'Bombshell': Charlize Theron, John Lithgow on Portraying Real-Life Fox News Figures With "Empathy"

Charlize Theron and John Lithgow attend the "Bombshell" New York Screening - Getty - H 2019
Noam Galai/Getty Images

New York City's Crosby Street Hotel hosted a special screening on Sunday night.

It's hard to imagine Bombshell, a film about the former Fox News sexual harassment scandal that brought down the late Roger Ailes, getting a better endorsement for its accuracy than from someone who worked at the network for as long as Alisyn Camerota did.

“I’ll just say that for any of you who’ve ever wondered what it was really like to work in Roger Ailes’ house of mirrors — it was, you know, his vision and his kingdom — this movie is as close to a hidden camera as you will ever get to what the atmosphere and vibe and mood and conversations were really like," Camerota said before a Q&A with Bombshell's director Jay Roach, writer Charles Randolph, and stars Charlize Theron and John Lithgow.

Theron portrays Megyn Kelly, who, along with Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and a slew of other women, publicly accused Ailes of sexual harassment in 2016. Though initially "shit-scared" of taking on the role — she attributed her hesitation to Kelly being "incredibly well known" and "conflicting" — Theron explained that she came around after receiving encouragement from Roach, who had read the script but wasn't yet attached to the project. 

"I was looking for a filmmaker to push me to that last part, and he did it so eloquently that I asked him to join us in making this," Theron said.

Any of Theron's remaining concerns about playing someone as polarizing as Kelly were alleviated when she realized Bombshell focused on a single year of Kelly's experience, not her whole life. That period of time, Theron said, felt "like a story worth telling."

“We tend to kind of live in that world and we think we know people and we have our preconceived ideas of them," she added. "And as an actor, you have to have that ability to put all of that aside and do research and to actually find out about somebody.”

According to Theron, Bombshell has been made available to a number of the women that shared their stories, and she hopes Kelly herself will see it. "I have complete empathy that this must be a hard process for all of them, but maybe more so for Gretchen and for Megyn because they’re kind of at the center of it," Theron told The Hollywood Reporter. "But I feel that we never went into this to do anything other than do them justice."

Lithgow explained that while researching the role of Ailes, he discovered a former acquaintance who had actually worked with him throughout the 1970s.

"It was very interesting, because as an old friend of Roger’s, he was very upset at what had happened to him and what he had become," Lithgow said. "He was disgusted by all that he heard, but he was also very upset that nobody was telling the story of what great company this man was."

Ailes apparently had a "robust sense of humor with a great edge," and it was suggestions like these that Lithgow tried to incorporate throughout Bombshell.

As for the actual script, the filmmakers have been purposely cryptic about their sources. However, many of the NDA-violating revelations resulted in the creation of the fictional character Kayla — a young, ambitious producer set on becoming an anchor — played by Margot Robbie.

The majority of the additional characters are all based on real people, such as top Fox News personalities Jeanine Pirro and Sean Hannity, members of the Murdoch family, and Rudy Giuliani. And while there's no doubt many of these key players lean toward a particular political party, Roach doesn't want Bombshell to appeal to a singular audience, since "sexual harassment is not a partisan issue."

For Theron, the film also highlights the toxicity of general workplace sexism. 

"I think we so underestimate the devastation of literally just being a woman and sitting in a room with men and feeling like it is your job to make yourself a little smaller to make them feel good about themselves. And I think that there’s a level of forgiveness, or that we just don’t even address that. We don’t even think that it’s damaging," she said. "That is [what is] so important about this film, because so many women stepped forward and said it was that everyday grind of feeling like if you were a little too tall, if you lived a little too close to your potential, that that was threatening, and that somebody would bring you down."

But thanks to the work of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, Theron said, she has hope for the future: "I feel for the first time in my 25-year career doing this — and every year of those 25 years I was always asked about the casting couch, and everybody wants to hear about the salacious stories, but nobody ever really cared about what we do about that — I feel like something is happening that’s going to actually change things."