Charlize Theron plays for laughs in new western

Actress Charlize Theron, who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster (above) and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West. -- PHOTO: SHAW
Actress Charlize Theron, who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster (above) and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West. -- PHOTO: SHAWPHOTOS: UIP, SHAW, REUTERS
Actress Charlize Theron (above), who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Actress Charlize Theron (above), who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West. -- PHOTO: REUTERSPHOTOS: UIP, SHAW, REUTERS
Actress Charlize Theron, who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West (above). -- PHOTO: UIP
Actress Charlize Theron, who played a prostitute-turned-serial killer in the 2003 drama Monster and now stars in a comedy, A Million Ways To Die In The West (above). -- PHOTO: UIPPHOTOS: UIP, SHAW, REUTERS

Oscar-winner Charlize Theron's dream of doing comedy has come true with a new western

Charlize Theron may be an Oscar-winning actress and Hollywood A-lister, but she is the first to admit that she is not especially funny on screen.

And she makes this admission at a press conference for a comedy - the new movie A Million Ways To Die In The West, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

But whether audiences will find her amusing in it, the 38-year-old proves to be pretty hilarious off-screen, bantering easily with Life! and other reporters as she talks about the film in Los Angeles.

As a few journalists fish for details on her new romance with actor Sean Penn, she gracefully parries their questions, even the faintly ridiculous ones, while still managing to articulate rather coherent thoughts on her career and attitudes to love - charming everyone to bits in the process.

In the movie - a satirical take on how western films gloss over the brutish reality of life in the Old West - Theron plays the gun-slinging wife of an outlaw, Anna, who comes to the rescue of Albert, a cowardly sheep farmer played by the movie's writer-director Seth MacFarlane.

The South Africa-born stunner - a former fashion model who first found fame playing a femme fatale in 2 Days In The Valley (1996) - is better known for dramas, notably her acclaimed performance in 2003's Monster, which saw her undergo a remarkable physical transformation to play the prostitute- turned-serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

It won her an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the respect of an industry that had written her off as just another blonde bombshell.

But as a result of that success, neither audiences nor critics really expect to see her pop up in a comedy, much less one from MacFarlane, whose television series Family Guy often pushes the boundaries of taste with its bawdy, off-colour jokes.

Theron does not think of herself as a natural comedienne either, but says the project appealed to her as a fan of comedy.

"I'm not a skilled comedienne but I'm a dork. I like funny and I like being around funny people and people who don't take themselves too seriously.

"I like that environment and I tend to have that environment when I work on dramas, so all of that felt exciting to me."

She had always wanted to explore the comedic genre but never quite got the chance.

"I don't think I've ever really tried to analyse why my career went in a more dramatic direction - maybe it was because I started there and it was a natural fit. And before you know it, you're just known for that and you don't get the opportunity to explore the other stuff," says the actress, whose recent credits include the science-fiction flick Prometheus and action drama Snow White And The Huntsman in 2012.

She played fairly dark, tough characters in both films, which was also the case in 2011's Young Adult, a dark comedy with Patton Oswalt.

"Yeah, I have in my past thought I want to do more comedy. But then you also don't want to do comedy for the sake of it," she says.

"So to do something like A Million Ways To Die In The West, with someone whom I think is at the top of his game when it comes to comedy, for someone like me is a great opportunity."

Asked what she would say to people who find MacFarlane's sense of humour offensive and what they can do to overcome this, Theron fires back without missing a beat: "I find a drink helps. And maybe pulling a finger out of your a**."

But she quickly follows this up with a more considered response.

"No, I think comedy is more subjective than drama - there's more of a consensus about what's dramatic, but that's not the case with comedy. And people personalise that so much that they become even more offended.

"I think you should listen to that. There are other versions of comedy that I don't like. That doesn't mean they're bad - I just don't find them funny. And you see it in all the great comedians working - there's an audience for all of it."

She goes on to say that MacFarlane puts a lot of craft and care into his jokes, and is not just trying to be insulting and getting a cheap laugh.

"If you look at it from that perspective, it can be really funny, but then again, it might not be your cup of tea." And if that is still the case, she adds with a twinkle, "then go f*** yourself".

The actress' quick wit is also used to good effect when a rambunctious reporter tries to distract her during the press conference - even when he asks her about climate change and water scarcity because he has mistaken her charitable work for that of another star.

"My friend, I am an actor, not an expert," she says good-naturedly. "And my benefit is not water, that's Matt Damon... but I get that a lot, especially with the short hair," she quips, before clarifying that the organisation she created in 2007, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, deals more with "health and prevention care".

Another journalist demands to know how she has managed to maintain a career in Hollywood, where there are "a million ways to die too".

"My god, you make it sound so dire," she teases. "Should we all leave now? Do you know something we don't know?"

When he persists, she says, thoughtfully: "I don't know. I don't really sit around on my couch and go, 'How am I so amazing that I have survived this town?'

"No, I think I'm very aware of my blessings and opportunities. I think any actor will tell you you are only as good as the opportunities that are given to you, and I have been given great opportunities in my career.

"It's given me a life that's very comfortable. I don't have to go to work if I don't want to and when I work, it's because I really want to. That's a beautiful, lucky place to be, so I can't complain."

That lucky life also now includes a son, Jackson, whom she adopted shortly after he was born two years ago and whose laughter can be heard echoing down the corridor outside the press conference.

And earlier this year, she went public about her romance with fellow Oscar-winner Penn, 53, whom she recently told American Vogue was just a good friend she had known for 18 years before it blossomed into an "effortless" relationship.

Several reporters are itching to ask her about it and they get their opening when she mentions that she is due to begin work soon on the drama The Last Face, a film that Penn will direct with her and actor Javier Bardem.

"Do you like Sean Penn's movies?" someone asks as the room titters.

"Sneaky, sneaky," says Theron with a smile.

Prompted for her thoughts on romance in general, however, she is more forthcoming.

Is she a romantic person? "Yeah I think so... though you might want to ask the men that I've been with - they might disagree.

"It depends on what romance is to you - I think it's also subjective. I don't see any romance in getting married, but I'm romantic in the sense that I like being in long-term relationships," says the actress, who was attached to Irish actor Stuart Townsend for almost nine years till they broke up in 2010.

"I like a man being a man, I like having my door opened for me, I like somebody who's not threatened or intimidated by the full experience of a woman who is living a life to the best of her abilities, you know?

"To me, that's the most romantic, sexy thing about a man."

stlife@sph.com.sg

A Million Ways To Die In The West opens in Singapore tomorrow.

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