When Charlize Theron won her best actress Oscar last year, she more than earned it. But the precious gold-plated statuette she took home that night, wasn’t just for the acting skills she displayed in “Monster” as much as it was a reward for the De Niro-esque transformation she underwent to portray real-life serial-killer Aileen Wuornos. It couldn’t have been easy for the South African-born beauty and ex-model to morph herself into — well, there isn’t a nice way to put this — the ugly woman she became for the sake of the movie. (Trust me on this, I have stood in the same room as Charlize Theron; not only is she beautiful in an almost unnatural way, her mere presence demands the attention of everyone around her.)
Of course, many a beautiful and talented Hollywood actress has to de-glamorize themselves to get taken seriously and bring home the Oscar bling-bling. Case in point: Halle Berry’s Academy Award-winning role in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.” In the film, she not only had to make herself look like a plain Jane, she had to play a mother who losses her son, and — here comes the really ugly part — has to have rough sex with Billy Bob Thorton (which should earn any actress an Oscar nomination as well as our collected sympathies).
How do you follow up Oscar success?In Hollywood, it’s all about the sequel. So since this formula worked in “Monster’s Ball” for Berry and then “Monster,” Theron has done it again in “North Country.” This time, instead of playing a cold-blooded killer, she deglamorized herself to play Josey Aimes, a Minnesota woman who works in the predominately male world of a Minnesota coal mine. Theron’s character is not only sexually harassed, she’s brutalized, humiliated, and gets beaten by her husband. Plus, the whole town — including her father and teenage son — thinks she’s a whore (the family later learns that her out-of-wedlock son was the result of a rape by her high school teacher). In short: it’s the kind of role that will likely garner Theron another Oscar nomination. “North Country” was made for the folks who’ve turned Oprah into God and “Desperate Housewives” into a metaphor for America in the 21st Century. And it’s the kind of role that gets members of the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences all hot and bothered.
While “North Country” is nothing more than insipid entertainment that will have a long shelf-life as a movie of the week on Lifetime and Women’s Entertainment Network, it’s a painfully obvious follow-up to her career-turning role in “Monster,” and a colorless attempt at social commentary. (The film is based on the first successful class-action sexual harassment suit in the U.S.; unfortunately, such a landmark event deserved a far better film than this.) Which is why, Theron’s latest role as a leather-clad assassin in the action-oriented sci-fi flick “Aeon Flux” — remember the animated shorts on MTV? — leaves you wondering, what was she thinking? Is she selling out? Cashing in? Does she actually like thoughtless action movies? After all, she did make “The Italian Job” and re-made “Mighty Joe Young.” Although “Aeon Flux” opens on Dec. 2, by Thanksgiving no media screenings were scheduled (a studio publicist said it’s because the special effects were still be finalized). Not a good omen for movie-goers.
The irony is that Theron is once again following the lead of her best actress predecessor Halle Berry. If you recall, after her emotionally (and literally) naked role in “Monster’s Ball,” Berry decided to play the lead role in “Catwoman.” Now, truth be told, a movie with Halle Berry wearing a skin tight leather S&M-type outfit probably sounds like a money-making venture. Picture it: a catfight with Sharon Stone, a comic book character known by millions, heavy marketing, potential for a long-term franchise — think Angelina Jolie in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (another actress who opted for an action-adventure role after her Oscar win) — and you can see why some studio executive green-lighted “Catwoman.”
Battle of the Oscar winnersWhen asked about her post-Oscar film choices, Theron was quoted in The New Yorker as saying “Note to self. Do not become Halle Berry.” Ouch. Sounds like “Catwoman Vs. Aeon Flux: The Movie.” For the record, Theron denied making any such comments. “That’s not my style,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I don’t like that kind of cattiness. Women shouldn’t go against women.” She even told EW that she sent Berry flowers but Berry never responded to her apologetic overtures. For her part, Berry tried to stay above the fray, telling Access Hollywood that she never received any flowers, nor does she care if Theron said it. “I don’t really put that much weight on what other people think about me anyway,” said Berry.
Apparently, neither does Theron. She claims that she signed on to “North Country” and “Aeon Flux” prior to her big night at the Oscars but even if that’s true, the other projects she is currently linked to fall into the same action-adventure/drama dichotomy: “The Brazilian Job” (or “The Italian Job: The Sequel”) and “The Ice at the Bottom of the World,” a film based on the book by the same name, a collection of short stories by Mark Richard about the ordinary lives of southerners. The first sounds like trashy box office gold; the latter sounds like more Oscar gold.
Is this all that Hollywood has to offer an A-list actress? Besides “Catwoman,” Halle Berry played a Bond Girl — perhaps the sexiest Bond Girl ever — in “Die Another Day” and starred in the ill-received horror film “Gothika.” Since “Monster,” Theron has also starred in “Head in the Clouds,” a drama set in World War II-era Paris which came and went like the French Army’s resistance against the Nazi wermacht and played Britt Ekland in the well-received HBO film, “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” (which earned the actress an Emmy nomination). I know there’s a limited amount of quality movie roles for women in Hollywood, but shouldn’t they be held accountable for their bad choices?