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'Tully Gets It': Charlize Theron Wants An Honest Conversation About Motherhood

Tully (Mackenzie Davis), left, is a night nanny who comes to the aid of new mom Marlo (Charlize Theron) in <em>Tully. </em>The film was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman.
Kimberly French
Focus Features
Tully (Mackenzie Davis), left, is a night nanny who comes to the aid of new mom Marlo (Charlize Theron) in Tully. The film was written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman.

Charlize Theron is 42 and says she has more to bring to the table now than she ever did in her 20s. In Hollywood and in society overall, she says, "It's so sad that we don't value women in their later years and celebrate their stories."

Her new film, Tully, focuses on one woman's midlife journey. She plays Marlo, a mother pregnant with her third child. "She really has to say goodbye to her past her in order to make room for this next chapter of her life," Theron explains.

To help Marlo get through the grueling newborn stage, her wealthy older brother hires Tully (Mackenzie Davis), a nanny who helps new moms with their babies overnight.

"This really beautiful, unique, relationship happens between her and this night nanny," Theron says. "And I guess it speaks metaphorically to that wish that I think we all had at some point — whether our kids were just born or going through their tantrums ages ... just to have somebody around who just gets it. And Tully gets it."

Theron spoke with us about her own parenting challenges, her physical transformation for the film, and why she thinks the #MeToo movement is just getting started.

Interview Highlights

On what drew her to the film

I read this script when I was myself just coming out of that dark tunnel of [motherhood] ... My second kid was around five or six months old. ... I'd just moved her out of my bedroom. ... She didn't need me every two hours and I felt like a person again. And so, reading this, it felt very familiar. I was like, wow, I just went through this.

On other people judging your parenting

I remember so vividly a parent really shaming me for raising my kids — who are both adopted — on formula. ... This script to me felt like such an honest conversation. ... A lot of times it's the non-parents who are so ready to give you advice. ... The world tells us that once you have a baby you just kind of naturally go into this state of knowing what to do. When you say anything honest about how messy it is, it tends to come with a lot of shame — and there shouldn't be any shame to attached to it. The more we kind of talk about it and share those experiences with each other, the less we feel alone.

On postpartum depression

I myself have never been pregnant. I adopted both of my children. But I have very closely experienced ... really good friends going through severe postpartum depression and it's a really brutal thing to witness. Even my friends who have great marriages ... just didn't know how to talk to their husbands about it. I think a lot of it has to do with that guilt of: If I feel anything other than that it's a blessing, and that this is the most beautiful experience of my life, that I'm not somehow getting it. ...

I dealt with depression for the first time in my life [while making Tully] and it was really frightening — reallyfrightening — and I couldn't imagine what that felt like andhaving to take care of a newborn baby.

On the weight she gained for the part

This is something that women do all the time when they get pregnant — they gain a lot of weight. Their bodies become not theirs anymore. I gained close to 50 pounds for this film. ... It took me a year and a half to lose that weight. It was one of the hardest things that my body went through — and women do this every day. When I do it, people are like — "so brave" — and I'm like: No. Women do this all the time and we don't acknowledge it enough.

On the momentum of the #MeToo movement

I think it will sustain. I'm incredibly optimistic. I feel that there's something about this climate right now. ... For the first time it's a unified conversation and not a compartmentalized one. It's not a conversation about women in Hollywood. It's a conversation about women in this world. ... I think that eliminating that compartmentalized way of talking about it is what is making it so strong. It's given courage to every woman out there to share their story, to take ownership of their own pain.

Sarah Handel and Barrie Hardymon produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.