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Charlize Theron used her time accepting the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Women in Entertainment event presented by Lifetime to recognize the women who have supported and inspired her, including the next generation of female leaders.
Seth Rogen introduced his Long Shot co-star with a joke-filled speech, riffing on the quiche being served at the event (“these women deserve a better breakfast, I’m just going to say it”) and calling out scheduled presenter Kim Kardashian for not attending: “I have seen every episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. I know she’s not doing something more important than this.”
Shifting to Theron, Rogen recalled feeling “incredibly intimidated to work with her, not just because of how talented she is.”
But, Rogen said of the action star, “I was literally physically intimidated to be around her, because she murders people in every movie she does.”
And he insisted that they were true friends because “our movie bombed and we stayed friends. We know for sure that we can’t help each other career-wise.”
“I’m so glad we get to keep hanging out because Charlize is fun. She is a fun person to hang out with, maybe too fun at times,” he added, suggesting he forgot some of the times they hung out because they were having so much fun.
And, Rogen praised Theron for being “incredibly charitable.”
“Her morality comes through with such ease and clarity,” he said.
Taking the stage after Rogen, Theron began by praising, and poking fun at, the award’s namesake, former Paramount Pictures CEO Lansing.
“You’re a powerhouse” Theron said of the first woman to be a studio chairman. “I mean, Forrest Gump, Braveheart, The Truman Show, your name has been behind so many of the all-time classics.”
But then she joked, “So I have to ask, Sherry, what did I do to piss you off because you put me in Aeon Flux?!”
Made for a budget of $62 million, the Paramount movie grossed only $53 million worldwide and has a dismal 9 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Of the project, Theron recalled in this week’s THR cover story that she “knew” the action movie “was going to be a fucking flop.”
“I knew it from the beginning,” she said. “I definitely knew we were in trouble. I wasn’t a producer on it, and I didn’t really have the experience to say what I believe Tom Cruise has maybe said for the past 20 years, which is, ‘Shut this shit down, get four more writers on it and let’s figure this out.’ Instead, I’m going, ‘Oh God, I’ve just got to get through this day, I have bronchitis, but let’s keep shooting.’ Now I imagine all these male actors going, “Shut it down for six months!” And it’s like, fuck, no one told me that was an option.”
After her Aeon Flux barb, Theron praised Lansing and other female leaders for “kick[ing] the door of opportunity down.”
And, she said, “this next wave of women are tearing down the whole fucking building.”
She highlighted how she has been seeing more female directors, producers, department heads and actresses opening their own production companies, name-checking fellow honoree Issa Rae and presenter Margot Robbie.
But beyond the proliferation of female leadership in Hollywood, Theron said she was truly inspired by her work with her eponymous Africa Outreach Project.
“If we’re talking leaders, the young people who are involved in the community organizations we support in South Africa are some of the most inspiring people I have ever encountered,” she said. “In the face of what we would consider adversity or concrete ceilings they see opportunity and room for change, growth and inclusion.”
Reflecting on the origins of CTAOP, Theron said, “I believe it to my core, it is our interconnetedness that makes us stronger but we can’t truly commit to solidarity if we don’t confront the brutal inequities that all of us perpetuate. … If we really want to see change in this world, we need to listen to and be led by those closest to the challenges.”
And she said she was encouraged by her honor to keep striving toward greatness.
“I take this leadership award less as a mark of accomplishment, but more as a challenge to keep doing the work,” she said.
She added, speaking to the other women in the room, “I want us to keep each other accountable, use each other as resources and push each other to keep using our voices and platforms for something greater than ourselves.”
She closed by paying tribute to the women who “surround and support” her, citing CTAOP executive director Ashlee George, who helped raise awareness and funds “for the safety of women and children who were facing domestic violence” during the COVID-19 pandemic; her Denver & Delilah producing partner Beth Kono; and her mom, who co-parents her kids and, Theron added, “is not afraid to tell me when she hates one of my movies. And that helps too! Sometimes we need to be told when we suck.”
“Leadership is not a one-person game, especially for women,” she said. “We need community, not just to build one another up, but to help pass the baton to the next generation of brave women who will undoubtedly be up here one day, telling us how they solved the climate crisis or how they became the first American president.”
THR‘s Women in Entertainment gala was sponsored by Best Buy, Cadillac, Spotify, eOne, FIJI, Gersh and SAG-AFTRA and in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, Chapman University, College Access Partnership and Loyola Marymount University.
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Jamie Lee Curtis