"Verbal abuse is a rape of dignity..."

Charlize Theron on her Oscar-nominated turn in real-life tale North Country

Congratulations on the Oscar nomination. How has winning a statuette changed your career?
Thank you. Well, I’m aware of opportunities that are given to me because of the noise that happened with Monster but I said yes to both North Country and Aeon Flux two weeks before I won it. I think I’d be really naïve if I said that the buzz I was getting didn’t affect that – I’m sure it did because studios pay attention to those things. It does give you a certain amount of freedom in the sense that studios maybe don’t think that long about what kind of risk you are to a budget but the nice thing was after I had agreed to do these two films, I won the Oscar and I never entertained any other offer. I never read a script because I knew that I would have to dedicate myself for two years to these two films.

How quickly do you come back down to earth after scooping a nomination or a win?
Well, I won the Oscar, I took a day to detox and then went into five hours of training per day for three months for Aeon Flux! I couldn’t go out and experience my newfound powers or anything like that because I was getting my ass kicked by a martial arts expert.

Were you familiar with the subject matter for the North Country?
No, I didn’t know anything about the case [about the first major successful sexual harassment case in the States], so I jumped straight on the computer. I wanted to research the actual events. I can’t start shooting a film unless I know the world I’m dealing with. It really started to kick off for me when I went there and saw where it happened. I wanted to speak with the women, not so much to talk about the sexual harassment but to understand the social structure they were in. They were so incredibly helpful and comfortable with me and they stayed with us throughout filming.

Did you get involved with the development of the story?
Yes, I working on the script with Niki Caro, the director, and I read the book. From the moment I say yes, there is a constant conversation with the director – it might happen at midnight, it might happen at nine in the morning, but I’ve been lucky to work with filmmakers that are available for that. For me it’s not so much understanding scenes, I need to understand the whole picture.

The movie has a subtlety to it because it has to convey how damaging verbal abuse in the workplace can be…
I’m so glad you noticed that because in our world it’s so much easier for us to see a bruise and understand that it’s bad. What I loved about this film is that it really dealt with how incredibly painful and scarring verbal abuse can be; it’s such an ultimate rape of dignity. Talking to these women was very emotional, hearing how every day they had to go and face these men who would make them feel useless and in many ways I am reaping the fruits of women who have fought these kind of battles – this kind of thing has never happened to me, I never experienced it even when I was a model but we have to remember this was only in ’95. It’s recent history and changing the law doesn’t change the way people think overnight.

What do you look for in a project?
I like the surprise of something landing in my lap and for reasons unknown, it stirs my gut. A lot of times I like something that I would have never in a million years thought would have attracted me. I’m fascinated by human nature, by society and how we function and it’s great for me to go to work and ask questions about those things. I always feel when I commit myself to anything that it’s my responsibility to do it as truthfully as I can so I can sleep at night. To be honest, it’s an incredible gift to be able to do this and I feel very lucky but I try not to set myself specific goals. I just hope to work with filmmakers who inspire me and surprise me with their work.

Has your personal life helped you develop stability in your career?
Yeah, this journey hasn’t been a solo one – I’ve been blessed to have a great group of friends and family and that’s how you remain sane. I have a great group of people I can always turn to. We all go through stages of feeling incredibly strong and then stages of feeling incredibly vulnerable – that’s when that support is so important.

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