Waging war on gender issues

The cast of The Huntsman: Winter’s War includes Charlize Theron (above right, with co-star Emily Blunt) and Jessica Chastain.
The cast of The Huntsman: Winter’s War includes Charlize Theron (above right, with co-star Emily Blunt) and Jessica Chastain.PHOTO: UIP
The cast of The Huntsman: Winter’s War includes Charlize Theron (with co-star Emily Blunt) and Jessica Chastain (above).
The cast of The Huntsman: Winter’s War includes Charlize Theron (with co-star Emily Blunt) and Jessica Chastain (above).PHOTO: UIP

Stars of The Huntsman: Winter's War Charlize Theron and Jessica Chastain do not believe in being damsels in distress

Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron is looking a little tired after a long day of interviews for her new movie, The Huntsman: Winter's War, although she is still likely the most beautiful woman within a 25km radius.

But she perks up immediately as soon as this reporter asks for her thoughts on Piers Morgan's recent feminism controversy.

"He did what?" she asks, leaning in and eyes bright with interest.

She then listens intently to a quick account of how British television host Morgan has been getting a lot of flak lately for declaring feminism to be dead after American celebrity Kim Kardashian posted a topless selfie on social media.

Screen-capturing the picture and putting it next to a black-and-white shot of British suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, he had controversially tweeted: "RIP feminism."

Theron looks slightly incredulous at it all and blurts out: "Does Piers Morgan think he's inside Kim K's head? What does he know?"

Women have to take ownership and start changing the concept that we wilt like flowers, while men age like fine wine.

ACTRESS CHARLIZE THERON

It sets off a long speech.

"I think that's pretty presumptuous. I mean, he doesn't know what her intention was with that.

"We can all decide what we like or don't like, but we all have free will to do what we want. We should take ownership of our bodies and decide what we want to do with it.

"Just because Piers doesn't like it doesn't mean we can put the weight of feminism, or the plight of women's rights, on one woman's selfie," the South African actress tells The Straits Times during a one-on-one interview here on Monday.

That same kind of indignation shows through at a press conference held afterwards, when a male journalist interrupts a female reporter in the middle of her question to ask his own.

Theron stops him and goes: "Ladies first."

When the male journalist finally gets to ask his question about the actress' "need to choose roles that are strong", she retorts: "In my 20 years of acting, not once do I hear a male actor getting asked this question in interviews."

Evidently, female empowerment is an issue that is very close to the 40-year-old's heart.

It is apparent in her career too - because while she does not appear to see a "need" to choose strong acting roles, she certainly has a penchant for them.

After all, Theron, who can easily coast on a string of babe roles, was the first to suggest to director George Miller that her character Furiosa goes bald in the acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

And who can forget her Best Actress Oscar-winning turn for packing on more than 13kg and donning blotchy skin to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003)?

The same goes for her latest movie, The Huntsman: Winter's War, where she reprises her Snow White And The Huntsman (2012) role as the evil Ravenna.

"That's why I think the story is powerful. It shows how lonely and desperate Ravenna is despite having good looks," says Theron of her character, who is brimming with insecurities and spews ink-like liquid from her mouth in fits of anger.

"I constantly worry for my little girl and for other girls.

"I want them to know that they are worth so much more than how they look," adds the mother of two adopted children - son Jackson, four, and daughter August, eight months old.

"Women have to take ownership and start changing the concept that we wilt like flowers, while men age like fine wine."

According to her, classic fairy tales do not make a lot of sense and certainly do not contribute to female empowerment.

"I grew up on African mythology and folkore, but I'm kind of discovering fairy tales now with my four-year-old son, leafing through them with him.

"I know that fairy tales are birthed from the idea of morality and are meant to be cautionary tales for kids, but some of them make no sense.

"Like The Princess And The Pea. I was always very perplexed by how this woman was seen as a true princess because she was uncomfortable with her seven mattresses. I don't know if this is what we should be teaching our kids."

That kind of pro-woman talk is the same reason her American co-star Jessica Chastain agreed to join the movie in this follow-up, even if its blockbuster element feels like a big departure from her resume of serious, thought-provoking dramas such as Zero Dark Thirty (2012).

"All I wanted to know is, 'Do I get to kick a**?' If I do, then I'm in," she tells The Straits Times in a separate interview, adding that she has no love for classic fairy tales such as Snow White, which The Huntsman is loosely drawn from.

The 39-year-old adds: "I just don't like the damsel-in-distress thing in fairy tales. This movie definitely doesn't have any of that, though.

"It was really important to me to not play a stereotype of a woman that I don't think is very realistic, like a woman who just stays at home while the guy gets to do all the fun stuff.

"What I loved about the script was that this is a very modern take on a fairy tale and this is a very modern relationship in that they are both equals."

In the film, she plays Sara, a skilled archer and one of the best huntsmen in the army of Freya The Ice Queen (Emily Blunt). The character falls in love with another huntsman, Eric, whose role is reprised by strapping actor Chris Hemsworth.

The 32-year-old Australian, who is seated beside Chastain in this interview, says with a grin: "Oh trust me, she kicks a lot of a** in this movie. Mine, mostly."

The star, who is best known for playing Marvel superhero and Norse god Thor in the movie of the same name (2011), drops his smile a little when asked if his obvious hunkiness prevents a diversity of roles that he gets offered.

As he looks slightly weary and loath to get into the matter of his good looks, Chastain jumps in to, well, save his a**.

"Didn't you lose a lot of weight for In The Heart Of The Sea (2015)? I mean Chris is a real actor. He transforms for his roles. He looked so different in Rush (2013)."

Hemsworth looks a little relieved and says: "You know, after Thor, I felt like I had to work harder to show (what I can do).

"I remember after the Rush casting process, I sent a tape to director Ron Howard about it. He was like, 'I like Thor, but this is very different.' But I was like, 'I can do this'. And, yes, I lost a lot of weight for it."

In biographical sports flick Rush (2013), the actor dropped almost 14kg in four months to play charismatic English Formula One racecar driver James Hunt.

As for survival drama In The Heart Of The Sea, his body flip-flopped even more drastically, as he lost close to 15kg in only one month to play a starving man who spends 90 days stranded at sea.

If things ever get too tough on his body, perhaps he can consider getting his equally handsome younger brother, Liam, star of The Hunger Games franchise, to stand in for him.

It is a running joke in the media that the two lookalikes keep getting mistaken for each other.

Hemsworth says cheekily of his 26-year-old brother: "If anything bad happens, I'll be like, 'Sorry, my name's Liam. It's all my fault.'

"It gets me out of trouble and gets Liam in a lot of trouble."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•The Huntsman: Winter's War opens in cinemas next Thursday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2016, with the headline 'Waging war on gender issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe