Opening this Friday is the new drama “Sleepwalking.” The film actually premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and it stars Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, Woody Harrelson and Dennis Hopper.
The film is about the deep familial bond that develops between a 30-year-old man and his young niece after the girl's mother suddenly leaves town. Forced out of her home after her boyfriend is arrested, Joleen Reedy (Charlize Theron) needs a place to stay with her 11-year-old daughter, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb). She turns for help to her younger brother, James (Nick Stahl) - a simple and overly trusting man who doesn't hesitate to welcome them into his modest rental apartment. Almost as soon as she moves in, however, Joleen hits the road with another man. Utterly ill-equipped to be the sole guardian of an adolescent girl, James does his best to make his distraught niece happy. But before long, things spin out of control: he loses his road crew job and Tara is put into foster care. Additionally, old wounds from his emotionally abusive and sometimes violent father (Dennis Hopper) begin to reopen as James is forced to re-examine his life. That's when James makes a fateful decision that will bring his life full circle and force him to face his demons. He takes off with Tara and the pair assumes new identities as father and daughter. What starts out as a ploy to evade authorities takes on a deeper significance as James strives to become the dad Tara never had, and for the first time finds a true purpose in life.
As you can tell, the movie deals with serious subject matter and it’s a film that let’s all the actors involved demonstrate their abilities.
Anyway, the other day I managed to sit down with Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb for a small roundtable interview. During the twenty or so minutes we talked about the challenges of independent cinema, making this movie, and what they have coming up. It’s a solid interview and as you read it you’ll be able to tell that Charlize is much more than a pretty face and a gifted actor, she’s also a very smart producer.
As usual, you can either the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you’d like to watch some movie clips from “Sleepwalking,” just click here. Again, “Sleepwalking” opens this Friday in limited release.
Question: I like your top Charlize.
Charlize Theron: Thank you.
Q: What is that?
AnnaSophia Robb: Like Mark and…
Charlize Theron: Mike and Seth. It’s just from my closet. I don’t know who it is.
Q: Well, how did you like your wardrobe in the film?
Charlize Theron: I loved it. I loved it, yeah. It felt very comfortable and felt very real and yeah, there’s no denying putting that on and really feeling like you’re Joleen.
Q: Do you know anyone that’s like Joleen?
Charlize Theron: I don’t personally, no, but you know I observe a lot of people. I observe those kinds of people I don’t know them personally but I’ve watched them.
Q: So what did you pull from to play that role?
Charlize Theron: You know, it’s an understanding of the world. It’s kind of like going in there and doing the research and really I think more than anything understanding what that kind of damage does to somebody and how they retaliate and I mean, I’d done a lot of that kind of research when I played Eileen and also Josie Ames from “North Country” I mean there’s definitely a correlation between those women. It’s interesting when you really kind of study how people kind of deal with a traumentulous past. I mean some kind of turmoil within the family or some kind of an abuse. I think people…I think it’s fascinating to kind of study how different people respond to it, so it really kind of came from that you know, just kind of reading a lot of…I’ve always been fascinating by it, so I’ve read a lot of books on it actually. And I guess just…it’s not hard for me to understand it. It’s kind of effortless for me to understand it. More challenging to actually go execute it but I understand it very much.
Q: Did you see this as an opportunity to transform it yourself again? I have to swear I was looking like is she really Charlize? Is she?
Charlize Theron: No, I’m an actor and I go and do what that job tells me to do, you know? I go and service the story. It’s not about transformation. It’s about finding a story that you emotionally tap into and then servicing that story as the best as you possibly can.
Q: I feel like I’ve said a bad word when I said that.
Charlize Theron: It’s just you know it’s like after “Monster” any time I have brown hair it’s a transformation like the rope just gets tighter and tighter and tighter so it does get a little bit grueling after a while because that’s not the idea. I think we’ve just lost touch with what actors are supposed to do and I think that’s what’s frustrating because our job is to go and tell stories and that sometimes means we have to transform to be authentic and somehow that’s just kind of…when you do that now you’re just a freak and it didn’t use to be the case.
Q: Would you mind…you as a producer of this and you being on the receiving end of it, can you say why casting Dennis Hopper and was he ever nice to you off-screen?
AnnaSophia Robb: Oh yeah. He was oh…Dennis is the best I mean, he’s just completely different from in the moment, in the scene and then once we cut. He always made sure I was okay, you know, he’d always say that was a good take. When he hits me and I fall down, he’d pick me right back up. Very supportive. Taught me lots of little tricks of the trade. I just loved working with him. I learned a lot and it was an honor.
Q: And he’s obviously so perfect in this role, but….
Charlize Theron: You know I can’t lie. When I read it, his face came to mind and I tend to do that quite a bit when I read material. I kind of, you know the imagination goes a little crazy and I start seeing people’s faces and his was definitely…I mean just from the first page--that first dinner scene because it needed somebody with great charisma and yet at the same time this kind of undertone of just complete fear, and he does that so well. So he was always my first choice and Nick was also always my first choice. That came from a long time of actually just wanting to work with him as an actor and when I read it I just thought that that was a really great dynamic for the two of us to work together on that. And he came on board really early on, I mean, I had this project around probably for 4 years and he came on board like a year and a half before we even had the financing sorted out and really remained incredibly passionate about it and once we had the financing sorted out I sent it to Dennis and he got back to me within 24 hours and he said I’m in. I was like ahhhh. Anna was…before we sent it to Dennis I was still kind of on the wall about whether I wanted to kind of see the project through because so much of this emotional story relied on finding the right young actress, so my head was kind of like I love this but until we can find the right person to do it I wasn’t going to kind of just do a mediocre job on that because the story just couldn’t work without somebody who could really…and ironically enough she was working on “The Reaping” with Stephen Hopkins who I did the “Life and Death of Peter Sellers” with. We remained really good friends, and he was at my house on weekend and I was telling him about this and he said, “I’m working with this girl right now. She doesn’t have one line of dialogue. She tells everything with her eyes and she’s amazing and you should meet her.” It was a week later Anna came in and we met and I said sign me on, I’m doing this. I have to do this with her.
Q: AnnaSophia, how did it feel jumping in the pool with your clothes on and roller skates?
AnnaSophia Robb: Well, it wasn’t the first time I jumped in a pool with my clothes on, but the first time with roller skates. It was…you know underwater Charlize and Bill, they were telling me--ethereal and like dancing and looking up and she’s….once she dives in it’s like she’s in this protective little bubble and just looking up and seeing the world from a different angle. From that point you know she’s going to make different choices in her life than her mother did.
Q: What was the other time you’d done that?
AnnaSophia Robb: Oh, after I came back…
Charlize Theron: Last night.
AnnaSophia Robb: Last night…no. At Universal Studios, I played in the fountain with my friends and then I went back and we were soaked anyways so I just jumped in.
Q: I’d like to talk about that pool sequence because it was very interesting and I wondered as a character what you felt when you were leaving the skates behind?
AnnaSophia Robb: Oh, I think she’s leaving behind…she’s accepted growing up. That’s how I saw it. It’s like she’s going to look at life from a new angle, more accepting I guess, taking more responsibility. That’s how I saw it.
Charlize Theron: Yeah, leaving those childhood thoughts behind.
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Q: Charlize, could you talk about how did you meet this project?
Charlize Theron: It was material that was submitted to my company and my producing partner, Beth Kono read it and then I read it and we really liked it. We had a couple of things going at the time and I have a few great mentors - producing mentors - in the business and I always kind of talk to them about projects that I’m thinking about and I brought this up to a few of them who I highly regard their opinion and they said you know you’re asking for trouble. And it’s true. These projects are incredibly hard to make. I think independent filmmaking has changed, you know, we make independent films now for $25 million. So, it’s tough to get the ones below 5, below 4, especially when you’re talking about somewhat high risk—what they consider high risk—material, but for me it was just like after an experience like “Monster”, which was considered high risk material, and that movie grossed close to $40 million. As a producer I just kind of felt I can’t get stuck in that and if I’m emotionally tapped into something I have to kind of…I’ve got to go by that guide. So we slowly started searching around for financing and we were incredibly lucky, I mean really, really lucky. We met with a company, Film Engine, A.J. Dix and he immediately just responded to the material and we really needed that. We weren’t going to find a financier that was going to invest in this because it was going to make a lot of money. We needed somebody who really kind of tapped into it the same way we did, and so we couldn’t have asked for better financiers.
Q: So was it fun to go play in a big budget Hollywood movie like “Hancock” after doing something like this where you were so emotionally invested in every aspect of it that you could just….
Charlize Theron: You know what’s strange? It’s not about budget. Until you kind of drive up to the set and you see more people and bigger trailers and the food is maybe better, that’s really the only difference because at the end of the day that material was incredibly challenging. I still don’t know how to…I mean I don’t even know how to talk about it. I just recently saw it 2 days ago and I actually had to call Will and I was like I don’t even know what to say about this movie because it’s going to sound so pretentious but it’s the most original thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
Q: What’s the tone of it because we’ve talked to Will?
Charlize Theron: I couldn’t tell you. It literally almost gives the middle finger to genre. I mean it’s really quite brilliant and Akiva did a brilliant job, Pete did a great job, Will is fantastic in it, but it is one of the most original pieces of work I’ve ever seen. I knew when we were shooting it there were days I looked at Will and I was like what the hell are we doing because I don’t even know what is going on right now. And Pete kind of creates that environment and for some reason it just worked really well with that material. It’s brilliant.
Q: Does he do his typical what he does as camera work?
Charlize Theron: Yeah.
Q: I’d like to jump back to “Sleepwalking” for a second. What was her plan? What was that plan?
Charlize Theron: My analogy was always I had been fascinated by people who lose a lot of weight and a couple of people that I’ve kind of known closely who went through it was kind of an interesting psychological experience to watch somebody lose a lot weight and then somehow kind of go back into that same lifestyle. And this excitement, this joy when they have like a gastric bypass surgery for something but somehow they still see themselves as like the fat person but before they have the surgery they actually really truly believe that once they lose the weight all their problems will be solved. Everything will be solved and that’s just not how life works and once they lose the weight they realize that and that’s why they go back and they gain the weight. And Joleen, that was my analogy for Joleen, except for her it was a man. If she could find a man all of her problems would disappear. And obviously this was a woman who had such a lack of love in her life that she didn’t even know what real love was. And I think she knew it and that’s why the line where she says you don’t even have to mean it, just say it, because that’s not even important. She says, you don’t even have to love me, but if you’re in the picture, if you can play the dad then everything’s going to be fine. My daughter’s going to be good and she’s going to behave and I’m going to be good and I’m going to be happy and we’re going to have the house and everything is going to be fine. It really is a way of not dealing with anything. It’s like the fat person not dealing with the issues and so the plan was always find the guy, obviously it’s a little easier when the little girl is not around to hook the guy, so the plan was always leave her there for a month or so, so she could hook the guy to come back and play the dad. But that’s not how life works. And I never wanted to put any of that on film. I like the idea of a woman getting off a bus—this image of a woman getting off a bus—and seeing her dreams completely crushed.
Q: AnnaSophia, could you talk about how is working with Nick Stahl?
AnnaSophia Robb: Yeah. Nick—we met and it kind of worked really well and as Tara and James’ character as their relationship grows throughout the film, Nick and my relationship grew. The movie came really close and always joking around and I feel so comfortable around Nick. He’s like my uncle and just that…it’s so nice to have on one of these serious films because it can feel dangerous sometimes—mentally and I never felt that on the set and Nick was so good about encouraging me and making me feel comfortable and always laughing and hanging out with me all the time. I loved working with him.
Charlize Theron: That was probably the most difficult relationship to pull off in the film, because that very easily could cross the line and that could start feeling like it’s going to lean towards something sexual. And that was hands down—I mean Nick does a beautiful job but it’s hands down because of Anna. And I knew that right from the beginning even when Anna came in just to kind of play around with material with us, I didn’t want to read with her and Nick was out of town shooting and I brought in actually Jeremy Renner who was with me in “North Country”, I asked him to come in and read to her because I wanted to see her and how she’d respond being next to a guy of that age, because if it became uncomfortable for her then it would read—and I never wanted it to read—anything other than an incredible friendship and partnership between the two. And I’ll never forget, Jeremy left and I walked out with him and he said, “That girl just literally acted the pants off me.” And when you watch the tape, it’s unbelievable. I mean she really just held her own and stood up and they did improv together and she was right there with him and from the moment she got together with Nick they had great chemistry together and so you never questioned that this was anything other than two very desperate people kind of reaching for an emotional help somewhere there.
Q: Charlize, I thought it was really interesting and I don’t know how you do this, but I wanted to get your thoughts on it. How of the 2 siblings it’s the female I guess aggressive and the male being submissive and it’s traditionally not how we see the gender roles, but what did you think of that sort of the switch and that sort of personality because she was headstrong and he wasn’t or was that something that…?
Charlize Theron: So it tends to from what I’ve researched, it tends to be the older sibling. The older sibling becomes much more aggressive than the younger sibling. The younger sibling almost completely retreats. This is around 80% of the cases that I’ve studied and it tends to be because the older sibling usually goes through more abuse and tends to become the protector. And it’s almost sometimes harder for them to break the cycle than it is for the younger and the middle sibling. And so that was actually written in the script and we felt very true to what I’ve actually studied as far as that, but it’s not so much a female/male thing, because I’ve seen males—older males—act out exactly the same way, becoming incredibly aggressive.
Q: Are you guys shooting anything right now? Do you have anything coming up?
Charlize Theron: I’m about to go and do the “The Road” with Viggo. Just doing the flashback stuff, yeah.
Q: Are you looking forward to working with him?
Charlize Theron: Oh yeah. No, I love that project. It’s my favorite book. It’s go great.
Q: Who’s directing that?
Charlize Theron: John Hillcoat.
Q: Anna, are you getting ready to shoot anything?
AnnaSophia Robb: Yeah, I’m doing “Race to Witch Mountain”.