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Q&A: Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt

The stars of damaged-goods dramedy Young Adult dig into the art of not growing up.

By David Fear

"Hey, you're listening to Flappy and the Bean, we're here with Charrr-lize Theron! She's going to recite all of your favorite Aeon Flux lines this morning....So that movie Monster, how come there were no werewolves in it?" It takes roughly 20 seconds, three fake morning-show DJ jokes and one old-timey car horn impersonation for Patton Oswalt to reduce his statuesque Young Adult costar into a crumpled, hysterical heap in her chair. In Jason Reitman's new movie, Theron's character Mavis—a divorced, depressed tween-fiction writer who returns home to impulsively destroy an old flame's marriage—bonds with Oswalt's Matt, an equally damaged fortysomething male, over their mutual misanthropy. Sitting in this hotel room, however, it's the duo's ability to crack each other up via rat-a-tat riffs on rom-coms, childhood costumes and proposed titles for this article—Oswalt's "The Gazelle and the Gnome" wins by a long shot—that forms the backbone of their real-life affection friendship. (A few days after this interview, the stand-up comic presented a special award to the actress at the Gothams Awards and both, by all accounts, brought the house down.) Through sheer force of will, TONY somehow slipped in a few questions about the movie in between the patter.

[To Ms. Theron] You'd wanted to work with Jason Reitman on something for a while, right?
Charlize Theron: I've liked all of his movies, but there was something about the performances he got out of the cast in Up in the Air that really got to me. I expressed an interest in us doing something together, then he suckered me into participating in a table read for this script: "Come on by, no one will be performing." Then we sit down and Patton basically rips into me in character.
Patton Oswalt: I don't know if it was simply out of a sense of survival, or some instinct kicked in, but it was like: Bam! There was Mavis. You had her down cold from that first reading.
Theron: I went on the offensive.
Oswalt: You became offensive.
Theron: [In mock-announcer voice] No one knows where Charlize ends and Mavis begins...
Oswalt: Mavis is actually South African for Charlize, right? [Both laugh]

How would you characterize Mavis and Matt's relationship?
Theron: They're such an odd couple. I think the isolation that Mavis feels, being back in this small town with no friends, gives her license to actually hang out with this guy who was a high-school pariah back in the day. There doesn't seem to be a sense of "I'm gonna score!" from Matt's perspective, so with that expectation off the table, they feel like they can actually talk to each other honestly. I think Jason said it best: It's a skewed love story about people who find each other because of the things they mutually hate.
Oswalt: And because Mavis has always been pretty and popular, she's never had anyone who looks like him talk to her with such brutal honesty. Mavis actually needs someone who will realistically call her on her shit. They are the only sounding boards in each other's life. In a weird way, I think that Mavis is almost a heroic character to Matt.
Theron: Really?
Oswalt: Because she refuses to accept the fact that loss is part of being an adult. She has this idea that, Oh, don't worry about little things like my ex-boyfriend is now married with a kid; I can turn it around. Matt knows she's on a fool's errand, but there's a part of him that's thinking: Does that mean that I could pull off something equally stupid and futile? There's almost something admirable in her delusional refusal to acknowledge reality.
Theron: It's exactly how a 16-year-old would think: "Of course I can have everything! Of course I can be a princess and a doctor!" [Both laugh] She's good at being a young-adult novelist for a reason: She knows that mind-set all too well.

They're both fairly immature characters dealing with a lot of individual baggage.
Theron: She's literally pulling the fucking hair out of her own head! To me, it was the moments when Mavis is with her parents that were so revelatory. There's the sense that she probably grew up with nobody ever checking in with her emotionally. If you don't get that, how are you supposed to live a normal life?
Oswalt: There's a whole cultural thing going on as well, I'd argue, with all those reality TV shows Mavis watches and her whole I'm-starring-in-a-romantic-comedy mentality. I think this movie is the antidote to rom-coms; it's the notion of what would happen if people actually acted like those characters. You'd come off like a sociopath!
Theron: That's our next movie: Rom-com characters that show up in real life and horrify everybody by their appalling behavior.
Oswalt: Yes! "Wait, you mean I actually have to take care of this baby?"
Theron: "Wait, there isn't a wedding ring in my cake?!?" [Both laugh]
Oswalt: When I walk down the street, I'm usually in a pop-song montage. [Pause] Sorry, I confused myself with Meg Ryan.

Do you think the types of movies you guys are talking about are part of the reason that moviegoers have a hard time with unlikable characters who aren't totally redeemed by the end credits?
Theron: This is a point we imagine is going to come up a lot: Mavis ends up realizing that she needs to change...
Oswalt: ...and then just kind of goes on with her life like before.
Theron: But that's what I like about Young Adult. I like a little bit of real life in my movies, you know? Someone who is unwilling to commit to actually taking anything away from a bad experience is much more realistic. How many times have you watched friends make the same mistakes over and over again? "Oh, but next time it will be different!" Stop kidding yourself. I know people who've seen the film and suddenly realized, Oh, my god: I'm Mavis!
Oswalt: Audiences across America, prepare to get in touch with your inner Mavises. [Pause] Hopefully not literally.

Follow David Fear on Twitter: @davidlfear

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