Charlize Theron is a talented bundle of mixed messages.
Outwardly, she is tall, blond and beautiful, but she seems to excel at portraying the dark and the ugly. The 36-year-old won an Oscar for her role as a brutal serial killer in Monster, and was nominated for her portrayal of an abused wife in North Country.
Theron knows how to play to her strengths. Her next dysfunctional role can be found in Young Adult, which opens Dec. 16, and is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody. Theron plays Mavis, a Minneapolis-based ghost writer of "young adult" novels who decides to reconnect with her high-school sweetheart.
Returning to her small town in Minnesota, she's confronted by a few obstacles. For one thing, her former boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) is married with a child. But Mavis turns out to be an alcoholic narcissist unwilling, or unable, to take "no" for an answer.
It turns out the only friendly face in town is the nerd (Patton Oswalt) that Mavis made fun of during their high-school days. As Mavis's hook-up scheme goes horribly wrong, they become closer in more ways than one.
Mavis might be delusional, but Theron doesn't like to be judgmental: "I mean, I've never been a fan of labels. And I'm not a big fan of overly justifying bad behaviour, or why people are the way they are. I think that it's a cop-out. And I don't have a lot of empathy for that."
Theron is intrigued by Mavis, just the same. "I would love to go and have a beer with her," she said. "I mean, I would never let her hang out with my boyfriend, but I would love to hang out with her." But not for long. "She sucks the air out of the room."
And she's naive. "Mavis says things like, 'Don't you know, love conquers all.' The typical 16-year-old would say that. And here she is, 37, trying to get her life together. And she just doesn't have the tools to do it."
Theron is unsure whether reuniting with a former boyfriend is wrong, though: "I don't know if it's a good or a bad thing, to call up an old love. I've not done that. Yeah, I don't know. I mean, not if they're married, with a newborn baby - right?"
Unlike Mavis, Theron can happily go home again to Benoni, South Africa. "I've gone back several times," she said. "The only thing that really stuck with me the first time I went back was walking through the house that I grew up in, and seeing everything look so small. It was such a bizarre feeling. I was like, 'My mother made me sleep in a closet.' "
However, Theron wasn't the popular one in high school, like Mavis: "I wasn't really in the popular crowd. I went to art school. I wore really, really, really nerdy glasses. I was blind as could be, and boys don't really like big nerdy glasses."
Theron had a tougher time before high school. "I really experienced a lot more of that stuff from the ages of seven to 12, where there was a really, really popular girl in my school and I was obsessed with her," she said. "I was in tears one day, because I couldn't sit next to her." Recently, she ran into her childhood obsession in London. "It was the girl that f - ed me up in primary school, who now lives kind of a sad life."
Theron rejects the notion that her Young Adult part continues her pattern of playing women behaving badly. "I talked a lot about this when I did Monster," she said. "It's real women conflicted. I think women are way more conflicted than men, and I think we come from a society that's very comfortable with the Madonna-whore complex, you know. We're either really good hookers or really good mothers."
Theron doesn't believe it's brave to take on challenging roles: "People go, 'Oh, it's so brave.' I'm like, it really isn't; it's just refreshing. And it's great as an actor to get the opportunity to do something that's incredibly truthful."