Live forever and bear the weight of protecting the mortal world? That’s the level Charlize Theron – no stranger to kicking butt in films spanning “Mad Max: Fury Road” to “Atomic Blonde” – is rising to in her new Netflix action film.
In “The Old Guard” (streaming Friday), Theron plays the immortal warrior Andromache the Scythian (aka Andy), who has seen thousands of years of battle and lives in present day as a mercenary for hire. She is one of a tight-knit group of fellow immortals, who discover a new soldier (KiKi Layne) with equal talents. Helmed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees”), marking the first time a Black woman has directed a comic book film, the movie finds Andy’s squad battling a Big Pharma villain who wants to steal their DNA for profit.
Theron, 44, joins USA TODAY via video call to talk about making the movie, the current state of her Los Angeles quarantine and how she’s talking to her young children Jackson, 8, and August, almost 5, about the national anti-racism protests.
Question: Andy lived through Crusades, the Renaissance and both World Wars. Is the idea of immortality appealing to you?
Charlize Theron: The concept of wanting more time is something that I completely understand. I understand why people are intrigued by that and why we are in multibillion (-dollar) businesses trying to create longevity. But the way it’s represented by a character like Andy in this movie who’s lived for over 6,000 years – that’s something that sounds so exhausting. We try to tell that story of the emotional toll that it must take, losing people over and over who you bond with, who you love. I can’t imagine having to repeat that in your life.
Q: The film also boasts diversity in front of and behind the camera. It’s exciting to see Gina directing her first big-budget action movie, along with diversity in front of the camera.
Theron: It’s so interesting to me because we’re underlining all of these things like Gina being a woman, directing it, and me and Kiki being two women at the forefront of this story. And you realize, it’s good that we’re talking about it, but at the same time, I can’t wait for us to get to a place where this stuff is normalized and that’s just how we tell stories because that’s how it should be. It’s just so crazy to me that we don’t lean into that more. Hopefully, that changes soon.
Q: Andy goes to great lengths to avoid being photographed in ‘The Old Guard.’ What’s your strategy when fans try (and fail) to subtly snap photos when you’re out and about?
Theron: I look at them and I go, “I know what you’re doing.” (Laughs) I mean, listen, I’ve been in this game for too long – it’s not new. It’s something that I don’t think I ever fully embraced, but it is part of my life. But there’s obviously moments where you feel a little bit like a zoo animal. I think people sometimes want to grab what they can in that moment because it might never come around again. And they forget that, you know, you might be out with your kids. There’s a part of that life that I want to somewhat protect my kids from.
Q: You’re calling from Los Angeles, which is in the middle of a big coronavirus spike. What level of quarantine are you in right now?
Theron: We’re not going out that much. We’ve been trying to follow the guidelines like everybody else. When my kids say, ‘It’s so hot and I can’t breathe wearing this mask,’ the first thing I do is I tell them about all the emergency responders out there who wear masks every single day. And they’re doing physical work and saving lives and they’re not complaining about wearing their masks, so we shouldn’t be complaining about wearing our masks. We know that it saves lives. And so we have a saying when we go out, and my little one, her little nose is sticking out from her mask. I’m like, “You have to wear your mask properly because you’re trying to save other people’s lives too, not just your own.”
Q: How have you talked to your children about the protests? (Both of Theron’s children, whom she adopted in 2012 and 2015, are Black.)
Theron: The biggest thing that I am relying right on right now is just being truthful. I want my children to have an awareness. They need to know what people are fighting for right now, and people are fighting for them, and I want them to be a part of that. So without forcing them or anything, they became super proactive and wanting to do something.