Interview by James Ashwood/ Excerpts compiled by Jack Foley
Charlize Theron plays Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter
It is a film which has caused controversy - not least
from Britt herself, who was said to be very much against the choice
of Theron in the role.
But it was nothing that the actress could not handle. At
30, she's beaten remarkable odds to become a Hollywood star. She
won a best actress Oscar earlier this year for her role as the
world's first woman serial killer in Monster.
Q. In the film you play Britt Ekland - how did you research
A. There were many hours of home video of Britt and Peter
together that I was able to watch. Peter was quite obsessed
with the video camera. In a way, he was making his own movie
about his life.
There was a lot of footage of the two of them. Geoffrey
Rush, who plays Peter Sellers, and I, watched them together.
We came up with many moments from those home videos which we put
in the film. I remember watching the wedding video and Britt was
a little bit tipsy after a few glasses of champagne. She
was hanging off Peter and saying: “I love you”. So
you just try and watch and read, as much as you can, whatever
is out there.
Q. Did you have any other help in creating the part?
A. Stephen Hopkins, the director, was a great help because
he has known Britt for a couple of years. He spent a lot
of time with me and the writers have done so much research, so
any questions I had they would double check. But her accent and
mannerisms came from the home videos.
Q. Britt was your date at Cannes Film Festival - how
strange an experience was that?
A. It was very nerve-wracking for both of us. I had called
her up a couple of weeks before then, because I had heard this
vicious rumour that she did not like the movie. It was very upsetting
I am very sensitive to that, because I am portraying her life
and did not want her to be unhappy. So I called her and wanted
to know if she really thought those things. She said that she
had not even seen the film so they were completely untrue.
I said: ”Well, what are you doing in two weeks? Do you want
to be my date in Cannes?” She said she would love to. It
was scary sitting next to her knowing she was seeing it for the
Q. How did Britt react to the film?
A. She became a little emotional at some scenes. I
think it was a very painful experience for her. When we got
in to the car on the way to the party, I just looked at her and
said: “We should just go home and make tea. I feel like
taking care of you right now.”
She was emotionally drained. I asked her how it felt to see five
years of her life on screen.
She said she shouldn’t have stayed with Sellers that long
and said: “The only reason was because I was too young to
know any better.”
Q. Did Britt have any problems with the story?
A. No, because the writers had really done their research.
She said some of the characters were too tall or too skinny,
but nothing huge.
Q. What did she say about Sellers?
A. I think she was a little too emotional to talk about
him. The first thing she said was that Geoffrey Rush was amazing.
She broke down a few times in the theatre and remembers
that time as being very volatile.
The only objection came later, when she said: “Peter came
across as a bit of a monster - but he was far worse than that.”
Q. Were you concerned that Britt may come across as a
dumb blonde in the film?
A. I did not have any fears. It was obvious she was just
this naive 21 year-old girl when she met Peter. Watching the home
videos you could see that, sometimes, she was not comfortable
in front of the camera.
Peter was bouncing off the walls. I think most of the time she
was just observing. She was always a couple of steps behind
him. I think everyone was in his life.
Q. Do you think Britt married
him to boost her profile?
A. The only story I heard about how they got together
is that she had no idea who Peter Sellers was when she met him.
They were both in the Dorchester Hotel, in London, and she was
very flattered by this charismatic man who had asked her on a
She told her manager she was going to a movie with this man called
Peter Sellers. The agent told her: “Get ready - and
look your best.”
But she still did not know who he was.
Q. How did they get together?
A. The manager set up a photo shoot and manipulated the
whole thing. But I truly believe they fell in love with
Q. How did the marriage effect her career?
A. She was a serious actress. I think her frustration
was finding the balance in being married to a man who was very
driven - and being a young mother who wanted her career to continue.
Peter was very much in control of what she did. He was so
insecure he forced her to take part in his movies - so he knew
where she was and what she was doing. In the home videos, you
see inside the house and there were posters of his films all over
the walls. That was just him - he loved himself.
Again, I think Britt fell in to this world and before she made
a decision things were happening around her. She had to find the
strength within herself to get through it.
Q. You have had personal experience of violence and abuse
in the home. How did you find the strength to get through it?
A. I walked away from a hellish experience [when her
mother shot dead her father].
I realise I had two clear choices - either I drowned or I could
swim. So I started swimming, very fast.
Before my father’s death, I thought my life would be simple.
I was going to get a job, get married and raise a family. Then
Sometimes, I think it was part of another life which happened
to another person. Then it is suddenly so real and vivid that
if I think about it, I know I will burst in to tears. I
will always carry it with me. It is the same for my mother.
Q. How did your mother cope?
A. It was a matter of pride and dignity. Suddenly,
we had every bank in South Africa on our back.
My father had a road construction company and they thought that
because there was a woman on her own, she would be willing to
sell it cheaply and quickly.
My mother's ambition was not to build roads. But she had to learn. We
helped each other. We had to play with the cards we had been dealt.
Neither of us allowed the other to give up, which is why we have
such a close bond.
Q. You delivered an emotional Oscar speech - how did
you manage not to break down?
A. There was a lot of ignoring going on. I could
not look at my mom. I started to break down while I was still
in my seat. I thought: “I can not allow myself to be like
this - it will be terrible.”
So I managed to pull myself together and thought: “Just
don’t look at her - ignore her.”
I could not talk about her at the start of the speech, because
I knew that would be it and I would break down. I had to leave
it until the end.
Q. You are in a secure and happy relationship, but can
you understand Britt and Peter’s marriage?
A. I think the idea of meeting a man who is successful,
funny and charming is appealing to any woman. That is the thing. Peter
knew how to sweep all of his wives off their feet. He was not
a normal boy who would take a girl to dinner. He would buy the
restaurant for the night.
So I think at 21, when a man is doing all this for you, it is
bound to make you feel special. Especially for Britt, who
was a fun girl.
Q. When did Britt realise things were going wrong?
A. I asked her that question myself - she said it was
the sixth week of marriage. That was his period of wooing and
getting what he wanted. Then he started to struggle with
his demons again.
Q. What is next for you?
A. A romantic film which is coming out, which I did with
Stuart, called Head in the Clouds.
We started shooting straight after I finished Monster. I
had five days off, went to Los Angeles, coloured my hair back
to blonde, got a facial, packed and flew out to Montreal to start
I was so lucky to have Stuart with me at the time. I felt so drained
and wrecked, needed his support.