Instep Today

Why Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman & Margot Robbie fought for Bombshell as the women of Fox News battle NDAs

Instep Today
By Joe Utichi
Tue, 11, 19

It took two and-a-half hours, every day of Bombshell’s shoot, for Charlize Theron to transform into Megyn Kelly; but deciding to take on the role in the first place took much longer. “I loved this script so much, and I didn’t want to f*** the movie up,” she says. The project came to her Denver and Delilah company for her to produce, and she was concerned she might exert her influence unduly and claim the role over an actor that deserved it more. “I was trying to talk myself out of it. I tend to second-guess myself. I didn’t want to stand in the way of this story.”

There was an ideological distance, too, giving her pause. Kelly’s views are far removed from Theron’s own. Even after Kelly’s tenure at the conservative Fox News, during the period she was on NBC, she caused controversy by defending blackface, and succeeded in offending gay people, fat people and Jane Fonda – the latter with questions about plastic surgery, sparking a running feud. She also committed a segment of her news magazine show Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly to Alex Jones, the supplement salesman and hawker of poisonous Sandy Hook conspiracy theories.

For Theron, though, the story Bombshell was telling ultimately won out. “I had to realize that, even through all this stuff, this was a person that did something really incredible, and I couldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It took a while, and it’s a really scary thing as an actor, because I know that my capability lives and breathes in removing myself from these preconceived notions. She was part of a moment in history that will always be remembered. It doesn’t negate other things for me, but I had to remove that from the conversation of what this was.”

By comparison, her time spent in the makeup chair was a breeze, especially considering the uncannily accurate end result. It should have taken four hours plus to pull off, but the production couldn’t spare that kind of time, especially since the makeup team was also engaged in transforming Nicole Kidman into Gretchen Carlson, John Lithgow into Roger Ailes, and a sweeping ensemble into frighteningly realistic versions of the Fox News players circa 2016.

Kelly’s eyes were the hardest part. They were also the key. As much as actors recoil at even the suggestion of concealing their eyes with contact lenses – and there would be contact lenses – there was no way for Theron to become Kelly without adjusting the shape of her eyelids. “Whenever we applied everything but the eyelids,” says Theron, “it never, ever felt right. I looked like a young Glenn Close. It was bizarre.”

In the end, Kazu Hiro, the Oscar-winning makeup designer behind Gary Oldman’s transformation into Winston Churchill, crafted eight facial prosthetics that would completely transform Theron’s appearance. There was very little left to do after the fact. Some color correction on skin tone. A touch of digital softening around the edges of the prosthetics. “You can’t do that if you need to do it a lot,” Theron notes. “It’s impossible, because the face becomes so soft that you can tell immediately. The quality of Kazu’s work was just so phenomenal.”

When Charlize Theron looked in the mirror after Hiro had done his job, the face she saw staring back at her was Megyn Kelly’s. In the Jay Roach film, based on a script by Charles Randolph, Kidman plays Gretchen Carlson, the Fox News anchor who ignited the touch-paper on a litany of sexual harassment allegations that would lead to the explosive ousting of Ailes from the Fox newsroom.

Carlson was not the first to allege wrongdoing by Ailes – earlier, isolated stories had been swept away – but her profile helped ensure that her breaking of ranks became the catalyst for a movement that would, in less than a month, send two men marching from the building.

As more than a dozen women joined the public chorus against Ailes, star anchor Bill O’Reilly defended his boss for being a “target” as a “famous, powerful or wealthy person”. Still more women accused O’Reilly of a range of inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment. O’Reilly denies the allegations against him, though investigations by The New York Times uncovered a total of six settlements with his accusers.

Kidman’s turn as Carlson is only one part of an ensemble film that is led by Theron’s dramatic transformation into Kelly, whose career at Fox News was ascending when Carlson’s allegations broke. Kelly made her own allegation against Ailes less than two weeks later; Ailes limped on for two more days before resigning.

When he finally did, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch issued a statement that made no mention of the allegations against him, and instead praised Ailes for his “remarkable contribution to our company and our country”. Ailes went on to advise Donald Trump’s presidential campaign – as well as Murdoch and 21st Century Fox – before his death in May 2017. According to end cards on Bombshell, the remuneration paid to the women at the center of these accusations against Ailes and O’Reilly stands at $50m. The men’s own settlement packages with Fox totaled $65m.

Bombshell also follows Margot Robbie, who plays Kayla, a fictional new hire at Fox News that catches Ailes’ eye. Her story is based on countless hours of research by Randolph and reflects an amalgam of several Ailes accusers. The movie, Robbie says, is “a political thriller, but it’s not so much about politics. It’s ultimately about people, coming together to take down a very powerful person who is abusing that power. That’s a very satisfying thing to watch.”

Lithgow delivers a terrifying turn as Ailes, and the film’s cast is rounded out by Jennifer Morrison, Alice Eve, Kate McKinnon, Allison Janney, Connie Britton and many more recognizable names. “We didn’t have to convince a lot of people,” notes Theron. “The material and the subject really spoke to them. It was really easy; people wanted to do it. I’ve never had that kind of good will. You felt like, S***, let’s figure this out.”

“When Charlize says, ‘Babe, you’ve got to be in this; show up or I’ll kill you,’ you go, ‘OK, I’m there’,” Kidman laughs.

“So much of what we’re doing now is about joining forces and working together,” Kidman says. “If we do that as women, we’re so much stronger. Standing there, talking to all these crazy-talented actresses, it was like, Let’s mark the moment in history, because that’s what this is.”

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