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Monster - It was very important for me and Patty to be able to walk away from this film and have a clear conscience, and know that we told the truth

Feature by: Jack Foley

FOR both Oscar-winning actress, Charlize Theron, and writer-director, Patty Jenkins, the most important challenge of filming Monster, was staying true to the facts concerning serial killer, Aileen Wuornos.

"You have a much bigger responsibility when it's a real-life character, because it is someone's life, and whether they've done horrible things, it doesn't take away from the fact that it is their life, and you have to respect that," explained Theron, at a press conference in London, on the eve of the film’s UK premiere, in Leicester Square.

"At the end of the day, it was very important for me and Patty to be able to walk away from this film and have a clear conscience, and know that we told the truth and hadn't tried to manipulate it for the sake of a better movie. We did it with integrity."

It is little wonder, therefore, to find that the subsequent film has attracted widespread critical acclaim, as well as landing Theron with numerous awards, including the best actress accolade from the Academy.

In order to portray Wuornos, who was dubbed America’s first female serial killer after murdering six middle-aged men, between 1989 and 1990, Wuornos completely transformed herself, putting on 25 to 30 pounds in weight, donning false teeth and scrubbing herself of make-up.

Yet Theron relished the challenge from the start, despite a gruelling 28-day shoot, and running close to exhaustion on a couple of occasions.

"I knew that it was the kind of material that, if done correctly, could be something incredibly interesting," she commented.

"It was definitely the kind of story that I was interested in because I find it very rare that women get to play really conflicted, flawed characters. Those are usually the parts that De Niro gets to do, and Dustin Hoffman, and when they do it, it's accepted and almost cool, yet for some reason, when women do it, it's almost not encouraged because it's uncomfortable to watch."

Her only real reservation about taking on the role was if it had been placed in the hands of ‘some young 'let's do the MTV/lesbian/serial killer, pump the music, sort of movie', which would have been a disaster.

"But meeting Patty was really important to me, and after that happened, I immediately wanted to do the film, because it was really her vision and how she wanted to tell this story.

"It then became a personal journey for us. We believed in the story and wanted to tell it truthfully. And I knew that being a part of something like that, as an actress, would definitely change things for me.

"Whether it was going to win awards, you don't know, but I knew that I would walk away from this definitely being challenged and changed."

Her performance has also inspired fellow actresses to believe that they, too, could be offered material as challenging in the future.

"I've received so many great cards from actresses my age, who say 'god, we can't even be jealous of you, but encouraged that hopefully someone will look at us that way, and use us that way, too'.

"I think that so many actresses are really dying to find a film-maker who can see them and utilise them in a different way to how they've been used before."

Theron remains remarkably grateful for the role, and describes her relationship with Jenkins as one of the most enjoyable aspects of shooting, describing the bond shared between them as ‘a partnership’, which helped her through some of the harder scenes.

"That didn't mean that we were taking it easy on each other," she continued. "There were a lot of times that some of the scenes were extremely hard for me to do, and I'd be lying on the ground and she'd come up to me and say 'babe, I'm sorry, but we're going to have to do it again'.

"But that's what you want. At the end of the day, you want someone you can trust, who's not going to settle for mediocre, but someone who is constantly going to keep pushing you.

"But the only thing we wanted to keep in mind was Aileen and her victims, the people who were a part of the story. To not make any decision without keeping them in mind."

Theron clearly became influenced by the plight of Wuornos while making the film and, together with Jenkins, describes the day she was executed as one of the most difficult of the shoot.

The actress is openly against the death penalty, and told one journalist, who asked whether she thought there could have been a better punishment for Wuornos, that ‘what Aileen's story represented to me, was that it opened the idea that if we actually took the time to look at how these things happen, then maybe that way we can stop them’.

"I think what we're doing now is just dealing with the consequences, and I think that there's actually a way to look at someone like Aileen, who's not a solitary case," she explained.

"That was why I wanted to tell this story, because I think that if we can get to a place where we realise that the death penalty isn't working, and come up with a different way of stopping these things from happening, that could maybe be better."

Jenkins, too, finds the circumstances surrounding Wuornos’ execution difficult to properly address, given the psychological condition of the killer.

In answering the same question, she observed: "This is so tricky because of the fact she wanted to be executed, desperately.

"The thing that makes me the saddest about someone in her circumstances, is that there is no attempt to rehabilitate somebody when you know you're going to execute them, so essentially they're left sitting in a room for 12 years.

"I mean, if she was going to live, and would not have been executed, it would have been wonderful if she could have had some psychological help, because she suffered a tremendous amount of guilt and confusion, between the fact that she had done these horrible things, yet these horrible things were done to her.

"She would fluctuate wildly between 'they all deserved it' to 'no, I'm a terrible person, kill me'. And that was her inability to understand the grey, which was what our whole film was about.

"The day Aileen was executed was one of the most difficult days of our lives, because we had even said to everyone involved, if you want any help in an appeal process, we would help. But no, she wanted to be executed.

"So there was a part of us that was happy for her, that she escaped this horrible life, and, obviously, the victims' families found satisfaction in it, as well."

As tragic as the circumstances surrounding Wuornos’ life and death remain, however, the story has helped Theron to great personal joy, the highlight of which was her best actress triumph at the Oscars - the movie industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony.

When asked how she felt upon hearing her name read out, she merely blushed and recalled: "When it happened, I was just a mess. I didn't know how to get on stage, or what I was saying until I actually heard it later, and I'm not a really good speaker in front of a lot of people - English becomes a fourth language and I get hives.

"But this whole experience has been such a surprise, as it just so unbelievable and unexpected," she concluded.

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