Charlize Theron is perhaps the world's most beautiful Plain Jane.

Ever since the model turned actress demanded Tinsletown's attention in otherwise avoidable films like '2 Days in the Valley' and 'The Astronaut's Wife' (as well as her early career hit, 'The Devil's Advocate'), the South Africa native has made an award-winning career of playing down her looks.

The most obvious example, of course, is 2003's 'Monster.' Unrecognizable as murderous prostitute Aileen Wuornos, Theron turned her trick into Oscar gold, winning Best Actress. She was up for a statue again for another unglamorous turn, as a sexually harassed factory worker in 'North Country,' and now she plays a deeply troubled promiscuous woman in 'The Burning Plain,' directed by '21 Grams' and 'Babel' scribe Guillermo Arriaga. We hit Theron with some 'Burning' questions. Charlize Theron is perhaps the world's most beautiful Plain Jane.

Ever since the model turned actress demanded Tinsletown's attention in otherwise avoidable films like '2 Days in the Valley' and 'The Astronaut's Wife' (as well as her early career hit, 'The Devil's Advocate'), the South Africa native has made an award-winning career of playing down her looks.

The most obvious example, of course, is 2003's 'Monster.' Unrecognizable as murderous prostitute Aileen Wuornos, Theron turned her trick into Oscar gold, winning Best Actress. She was up for a statue again for another unglamorous turn, as a sexually harassed factory worker in 'North Country,' and now she plays a deeply troubled promiscuous woman in 'The Burning Plain,' directed by '21 Grams' and 'Babel' scribe Guillermo Arriaga. We hit Theron with some 'Burning' questions.

Do all these incredibly tortured characters you play ever wear on you emotionally?
No, they don't. I love what I do, and I am not a tortured artist. I didn't necessarily start out that way, but I've kind of learned over the years the things that are important to me. I love my job but I also love my life. I started doing really good work that I was really happy with and not torturing myself and everyone around me. I became very disciplined about my work, and I think it made me a better actor. It's exhausting to be depressed and f***ing heavy, and I find that when I'm exhausted, my work suffers. So I think I'm better when I don't do that method stuff, and I get good sleep, and my boyfriend [of eight years, actor Stuart Townsend] doesn't hate my guts, and I can have a nice weekend or a nice evening and then go to work and really go to the dark place, switch it on and do it.

So it never gets to the point where you're like, "Man, I need a romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey"?
[Laughs] I would love to do comedy. But whether it's comedy or another genre, [it's about] just wanting to do work that really matters to me. I think there's definitely a facet of that genre that I haven't dove into, and there's definitely a part of me that maybe wants to put a little bit more effort towards that. But at the same time, when you work on things that you like and you're proud of, the creative experience is pretty good.

How did you relate to your 'Burning Plain' character, Sylvia?
We're both women [laughs]. I relate to the idea of guilt. I think a lot of women do. And having to get out of that place of guilt. It's in our nature to do that guilty thing, it's what nurturers do. I think I have complete empathy for her. I don't relate to her, but I have complete empathy for her desire to not feel and for her desire to escape. So I'm pretty fascinated by people who do that and by what it means to do that.

How much did Guillermo Arriaga's track record as writer of 'Amores Perros' and '21 Grams' play into your taking on this project?
A lot. I think a lot of times making a decision has a lot to do with taste. I like his taste. He's an extraordinary talent, so I was really excited about the prospect of working with him. But of course, the material is just as important. Something told me that the material would be really good, and it was. And meeting him, you can be a fan of somebody's, but if you don't have the right chemistry, then it's not going to work, and the two of us just really hit it off right off the bat.




Did it help that 'Burning Plain' wasn't as bleak as his other works?
Yeah, because I think Guillermo really comes from an amazing place of hope, and his life kind of reflects on that too. I think his interpretation of his work is going to be different than how [director Alejandro González Iñárritu] interprets it. I'm not making a judgment from one to another, I don't know Iñárritu, but I know Guillermo and I know that Guillermo believes in hope. Guillermo is not somebody who believes in endless hopelessness and darkness. That's not Guillermo.

You don't share the screen with co-star Kim Basinger, but as a producer on the film, you did get to meet her. What was your impression of her?
She's amazing. I met her on the set a couple of times. For me she was really the first choice and the only choice to play this role. There really was no other actress for me at that age range who had access to the vulnerability that that character needed than Kim. So I was super, super excited to have her on this film, and when I met her she was absolutely lovely. Really just a pro. I have nothing but amazing things to say about her.

Is there ever any hesitation on your part to do nudity for a film?
I don't really think about it that way. I ... read it, and it makes sense or it doesn't. That's the end of the story. I treat it the same way as I would any other scene. "Would it make sense for me to do this moment?" is how I look at it, whether it's a nude moment or sitting at a bar drinking. It's all choices, so you have to make the choices. I don't think about it as nudity, I think about it as, "Is this the right thing for the character? Is this the right choice?"

You're also coming out in 'The Road' this fall, which people are very excited about after the last adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy book, 'No Country for Old Men,' cleaned up. What can people expect?
It's great. It's really, really great. I only worked on it for three days, so I have more of an outside perspective. It's a really amazing film, John Hillcoat did an amazing job creating that Cormac world, Viggo Mortensen is incredible, the little boy [Kodi Smit-McPhee], who's such a find, I mean this kid is going to be a massive, massive actor. The movie is really, really incredible.

As a native of South Africa, what did you think of 'District 9'?
I thought it was brilliant. I thought [director Neill Blomkamp] was incredibly smart. I think there's an undertone of the whole segregation thing that he was doing that was very evident, and you could kind of travel that everywhere. If you knew nothing about South Africa but you knew about apartheid, the movie would make sense to you, and it still crosses borders, it's such an international thing. But for me personally, being a South African, there were a lot of little moments in there that were very nuanced of our history, that a lot of people might not have gotten, but you don't have to [get them to] enjoy the film ... So I really applaud this guy, I thought he did an incredible job. Putting all of that aside -- the storytelling, amazing. Absolutely amazing.

You're from South Africa but are now an American citizen. Do you call yourself an African-American?
[Laughs] No, I don't. I have dual citizenship. I don't really call myself anything. And I don't really think of myself ... when I'm in South Africa, I feel at home and when I'm in America I feel at home. But guess what, when I go to Italy I feel at home, when I go to France I feel at home. I know a lot of people say that and it's such a cliché, but I do. I feel at home in a lot of places. I'm very lucky to live here, and I'm very proud to be a South African. But I do feel a bit like Lassie.

You're a big advocate of gay rights and gay marriage. Do you think that movement is starting to make headway?
I do. It's going to be a relentless movement, and I hope it's a relentless movement, because I think that's the only way it's going to happen. Being relentless is a sense of showing the rest of the world a new face of family, what family is. It's Blomkamp's film ['District 9']; it's segregation, that's what it is. If Christians were being attacked the same way, or heterosexual couples were being attacked the same way, I would be fighting for them. I worry when we start to take away the quality of certain people's lives based on religion and based on very personal beliefs. These are not universal beliefs, and when human life suffers from that, that worries me. Because that can very easily get flipped on any of us.

You've said that you and Stuart won't marry until gays are also granted the right to marriage. Are you planning to stick to that?
I do. I think if we ever have children, I would want my children to look at that as an example of choice and how important that is to live your life and not just talk, because talk is cheap. But to live your life in a way that really speaks volumes to what you believe in. I've already once lived in a country where certain people got certain things and certain people didn't, and I refuse to live in another country that does that. I will not take part in a ceremony that right now is not available to everybody.

Are you still in talks for the lead in 'Atlas Shrugged'?
It's a project that is with my company right now-- and we're in very, very early stages of development. So we're still in the talky parts of it.

There's a rumor floating around that you're interested in playing Catwoman in the next Batman movie. Is that true?
No. Wow. No, I did not hear that. News to me, but that's kick-ass news. I like that ... I think that what has happened to that franchise is amazing, and Chris Nolan is a genius. So I would be an idiot to not consider that.

And of course there's also an 'Arrested Development' movie on the horizon. Is that something you'd participate in if you got the invite?
If I got the invite and it made sense, definitely. I love those guys, and I have them on such a high pedestal. So if I get an invitation to the party, I would always consider that -- that would be freaking amazing. If it made sense, which I doubt it would [laughs]. I don't think there's going to be room for Rita.

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