“I’m always so interested when we can have some kind of transparency of what it really is to be a woman in all of the complexities, all of the fucked-up-ness, all of the messiness. That’s when we’re telling the truth of who women really are,” said Charlize Theron to the audience at an October 19 SAG screening of her new film “Bombshell,” which tells the story of the Fox News sexual harassment scandal. Above, watch Theron discuss the film alongside co-stars Nicole Kidman and John Lithgow, director Jay Roach and screenwriter Charles Randolph.
The story isn’t just about harassment, though, it’s about how professional women are treated in general. When people look at ambitious women like Fox News personality Megyn Kelly, whom Theron plays, they often think, “She’s probably a bitch,” but the actress insists, “We’re taking that word back. We get to say that word. You don’t get to say that word anymore.”
But while the story is told from the point of view of women with Theron also working behind the scenes as a producer, it’s not lost on Roach and Randolph that they’re telling the story from their advantaged position as men. “There’s limits to what we can do individually to address sexual harassment,” Randolph said, but “we can put men inside of Kayla’s heart in that room with Roger Ailes.” He’s referencing the composite character played by Margot Robbie, from whose point of view we see the harassment first-hand.
Roach added, “It was absolutely important that it was from the women’s point of view.” It changes your perspective “once you see the world from a woman who can’t trust a boss or a colleague just to go to work.” That was a “humbling” experience for Roach, who told the crowd that his wife Susanna Hoffs is usually on the brink of tears whenever she has seen the film.
Playing real characters is daunting as well. Kidman was shooting “Big Little Lies” when this opportunity arose, and she name-dropped her “Lies” co-star Meryl Streep to explain what finally convinced her to take on the role of Fox News reporter and whistle-blower Gretchen Carlson even though she didn’t think she looked very much like Carlson. “I trust her taste,” Kidman explains with a laugh — if you’re going to trust anyone’s taste in roles, it should be 21-time Oscar nominee Streep.
So when Kidman asked her if she should do this film, Streep told her, “Absolutely!” (Kidman’s brief impression of Streep there is so spot-on that she could probably play her in a movie next.) Streep urged Kidman to say yes “because you need to be a part of something that marks a time in history.” And boy does it ever: Carlson’s accusations against Ailes started a snowball effect of women coming forward that eventually led to Ailes’s ouster in 2016 and presaged the #MeToo movement that took hold in 2017.
Lithgow plays Ailes with some help from Oscar-winning “Darkest Hour” makeup artist Kazu Hiro. It’s certainly an unsettling character to be approached to play, and Lithgow thought it was “insane,” but he thought the same thing about being asked to play Winston Churchill in “The Crown.” “The outrageousness of the idea appealed to me … It’s about a lot of women, not just three, but about a dozen women responding in all sorts of different ways to a crisis. And I was the crisis. And I was delighted.”
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