How Charlize Theron Invents a New Kind of Badass in the Stylish Atomic Blonde

Early in Atomic Blonde, Charlize Theron slowly stands up from an ice bath. Her back emerges, sinewy and covered in myriad dark purple bruises. When she looks in the mirror, a badly blackened eye stares back. This is not a woman to be crossed.

Theron plays Lorraine Broughton, an MI6 agent sent on a treacherous mission to Berlin in 1989, five days before the Wall falls. The movie is a neon spree through underground parties and glittering speakeasies backed by thumping ’80s pop music. Lorraine, based on a character from the graphic novel The Coldest City, isn’t like most female heroes: she’s not a grieving widow, she’s not a protective mother, and she definitely doesn’t have daddy issues.

“Writers are always giving women dead husbands or kids to make you emotionally invest,” says Theron over tea at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles this June. The 41-year-old actor is still wearing athletic gear from a workout with her trainer for the movie, though filming has long wrapped. “Men go on a fun journey. Women get a long backstory so you’re already forgiving them for what they’re about to do.”