Charlize Theron throws herself into a small banquet room in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge. “Sorry, that’s why I pay my publicist the big bucks to point me in the right direction,” she announced to the roundtable of reporters with embarrassment. Theron’s quick jump into the room mirrors her approach to her craft: “You just have to push yourself over that cliff.”
Theron’s latest dive, Sleepwalking, is her second attempt at producing and starring in an independent film after Monster, for which she won an Oscar. Theron’s character, however, isn’t the center of her new film.
Sleepwalking is a drama about the familial bond between a 30-year-old man and his niece after his older sister abandons them because of her fear of responsibility.
The film’s direction by William Maher-who is more known for his visual effects in films like X-Men and Mars Attacks-draws raw performances from his actors, and Juan Ruiz Anchia provides captivating cinematography that effectively lingers on close-ups. Unfortuantely, Maher undersells the depth Zac Stanford’s screenplay.
Based on memories from his past, Stanford’s story begins with the flawed and irresponsible mother, Joleen Reedy, yelling at a local cop about her woes as a single mother. She’s just been evicted from the house she and her daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) were sharing with her criminal ex-boyfriend.
Frustrated with yet another crisis, Joleen imposes upon her brother James (Nick Stahl) in order to have a place to stay during the interim. Unfortunately, James and Tara don’t realize that Joleen has plans of her own.
“Some women aren’t good mothers because they haven’t dealt with their shit; Joleen is that person,” Theron said about her character’s choice to leave behind her brother and daughter. “I believe women are conflicted. You’re either the great nurturer or the prostitute-well that’s not who we are. We are real people. We have flaws, and we fuck up.”
Theron also mentions she faced similar problems with the role of Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
“Financiers kept saying she’s not likeable, or we should take out the last killing scene,” she said. “My plan [as an actor] is not for everybody to love every character I do. If you can walk out of a theatre with just a little more understanding about a complicated person, that’s way more rewarding.”
Although her role is brief, Theron does another excellent job of disappearing into a part by enveloping herself in her character.
“It’s a performance film,” she said. The script and the characters’ intensity was what drew the savvy 32-year-old to the project.
Theron is right to note the performances in Sleepwalking, since the sharp acting is what gives this independent film its gravitas.
“With an indie film like this you get pressure from financiers to get a certain cast together,” said Theron about corporate influences.
Even though Sleepwalking provides easy emotional pitfalls, the actors still shine.
Stahl carries a great deal of the picture on his shoulders and, after In the Bedroom, continues to cultivate his skills as a dramatic actor. He steers clear of the monotony that can accompany a pathetic and self-deprecating role like that of James Reedy.
Dennis Hopper does an extraordinary job portraying the father. Mr. Reedy is vile and abusive to his children and grandchild. Theron says Hopper was fearless in his response to the material, and agreed within hours of receiving the script from her to be on board.
Theron admits that although she got her dream cast, she still can’t guarantee it will be a box-office succes.
“These kinds of films can disappear easily if you’re not smart about releasing it out into the world,” she said.
Thus far she says her experience producing has been one of the most worthwhile aspects of her career in film.
“I love the camaraderie of getting the circus together and saying ‘yeah, we have $4; let’s go make a movie!’ If we make a vow to see out someone’s vision, then we’ve got to go balls out,” she said.
When Theron speaks about working in the film business her whole body lightens up. She is passionate, driven, and sincere when it comes to her craft. “I like the idea of thinking of myself as a filmmaker,” Theron explains. “I don’t compartmentalize being a producer and being an actor. I think when I say yes, and sign on the dotted line, that I go and make a film-and I like the journey.”
Sleepwalking will open in select theaters on March 15.