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Turning into Monster was serious filmmaking business for Oscar winning Charlize Theron, who totally disappears under the movie tricks of extra weight, the make up, the teeth and slips into the very essence of Aileen Wournos, prostitute and serial killer, as Jenny Cooney Carrillo finds out on meeting Theron.

Hard to believe, but beauty can be a burden in Hollywood. Thatís if you are South African actress Charlize Theron and you want to play juicy, character roles but producers keep seeing you as the bankable leading lady known for films such as Cider House Rules, Sweet November and The Italian Job. So the 28-year-old star took the drastic step of producing a movie that would change her image Ė and career Ė forever.†

In Monster she plays Aileen Wuornos, the highway prostitute who became Americaís first female serial killer, was convicted of murdering six of her johns and was executed in Florida two years ago. The movie, written and directed by Patty Jenkins, won her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama and also stars Christina Ricci as Selby, her lover and ultimately the woman who would turn her in.†

How did you turn yourself in to Aileen Wuornos?
Making this movie, everything happened so organically. Patty and I never sat down and talked about every single one of those nuances but every once in a while she would come up to me and say, Ďwhen you do this one thing with your head, itís really good, itís very Aileení and that was as much as we actually talked about things like that. I was lucky enough to have a lot of footage on her and I just watched it constantly. I watched her behavior and I would mimic her, spend a lot of time in front of the mirror just kind of trying to pick up maybe five things that she kept doing very consistently and try to get comfortable with them. She moves very different from me and so once I realised the differences, it was a little bit easier. For example, I never knew she was only 5í3Ē because when you watch her, she looks much bigger but she had this blowfish experience, where she kind of blew herself bigger and I think it came from being homeless for all those years and not wanting to look like someone who could get attacked on the streets. And she had a waddle. I have swayback legs so that was easy! I just put all my weight on my knees pushing them back and once my body set into the certain weight, it was easier to push my knees back and do that waddle. She also had two very interesting things going on in her face. Her eyes, when she got really intense, would get really big. It almost looked like her eyes would come out of her head, so that took some time to get down. And then she carried all her tension in her mouth, whereas I carry all my tension in my forehead. These were all boring things but interesting when you break it down like that and start to transfer your tension to another place.

Why did you decide to produce and act in this film?
Patty Jenkins wrote a brilliant script and the first draft is pretty much what we shot. I was invited to get involved and I think I had two reasons, in retrospect. One was that I had a production company for four years. I had done development but never produced a film fully, so Iíve always been interested in that and saw an opportunity with a great movie I was being invited to produce. And then the other part was just I knew that when I said yes to this, that a lot would have to go into it and that was why it took me a little bit longer than other projects to actually say yes, because I knew there would not be any half-assing it. I didnít want to see this movie just disappear at the end of the day and so me being a producer on this was really just to make sure that if we were going to put all this work into it, it wasnít going to fall through the cracks and people would see it.

What else did you do to get into Aileenís skin?
Patty had made contact with Aileenís friend from Michigan that she went to school with, Dawn Watkins, and when Aileen was arrested she made contact with Dawn and they started writing to each other for the twelve years she was on Death Row. So Dawn didnít want to part with the letters but she allowed us to fly to Michigan and visit her and read them all over two days in her living room. If you read them, you truly understand who she is and have a better idea of what happened to her. I went there thinking very naively that all the questions I had about her would be answered and that wasnít necessarily the case. Something completely opposite happened and that was that she as a person became a full body to me. After reading those letters where she talked about everything from memories of childhood to the murders, she became a human being and there was a greater truth to the story. She was a conflicted woman and a very emotional writer and sometimes she was sad and sometimes she was angry. She led an extremely complicated life and after reading all the letters, Patty and I drove back to the hotel crying and thinking and talking, because it was inspiring for our film.

How did people in your life react to the dramatic change in your appearance?
When I started work on it, Iíd just finished The Italian Job and then went off and spent a lot of time with Patty, reading the letters. Then I started gaining the weight and started to get under her skin. I lived a very isolated life. I didnít really see a lot of my friends. My boyfriend (Irish actor Stuart Townsend) was really the only one who was there watching the whole thing happen. I lived in sweatpants for about five months of my life, which got a little boring after a while because that was all I could fit into and prior to that, my boyfriendís pants! But then I outgrew those as well! Then when we filmed, my day was on the set for sixteen hours a day, sleeping and going back to work again. So I hope not that many people paid attention to the fact that I was wearing the same pair of pants for about five months!

How did you feel when it was over?
I felt really sad, like bearing a child in a way, but it didnít really do that much to me physically and I lost the weight pretty easily. My boyfriend actually loved me getting bigger and now says he misses my thighs and everything!

How much weight did you gain?
Aileen wrote in her letters how much she hated her body and even though she was a prostitute, she wrote that she never took her shirt off and I thought that was an interesting point. Sheís never been to a gym or gone on a hike. I think I gained about 30 pounds, just to develop a layer, and then I had to go straight into another movie five days later so I spent a lot of hours on the treadmill to lose the weight, which was not as enjoyable as gaining it!

How long did it take to get the make-up on every day?
We knew Aileen could not be a caricature and the makeup artist was incredible. She did a great job on the subtle things like the freckles and designing the teeth and contouring my face in a way where all these prominent features of Aileenís came out. If we had a bigger budget we would have gone straight to using prosthetics, but because we couldnít afford them, we had to find other ways to achieve the look. The most expensive thing we did was the teeth, which cost about US$2000 a set and we could only afford one set. By the end of the movie we could do the makeup within 45 minutes in the morning.†

How did you feel seeing yourself on screen in Monster?
The first time I saw it was in Montreal and it was great to see that we actually had a movie, because we shot it in 28 days and 90% of the movie was exterior so we were dealing with a lot. I donít actually enjoy looking at myself but this time it was easier because I just look so different! It was such an out of body experience for me that I didnít feel I was watching myself and I also had to learn how to separate myself from Charlize the producer, because there were things that I had to do for this movie and I had to get past the way I looked and focus on watching the movie as a whole.†

Did you grow to like Aileen?
I do think she killed some innocent men and I didnít want this movie to be overly sympathetic, and justify what she did. She did some terrible things in her life which makes for a great dramatic story that is shown in the movie really well. She became a prostitute out of desperation and had horrible things happen to her during her lifetime and was spiraling down to a point of no return. That to me is so important in this movie, covering all of that so when you watch this you have empathy for her but horror as well.

How was working with Christina Ricci?

She was fantastic. I think Aileen was living this really sad life, prostituting herself and under a lot of stress but a great escape came from Selby (Ricci), because she truly loved this woman and I think it was the only thing that really kept her alive for as long as she lived or made her want to keep going and make her life work. She had something to live for and Christina and I had a very similar relationship because I would spend three days on a location in a forest doing terrible things killing some john and then come back and do a scene with Christina and it was such a relief to be around her. She was really the only actor I got to know because I didnít want to know the actors who played the johns that I killed. They were all strangers to me and then it was nice to go back to Christina.†

Published March 25, 2004

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Charlize Theron

... as Aileen Wuornos in Monster


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