The name’s Blonde… Atomic Blonde. It’s an action picture starring Charlize Theron as a spy so lethal that people are starting to call her James Blonde. Actually, it is so out of the ordinary for a woman to play a role like hers that people can’t seem to find any comparable female characters.
In the movie, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, Theron plays an undercover MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton tasked with tying loose ends in Berlin at the end of the Cold War. As she hunts down the espionage ring responsible for jeopardizing her fellow agents, she kicks a lot of ass.
The film’s director, David Leitch, who also directed John Wick, is an expert in action films and felt no urge to shy away from the on-screen violence. “I wanted to approach it like you would a movie with any other male character. So there’s no distinction,” Leitch told The New York Times. “We don’t apologize for anything we’re doing, and we don’t give explanations for anything we’re doing.”
Theron mentioned that the opportunity for women to play a character like Lorraine is rare at best. “I don’t think we’ve ever given women a fair shot to really have the opportunities to take on roles like these,” said Theron. She remembers Sigourney Weaver’s performances in the Aliens movies as a major inspiration for her role as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road back in 2015. “I remember seeing her when I was young, and it really left an impression on me. She’s incredible. Linda Hamilton in Terminator. Scarlett Johansson right now. Tons more women could be amazing if they just had the opportunity.”
Setting this film apart from other popular action films with female leads, Lorraine takes a punch…or 20. After fight scenes, Lorraine’s face is shown swollen, bloodied, and bruised. “I remember it was Day 2, my body was hurting, and my face is all bruised up, and my eye was swollen shut. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Really?’”
Leitch couldn’t fathom the fight sequences without seeing the toll they took on Lorraine. “We wanted to ground the action and make it feel like it hurts. And sometimes people want to shy away from that when it’s a female character,” said Leitch. “Part of the problem is that directors treat female characters too often as precious. They want to live in a fantasy world where they just do spinning hook kicks and knock out guys who are 6-4, and that doesn’t work either.”
Even in moments where Theron was hoping to just throw a few kicks and fake the rest of the fight, Leitch pushed Theron to her limits. During production, Theron asked Leitch, “We’re going to pretend that right?” Theron recalls, “David was like, ‘No you’re actually going to throw big dudes.’ Alright, let’s throw some big dudes.”
Theron admits that all of the action took a toll on her health. “My teeth are in bad shape,” she said. “I’m actually still undergoing surgery. It’s really crazy. When I trained, I cracked two teeth in the back of my mouth, clenching while fighting, because apparently my arm strength wasn’t strong enough.” However, Theron feels it’s a small price to pay for such an exhilarating role. “[The role] felt very provocative,” she said, “and yet there was nothing about this role that felt like I was outside of my skin.”
Atomic Blonde comes out this July.
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