Forever Young: Charlize Theron Won’t Grow Up as the Aging Prom Queen from Hell in ‘Young Adult’

Thelma Adams

At last night's "Young Adult" premiere, Oscar-nominated Jason Reitman bounded in front of the curtain at Manhattan's Ziegfeld Theatre and welcomed the audience to "our unmakable movie." The director went on to say, about Oscar-winner Diablo Cody: "It was really brave for her to write it, and really brave for Charlize to star in it."

This level of bravery may seem tame to our troops in Iraq, or to Chinese political prisoners, or to the sexually brutalized women in Angelina Jolie's "In the Land of Blood and Honey." But we can agree that it's about bloody time that a multifaceted lead female character behave unsympathetically without having to reach the extreme of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster," which earned Theron her Oscar in 2003.

In "Young Adult," Theron's 30-something writer Mavis Gary returns to Mercury, Minnesota, with a half-baked plan to bust up the family of her high school honey, Buddy (Patrick Wilson). What she rationalizes in romantic terms as a mission of mercy is just plain wrong. And the acidic way in which Mavis does, or does not, get her comeuppance is unique in contemporary movies, harking back to the '70s films that Reitman loves.

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Theron, 36, talked exclusively to Yahoo! Movies about being desperately single Mavis onscreen and suddenly single offscreen. "Mavis is a melting pot of a lot of people that I've known and of myself," said Theron, who broke off her long-term relationship with actor Stuart Townsend nearly a year ago. "There's something about her that feels authentic, and the way she goes about it is so disillusioned. Women can relate to her. It's a different ball game at that age, especially if you haven't grown up with the tools to be on your own."

"I think these actions are all plausible for a woman that age," Theron continued. "She goes through common obstacles that we can relate to, but what's makes her interesting is how she goes about dealing with them. She deals with them like a 16-year-old. It's so overly dramatic, like it's the end of the world because a boy saw her boob."

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What terrified Theron about the part wasn't that she'd be playing a gorgeous but lonely, pissed-off alcoholic who passes out in bed every night, sleeps around, and awakens to chug Coke from the bottle. "If I had to be completely honest," she confessed, "the idea that you're doing things out of sequence, the fear of staying on the thread, relying on the director, to find the truth and remain grounded in those moments that are so loose and disconnected. You can forget the real emotion. This character is so big that the risk is becoming a caricature."

In a key scene, Mavis returns to her family home and, over a casserole with her parents, blurts out that she's an alcoholic. Mavis' mother (Jill Eikenberry) ignores the revelation entirely in a moment that casually reveals the disconnect between the two women. If Mavis is in denial, she's not alone.

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"For me, that's the sliver into how someone like Mavis is created," said Theron. "Growing up in a house where you fall through the cracks. The outside looks OK, you're popular, and everybody assumes you're fine. But nobody ever emotionally checks in. She doesn't have boundaries. The things she thought would give her happiness, the one moment of grace at high school, she tries to relive for the rest of the life."

The underplaying of the dining-room scene -- a set piece in so many movies, comic and tragic -- typifies the film's surprising choices. "What I loved about the film was that Diablo and Jason didn't want to hammer it down," said Theron. "This wasn't a film that wanted to overly justify her bad behavior. She has her own responsibility. She's made her own bed, and she has to lie in it. Like most people, we might know we need to change, but not be capable."

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Having behaved badly as Mavis, her next project finds her staying in touch with her bad self as a fairy-tale villain. She plays the vain Queen Ravenna, who was once the fairest in the land but is now gunning for Kristen Stewart as the title character in "Snow White and the Huntsman," currently shooting at Pinewood Studios in England. "I'm not done with the film. It's bizarre to have a trailer when we're still shooting. It's a very ambitious film, and thematically it's epic and huge in scale, but it's a hard film. I've never been a part of something so huge," she said. "We shot 'Young Adult' in 30 days. It's a whole different beast."

Off set, Theron's getting used to living life as a singleton. "I don't really compartmentalize where I am," she confessed. "That's the best part. I don't try to look at the pros and the cons. I try to be OK in the moment. Otherwise, I think I'd go crazy."

See the trailer to 'Young Adult':