Charlize Angel

Valley girl Charlize Theron has shared the screen with Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate, and now she shares it with a big ape in Mighty Joe Young.

By Judy Sloane
Selected from the April 1999
Film Review
The mighty fine Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron grew up surrounded by animals on a farm in South Africa. However, when director Ron Underwood was casting the role of Jill, the companion and protector of a 15-foot gorilla in Mighty Joe Young, he refused to audition the up-and-coming young actress. But her persistence finally won her the role.

“He didn’t know about my history,” Theron insists. “He knew me as the girl in Two Days in the Valley. But I was an only child and my parents ran a road construction company, so the only means of entertainment was having relationships with animals, the way Jill had with Joe. I immediately understood the relationship between those two characters, just from my own personal experiences. I have always (previously) played characters that I don’t have an extensive knowledge as to their lives and their personalities. I think that is what attracted me to them. This was the first time that I wanted to play somebody because it was so reminiscent of my own life.”

Based on the 1949 classic, the movie tells the story of Mighty Joe Young and his guardian, Jill, who literally grow up together following the untimely deaths of their mothers at the hands of the same poacher. Their idyllic life in the jungles of Africa is disrupted by a group of hunters. Coming to the rescue is zoologist Gregg O’Hara who offers Joe shelter in a conservatory in California. But the animal’s safety is in jeopardy as a ruthless hunter plots to kidnap him.

Theron was acutely aware that her rapport with ‘Joe’ would be the most important aspect of the movie. “I knew that if the relationship between me and Joe wasn’t something that you could believe in then the film was nothing, so I paid a lot of attention to it.

Mighty Joe Young is an amazing animatronic creation of special effects wizard, Rick Baker. The character also appears in the film through computer graphics. Although Theron was faced with special effects in The Devil’s Advocate, she wasn’t as personally involved with them as she is in this movie. “It was a challenge, at times, acting opposite an ‘x’ on the wall,” she recalls, “but you have to find something within yourself in order to do the scene, because a big part of acting is connecting with that other character and reacting to them. When the other character isn’t physically in front of you, it becomes difficult.”

She even has a sense of humour about her co-star. “He did get a lot of attention,” she laughs. “Whenever I did a scene with Joe, and Ron Underwood would yell, ‘Cut!’ everyone would fawn over him – ‘Joe was great in that scene – did you see that bit he did with his eyes?’ And I’d be standing by saying, ‘Hey guys, I was in that scene too!’”

Picture copyright: Buena Vista
Read the full interview, and our review of Mighty Joe Young in this Film Review
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