Theron depicts real-life motherhood in ‘Tully’

“Every time Jason calls I know it’s going to be a challenge,” says Charlize Theron, exuding the same sheer star presence in person that she has onscreen.

Theron, Oscar-winner for “Monster” and star of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and director Jason Reitman recently visited the City to screen “Tully,” (which opens in theaters Friday) at a San Francisco International Film Festival tribute to the actress.

“Tully,” a nuanced and funny yet painfully truthful film, tells the story of a woman, Marlo (Theron), who has a crisis of self-discovery around the birth of her third child.

“Saying, ‘There’s this mom and she’s having her third kid and she’s got to figure out who she is’ — It sounds so simple, but I knew it wouldn’t be simple,” says Theron.

“The challenge was staying true consistently through the smaller beats. It’s kind of like you’re working in the dark when you’re searching for something. You kind of always have to stay in that mindset,” she says.

In the same way that most dedicated actors do, Theron took several months to put on weight — including a “belly roll” — for her role, and she asserts, “It’s all real.”

“As I was making the film, my littlest one was saying to me, ‘There’s a baby in there!’” she laughs.

Theron, whose real-life children are adopted, never personally went through a pregnancy, but she has close friends who shared their experiences of giving birth.

Calling postpartum depression “really devastating,” she adds, “It’s so stigmatized. There’s only one thing you’re supposed to be when you become a parent, and that’s happy and joyful, and if it’s anything other than that, it becomes about you and you’re being a bad parent.”

“Tully” comes from a screenplay by Diablo Cody, who wrote Reitman’s hit “Juno” as well as “Young Adult,” which starred Theron.

Cody did not necessarily think of Theron for the part: “I think she just wrote it for herself. I think this became very therapeutic for her,” says Theron.

“She writes in a very pure way,” says Reitman. “There are no outlines or index cards. She has the idea somewhere in her head and it needs to come out and she just starts to write. We shoot her first drafts. What strikes me is the amount of hidden detail. There’s these intricacies that I don’t even notice until I get to the editing room.”

Reitman cites the small example of a repeated line — “he hates me” — spoken early by Marlo’s husband Drew (Ron Livingston) about her brother Craig (Mark Duplass), and again later, by Craig about Drew.

“Oh! I get it!” he laughs at himself. “It broadcasts what a bad reader I am, but I trust her writing and I trust Charlize.”

While filmmakers often worry about how to make a scene funnier or more dramatic, it’s not something to do with a Cody script.

Reitman says, “Our conversations are all about, how do we make sure this is real? That’s the most exciting conversation you can have with an actor.”

Beaming at Theron, he recalls a line delivery early in the movie, when a character comments on her impending third child. Marlo’s dry, icy response? “Such a blessing.”

He laughs in appreciation. “She also smiles! She’s still smiling, but the whole audience knows exactly what she means. I would literally not know how to direct that. But Charlize knew exactly what it was, and it’s perfectly done.”

Starring: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston
Written by: Diablo Cody
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Rated R
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

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