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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

March 7, 2008

In the drama Sleepwalking, Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb play Joleen and Tara, a mother/daughter duo constantly on the move thanks to Joleen's reckless ways. The movie was a labor of love for the both of them--AnnaSophia talked about her excitement over the film when we spoke to her last year for The Reaping, while Charlize pulled double duty on the project as both actor and producer.

Sleepwalking also stars Nick Stahl as Joleen's brother James, a passive young man who welcomes his sister and niece into his modest apartment, and Dennis Hopper as Mr. Reedy, Joleen's abusive father.

In this interview, Charlize and AnnaSophia talk about working on the film and collaborating on the set.

The Interview

MEDIA: Charlize, some producers just slap their name on a film, but you were very hands-on with this project. Was it always your intention to be that involved?

CHARLIZE: You know, I think it's something that happened around ten years ago, the whole idea of people throwing their names onscreen on credits for vanity. But there's a few people out there, like Drew Barrymore, that I know goes out there and does it. And at the end of the day, you really can't sit around and wonder if people are going to know whether you did the job or not. There's no way that I could take a credit if I didn't feel like I did the job. And I really like the job--it's hard to call it a job, you know? I think at the end of the day, it's just the idea of taking a story and somehow servicing it on all levels to try and tell it the best way you possibly can.

What was it about this script that made you want to be involved as both an actor and a producer?

CHARLIZE: You know, it just stayed with me. It's a difficult thing to articulate. When I read material, I either tap into something or I don't. Usually, you can tell the next morning when you wake up, and if you're still thinking about it, that's usually a good sign--or if something scares you or something kind of stays with you. But I felt that it was beautifully written and I felt that it wasn't a watered-down version of a dysfunctional family. I thought it was pretty real as far as being authentic towards families out there who are in these situations. And it carried a philosophy that I just really believe in, and that is that at the end of the day, you have to be responsible for your own life. And I liked that it had that message towards the end. You know, I didn't want these people to just kind of wallow in self-pity and then kind of hope everybody had sympathy for them. I wanted them to kind of stand up and wake up at some point and realize that they're the driver of the bus. But as an actor, I liked how flawed Joleen was. I thought there was something really challenging in taking a character that, within the first ten minutes of the film, does something really hard to forgive and to try and play that as authentic and real and truthful as possible, being very much aware of the circumstances that this woman is in, and hopefully that the story will somehow service why she is the way she is in the third act.

AnnaSophia, given your estranged relationship with Charlize in the film, how were things between the two of you offscreen?

ANNASOPHIA: There was a ton of fun. It was not at all like Joleen and Tara's relationship. Charlize and I would always talk about the scenes--about anything, really--bowl, watch movies. I mean, it kind of felt like...

CHARLIZE: [jokes, whispers to AnnaSophia] Don't tell them that. Say we worked very hard.

ANNASOPHIA: [laughs] It kind of felt like a family on set, because we all lived in the same building and were with each other pretty much all the time except when we were sleeping.

CHARLIZE: I wanted her to understand that if she felt comfortable, that she could go to as dark a place as she needed to go to play this part. So much of the story is reliant on her character, and I think Anna did a beautiful job carrying the emotional weight of the story. And she could only do that if she felt like she was in a safe environment, where she felt safe enough to go to some really not pretty places. It wasn't even intentional. I think it's like the human condition, you know? When we go to those places, we tend to go the extreme opposite. So many times we were dancing in the back of the shed--you know, making raps and things like that.

We understand the theme of a Ferris wheel was a key part of the original script, and that "Ferris Wheel" was the film's working title. How did that metaphor play out in the original story, and why was it ultimately cut out?

CHARLIZE: You know, it's really tricky when you tell this kind of story and you put all of these characters in such a high-stakes situation like we do in the third act, and then you kind of go, "Now what do you do with them?" If you stayed the route of reality, then we'd see James at a trial and he'd be arrested. And I think that would have somehow hollowed out what we were really trying to say, which is that there's always hope. I'm a believer in that--no matter how dire [things] are, there's always hope. So we ran into this problem with the Ferris wheel idea where it was a fantasy element, but there wasn't enough reality lingering underneath it, you know? There was an original end where they basically are just running towards this Ferris wheel which is kind of referenced throughout the movie. And that's a metaphor--the circle, the continuation of life, and all this stuff--and at the same time, it had this kind of innocent feeling to it because it's a Ferris wheel, and because of Anna's character. And it had beautiful elements to it, but at the end of the day, there wasn't enough reality based underneath it. So we needed to see James take control of his life as well, not just Anna. We needed to see James kind of wake up. We needed to see all these characters kind of come to a place, and we just couldn't do that with the Ferris wheel idea. And I think it took us making the entire film to kind of realize what the deserving ending was for these characters.

Did you feel that this movie is more James' story than Tara's or Joleen's?

CHARLIZE: I find it really interesting that women think it's [Tara's] story and men think it's James' story. A lot of men come in and say it's great to see Nick Stahl play this character, and then women come in and they're just like, "It's all about her, it's all about her." So I find that, psychologically, quite interesting to watch. [jokes] I think it's Mr. Reedy's story, personally.

AnnaSophia, did you have second thoughts about doing this role at your age, given the heavy material?

ANNASOPHIA: I didn't think about that. When I first read it, I didn't understand the story because I couldn't relate to it. But meeting with Charlize and [director William Maher], they explained how it's about second chances and taking control of your life. I mean, it's a real story about wounded people, and this happens in our world. And I think we told it really well. And on set, I never had any, like, mental breakdowns or anything like that. [laughs] Actually, the darker it went, the more I loved it because I knew that Charlize would be there to help me come back out of it. And Dennis and Nick, and everybody there.

Did you enjoy the quasi-fantasy sequence where Tara is skating around a pool and diving in, smoking a cigarette, and toying with a couple of boys?

ANNASOPHIA: Yeah, it was a fun scene. I think she's just playing with the idea of maturing. I mean, it was going to eventually happen, and she was pretending to be her mom, pretending to be older, skating. But instead of falling into the pool, she dives. It was a choice, and she's in control. She's on the very edge, but she's there and dives in. So it's kind of a metaphor that she's going to change--she's not going to be like her mom.

Was that another cold day of shooting in Regina, Saskatchewan?

CHARLIZE: No, we were in an indoor pool. You know, I love that scene. I always thought of it as kind of like the postcard of the movie--it's the postcard that she sends home...We knew that the only reason it would work was if Anna completely committed to it. We couldn't have a little girl "pretend." So when she says pretend, it is the character pretending, but it needed to be Anna committed to that pretending, as Tara. Can you imagine if you had a 12-year-old girl kind of like fumbling with the cigarette and kind of like looking at the boys? And Anna and I went out, I think, a couple of nights before, and we talked about that scene right before we shot it.

ANNASOPHIA: And you talked to my parents, too.

CHARLIZE: And I talked to your parents! And we spent some time, and I kept saying to her that that would be the only way that it could be believable--that she had to commit. And that's sometimes almost more scary than doing an emotional crying scene or something. Because that takes a lot of nerve, you know, to throw her in that kind of... [to AnnaSophia] Well, you're a tough little one. For me it is. But from the moment she sat down, it was all in the attitude. She lay down, she crossed her feet. The way she would smoke that cigarette...

The way she uses the sunglasses...

CHARLIZE: Yeah, that came out of nowhere. That was in the first take. We printed the first take. She looked over and she dropped the sunglasses, and we all just freaked out behind the monitor. We were like, "This is brilliant!" It was so much fun. And these little boys...It almost became the same energy, because they were infatuated with Anna. Infatuated! I had to like hold them back. They were falling in love, left, right, and center.

AnnaSophia, were you relieved to do that scene on your first try, or were you looking forward to experimenting with different takes?

CHARLIZE: No, she did more, but she nailed it in the first take.

ANNASOPHIA: It was just a fun scene. I mean, I had practiced before we started shooting, before we got to Regina, just skating around. And it was fun. I was looking forward to it. Instead of walking, it's just gliding along. And the smoking...I'm never going to do it when I get older, so I got it over with. It wasn't real. [Did the scene.] Now I'm good.

CHARLIZE: There was another great little brilliant moment when she was on the diving board and she was holding the cigarette, and you can see there's this little moment where she doesn't know what to do with the cigarette, and she takes one last puff and she just drops it in the pool. You know, those are the kinds of [things] that you can't really direct somebody to do. And Anna just has this kind of innate [ability]. Once it's under her skin, it's there. It's really brilliant.

The cinematography plays a critical role in telling this story. How involved were you with your director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchia?

CHARLIZE: Juan Ruiz Anchia is brilliant. He did a ton of [director] Jamie Foley's movies, and I know Jamie Foley and talked to him about it, and he said, "Look, this guy is amazing. I would do anything with him." And we met with him. And you know, for me, as a producer, the most important thing is to not be held up by a cinematographer. I understand that it's an incredibly difficult job, but when you have 29 days to shoot a film and you have incredibly harsh weather do deal with, you just can't sit around and wait, especially when you are dealing with a performance piece where you need to have the actors have time to work on the scene. And a lot of times, you run into issues. And I've been there. Producing Monster, we, unfortunately, had to let go of a DP in the first ten days because you just need to leave that room for the actors to work in. And Juan was great. I mean, Juan literally stepped in and was such a trooper--never got in the way of the actors, really understands the process, has a true love for actors. And he's really good at using the elements--really, really smart at using the elements. When the first dailies came in, we were just blown away. And I love that he's not afraid of color, which, a lot of times, when you make these movies, people tend to grim them out so much. And I loved that he really celebrated color. The landscape out there is unbelievably beautiful, so it kind of lent itself. We would show up on locations and we were just like, "Wow!" That pop of green on the apartment building in James' apartment, that was there. We didn't touch that. It's a great location. I would go back there. Just not in the winter. [laughs] But I would go back there to shoot, because it was beautiful.

AnnaSophia, did you feel you had to play younger in order to portray Tara?

ANNASOPHIA: Well, I was at the age. I turned 13 on the shoot. So I don't feel like age is a big thing.

CHARLIZE: [jokes, to AnnaSophia] No, it's not, sweetheart. Trust me. Take my word for it! [laughs]

Charlize, was it refreshing to work with young "up and coming" talent?

CHARLIZE: It's [just] refreshing to work with talent, you know? It's not about age, like Anna just said. [to AnnaSophia] Gimme a low-five.

ANNASOPHIA: [low-fives Charlize]

CHARLIZE: You know, Anna was, like I said, incredibly inspiring to be around as an actress. I don't look at her and see a kid. I look at her and I see a tremendously talented actress. And when you see somebody make those kinds of choices at this age, you know that the reserve is just packed--there's going to be so much more. And I really think that she wants to have that. She wants to have longevity, and I think she wants the challenge. You know, I didn't act when I was her age, but I imagine that it's really difficult to come across this kind of material when you're this age. It's not the norm to get this kind of material. So I think that this was a really good experience for her, now that I know her, and knowing what kind of actress she wants to become. And Nick, I'm a huge fan of. I've always wanted to work with Nick. I think he's one of those really incredibly talented actors that we have not tapped completely into, and I just think he's brilliant.

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Movie Coverage: Sleepwalking
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