All eyes were on Oscar winning South African star Charlize Theron Sunday night as she arrived with her Irish actor/director fiancé Stewart Townsend and New Zealand native Martin Henderson for the press conference of Townsend’s directorial film debut “Battle in Seattle.
Set in 1999, when thousands of protesters demonstrated against the World Trade Organization s ministerial meeting in Seattle, the film centers on a group of police officers, political activists and bystanders who get caught up in the ensuing chaos.
“It’s a grassroots story, Townsend said, “about people standing up to their own rights. I did it with so many characters because I felt there were so many points of view to represent. “
“This is a movie very dear to my heart, Henderson said. “I definitely didn’t do it for the money. There aren’t many movies out there that address such serious issues. If there’s a change that comes from the film, by any form, then I guess I’m thankful for that.
At the heart of the film is a group of ordinary characters reacting to extraordinary circumstances, but the film does tackle politics, if perhaps not with a thorough and detailed documentary-style outlook.
“I was focusing more on the humanity of the characters, Townsend said, fending assumptions of facing problems with either the police forces or the authorities. “The police in Seattle were very corporative. I don’t think the problem is with the police, most of them are blue-collar, working class men. It’s the organizations they’re defending.
“Major organizations like the WTO and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are designed in such a way that makes it impossible for anyone to understand them. I mean they bought Iceland last week for God’s sake. The film can’t explain that, but it gives you an impression of what happens.
Townsend, who moved to the US on Sept. 10, 2001, stated that his directing endeavor wasn’t pre-planned.
“I got into acting in the first place because I just love film; I’m a film nerd really. I grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland where it was impossible to become an actor. And it just happened.
“You work with other actors and directors and you pretty much learn about the filmmaking craft. That doesn’t mean any actor can make a movie. It was just the right time and the right script for me to do.
At the press conference, Theron discussed her beginnings and her brief modeling career.
“I started as a ballerina because I was a very hyperactive child, Theron smiled. “Something in me calmed and I started to get focused. At 19, I had a knee injury and the doctors told me I had to stop dancing. I realized later that I just love performing, standing on stage and acting.
“My mom encouraged me to go to Hollywood, which I thought was a ridiculous idea at first. When I went to America, I did modeling on the side, just to put food on my plate and pay the rent.
Theron referred to “Mr Townsend as “one of the best directors she’s ever worked with. Townsend immediately returned the compliment.
“My editor came to watch one particular scene and, up until that point, he didn’t really know Charlize. Charlize was telling jokes before the scene, then went to do the scene, which was intense and powerful, and got back to telling jokes after it ended. My editor was just blown away.
“I actually tell jokes so that I can forget about the character, Theron commented.
About her role as Peter Sellers third wife Britt Ekland in the Golden Globe winning TV movie “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Theron said, “It’s one of my favorite films. I think the film is an homage to a very complicated, interesting, somewhat misunderstood person who struggled to live in his own skin.
One reporter asked about the reasons behind the current state of Hollywood films and the difference between studio productions and independent ones.
“Studio films have a lot of money and I think that can dilute movies, Townsend said. “Directors of independent films, on the other hand, are usually passionate about their work, presenting a singular voice. Unfortunately, people now just want comedy and action and it’s getting hard to do the kind of movies you want to make.
Asked about her work process, Theron said, “It’s very tricky to talk about my process as an actress. Sometimes I put a pair of shoes on, start walking in them and it just feels right. Sometimes it happens with the director; developing the character and growing with it in the course of shooting.
As for her Academy Award winning role in the Aileen Wuornos 2003 biopic “Monster for which she gained 13 kilos and buried her striking features, Theron admitted that the film changed her career.
“The one thing pre-‘Monster’ I felt blessed to have was just being a woman in Hollywood and acting. I’m very proud of many films I did before ‘Monster’ like ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ and James Gray’s ‘The Yards.’ ‘Monster’ was clearly in a different caliber though.
“Everyone approached Aileen on the surface, everyone called her crazy. I mean I don’t justify the hideous and erroneous things she’s done, but she was human and I tried to show her human side. During research, a friend of hers allowed me to the read the letters Aileen had send to her and the more I read, the more I had empathy for her.
“The Oscar was an incredible honor; it was an incredible night. But you wake up the next day, brush your teeth, take out the garbage and move on. You just can’t let it get in your head.
Daily News Egypt asked Theron whether she, as one of Hollywood’s few female A-listers, can still green light small projects like “Seattle in a film scene dominated by comic-book adaptations and sequels.
“I don’t think of myself as a Hollywood star, Theron replied. “I don’t believe I’m anything really and I don’t necessarily tackle film from this point of view. I think of myself as a filmmaker passionate about a story, trying to get it done. I want to believe, in my heart, that if you have a good story to tell, you can make it. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
Responding to another question by Daily News Egypt regarding her role in the highly anticipated adaptation of Cormack McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Road, Theron said, “My role is small, I only did three days of shooting. I saw a rough copy of the movie recently and it looks beautiful. If you’re a fan of the book, I think you’re going to like the movie.
The discussion couldn’t end without the festival’s obligatory question regarding Barack Obama.
“Well, first of all, I’m not American. I’m just an actress working there. I’m a citizen of the world, and I almost lived the same amount of time in South Africa as in the US, but I did get my American citizenship last year and I got to vote this year. I voted for Obama.
“I had a great moment in the kitchen when I learned he won the elections, and I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a tear. I feel he can be the kind of leader who can change the world.