Q&A with Charlize Theron and Nick Broomfield
A catered event which included a special screening of "Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer" at the Museum of Tolerance. The documentary was a harsh look into Aileen Wuornos' life on Death Row for being the world's first female serial killer. After the documentary, a panel consisting of "Monster" Actress Charlize Theron, Director Nick Broomfield and Amnesty International's Bonnie Abaunza sat on stage and answered audience questions. EZ's Laura Alber and favorite photographer Albert Ortega were on hand for the event.
Now for the Zone's Eye View:
By Laura Alber, Photos by Albert Ortega
A night not soon forgotten, a special documentary delving into the "real" Aileen Wuornos (for whom "Monster" was based on), also referred to as the "Hitchhiker-Hooker" by many. There was so much more to this story than I ever imagined. I had obviously heard of the case (the first female serial killer is hard to forget!), but there was so much more depth to this person. The documentary was a hard cold look at Aileen on death row, and showed her rantings and ravings much like a person we would put in an institution, not execute.
Aileen's legal battle was a joke as she was defended by a pot smoking, anti-pornography advocate who did nothing to help Aileen, proving with a court appointed attorney, "you get what you pay for". Governor Bush branded Aileen as "EVIL", failing to mention or even care about her upbringing and childhood. Then good 'ole boy Jeb Bush denied a stay of execution despite her apparent mental illness, by simply stating "We want to be more like Texas". (The execution took place in Florida)
Her sister Dawn is shown briefly in the documentary as well as a very short look at Aileen's lover Tyra, who eventually went on to betray Aileen.
The system let her down, both while still a child (and living in the woods...literally), and also trying to get a fair jury, judge and defense attorney. Aileen Wuornos was executed in the state of Florida on October 9th, 2002.
Below are some of the questions and answers that followed. Some questions were unable to be heard in the tape recorder, so a few questions have been left out. I tried to keep the Q&A's as accurate as possible though when transcribing.
Audience member: Charlize, when you read "Monster" how did you feel about the challenge of humanizing a convicted serial killer?
Charlize: I didn't find it a challenge because really the thing was to portray her as a real person. I think that's why she decided "she" wanted to tell the story. I think too, the way, through society, she was portrayed was very much a monster, not paying attention to the fact that she was a human being. There was a lot of things going on-very complicated situations.
I was privileged to read 12 years of letters that she wrote, and there were also a few letters that Tyra had written her in the first year that she was on death row. And, then she stopped writing her. Even watching her talk in the documentary, she never ever said one bad thing about her [Tyra]. I think that Aileen's journey, her search was to be loved. I think that's everybody's journey-to be loved and accepted. And, she found it, and to be betrayed by that person that you loved so much is just devastating.
Audience member: What was it like to interview Aileen when she was so volatile?
Nick: In a way she was amazing to interview because she was really incredibly bright and very open in a way. She came to every interview with an incredible agenda of things she wanted to talk about, and for the first 20 minutes or so, Aileen would just talk and talk, and then I would try and slip in the odd question in, and some days she would really get very angry or think that I hadn't gotten the point that she was trying to make and would sort of be in despair slightly. But, there was one moment she would laugh and the next moment she'd be almost ready to throttle one! She was also very funny in a way. Everything was very extreme with Aileen. So, she was an amazing person to interview. I would feel like I'd
talked to her for hours and it was an hour interview, because she covered so much. There was so much of a range of things with her emotions, so incredibly powerful.
Audience member: When she gave you the finger, was she giving it to you, the press or what? And, how did you feel?
Nick: Well, I felt like shit! But, I mean it was...actually, you couldn't see in that interview room, which was really strange, a room bigger than this, and it was actually a prison cafeteria. And, while I was interviewing Aileen, all these officers were coming in behind me through these doors. I could kind of feel them behind my back although I couldn't see them. But, the room started with 5 or 6 people and by the end of the interview I think there were probably 30 or 40 officers in the room behind me. So, it was like a weird situation. The tension in the room kind of got worse and worse, and I hated the feeling that I'd upset Aileen, particularly given it was the last time I was going to see her. But, I
thought it was absolutely remarkable that she, the night before she was going to get executed, bothered to say to Dawn, "Please tell Nick I wasn't giving him the finger." I thought that was such an amazingly compassionate thing for her to do, and I kind of keyed into the other side of Aileen, who was incredibly sensitive and it was incredibly moving. So, it was definitely the most disturbing and unsettling interview I've ever done.
EZ's Laura Alber: Charlize, this is such a traumatic role for you to take on, emotionally to get inside this person's head. Do you think you could have actually met her and taken on this role and been able to get her out of your head - out of character, after her execution?
Charlize: Well, she was in my head, I mean, I had to play her. So, I read the letters and decided I wanted to do the role. And, in one of my conversations over the phone talking with Dawn, she thought that we should meet, and unbeknown to us, we don't know how, we didn't know - she was executed. And so, honestly, I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe I wasn't supposed to meet her, and I don't know how she would have been to me. Aileen was a character and even with people she knew really well, there were moments where you could kind of see her and not know how she would react. I don't know how she would have been. I can't imagine Aileen opening her heart up to me and you know, telling me anything. So, I
think the way it happened was actually helpful to me, because I was able to read prior letters that she wrote to her closest friends and I don't think she ever thought those would be read, but she gave Dawn permission, the last night she was with Dawn, she told her to "open up the archives", and that's why she gave the letters to us. So, in a way that's how she wanted me to know about her. That's how she wanted to be remembered.
Audience member: Charlize, about your physical transformation, how did you manage that?
Charlize: The interesting thin is, there was never an issue with me and Patty (Monster's director Patty Jenkins) about doing any specific thing regarding transformation. We did our research, and by the time we got back and hired makeup artists, we just...everything about her physically was talked about as an emotional thing, even what she looked like. It wasn't about looking at a photograph or watching the documentary about how she "should" look or not, we read her letters. In one letter she wrote that there was always one thing she would never do, and that was, she never took off her shirt. She didn't like her body, so for me - I do like my body - so I had to get to a place where I felt like I was
living a homeless life, so I just wanted to get my body to a place where it felt that way. I think the tension she carried in her jaw and in her eyes, I think all of that is almost like...she reminded me of a stray adopted kid at times. She loved too much, she didn't trust people, she'd been betrayed so much in her life and as a woman, I can't imagine sleeping under an overpass, not knowing where you're going to get your next meal from. Then getting in a car with a stranger and driving out of state. Nobody knows where you are, her desperation and the life she lived are unimaginable. Once I tapped into the emotional side of understanding her life and how she had led her life, the physical stuff just kind of happened naturally. We all had incredible makeup artists, but we never
used any kind of prosthetics, we didn't want it to be a caricature, so they did a great job. And, in playing them, I don't think you can leave something like that completely. I think you leave a party of yourselves and you go home and you take something with you. So a part of her will always stay with me...a lot of it. Luckily, I had to go straight into another film, and in a way it was extremely helpful, but in many ways, it kept me in denial about how much of her was still under my skin. You don't really dive into somebody like I did and just snap out of it, you just don't forget.
Audience member: Did you actually gain weight for the role?
Charlize: I did, as I said earlier, I tried to get my body, it wasn't about trying to be fat, because Aileen wasn't fat, just trying to live her life. And, she lost a lot of weight in prison, but she looked a particular way....I did...I did gain weight.