I don’t think you can create anything interesting from a comfort zone. You have to work from a place of fear and failure.
~Charlize Theron, actor~
Bob and I went to see the movie, Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron.
The movie is based on a graphic novel, The Coldest City, written by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, and is directed by David Leitch. In it, Theron plays a spy at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Her mission for MI6 is to find a list of every active US an British agent in the Soviet Union before the wrong people get a hold of it.
I wanted to see the film because of Theron. She didn’t disappoint.
When the movie begins, Theron as Lorraine, sits up from submersion in her ice-filled bath water. As the camera pans around to her back we see why she’s in ice. As with her face, purple bruises and numerous cuts cover her back. Muscles ripple beneath them as she stretches out her arms to grip the sides of the tub.
Obviously, this is not your typical heroine who acts tough but doesn’t appear to have the brawn to back it up. Through the course of the movie, she proves that not only does she have the the brains and the skills to do her job, she also has the muscles.
Before seeing the film, I watched a brief interview with Theron. In preparation for the film, she worked with eight trainers every single day to the point of nausea, so she could do her own stunts. She also cracked several teeth. Nope, no delicate flower here.
Theron started her career as a ballet dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. Anyone who dances ballet can tell you the level of inner and muscular strength that is required to be a success in that field. Still, even that wasn’t enough for the film.
Theron, who just turned 42, didn’t just go through the motions in her role. She didn’t take it easy on herself. She brought all her strengths, everything she had to her work–while still looking like a knockout, atomic blonde.
And in doing so, inadvertently gave lessons on creativity:
1. Be willing to train for the work. Even after all her years as dancer, she willing trained hours and days to develop the muscles to do her own stunts, to convey the story of her character. For me, even after years of attending writers’ conferences, I am still willing to be trained in my craft, to spend time and energy learning new ways to best convey the story I want to tell. What about you?
2. Do the hard work to make it look easy. Imagine the hours of painful, sweaty, exhausting hard work ahead of Theron before filming began. Day after day of giving and taking punches and kicks during training so that her fights, raw and violent, appeared believable. Yes, writing is not physically challenging but it isn’t easy. Others may think so, but you and I know differently. However, we don’t want that effort to show in our storytelling, so to make it look effortless, hours, days, and months of not just writing, but research, editing, and revising are absolutely necessary. Unless you are going to hire your own stunt person.
3. Embrace the fear as a path to “interesting” storytelling. Theron obviously understands the need to do this. Imagine being bruised and battered from the previous day’s filming and having to hype herself up to do it all over again, to get past the fear of the discomfort and even pain, to stop thinking about the possibility of failing to do her job. But she stepped up to her mark for filming just as you and I have to step up to the blank page. Coming from a place of fear and failure isn’t easy. But it is necessary for the stories to be told, written, filmed from a place of strength and truth.
For me, watching Theron do her thing, move out of her comfort zone both as actor and character to create something “interesting” was inspiring. The Theron’s Atomic Blonde lessons for writing are a challenge.
Can you–or I–be any less brave?