters as a put-upon mother of three in Jason Reitman’s Tully.
Along the way Theron has redefined what success means to her. “Well, it definitely doesn’t mean box office,” she says with a laugh. “If you’re going to do it,” she says of the day-in, day-out of living, “let it be on something that actually means something to you.”
Theron has little interest in the straightforward path. Even in her personal life. “I haven’t been in a relationship for a very long time. I never wanted to get married,” she says. “Those are things that are not hard for me, because they’re innately my truth. I find people are somewhat perplexed by that, and also more with women, right?” Defying the conventional expectations of her gender—whether in relationships or in work—is second nature for Theron. As a producer, for example, she’s often met with skepticism, she says: “I think there’s this conclusion that sometimes gets made, like, ‘It can’t possibly be a fucking actress that put this thing together.’ ”