C. Molly Smith
Updated August 04, 2017

If you’re a human being who lives on the planet Earth, then you know that Charlize Theron is a complete and total badass. She’s taken many an action film by storm, like The Italian Job, Aeon Flux, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Fate of the Furious, and — most recently — Atomic Blonde.

In Atomic Blonde, Theron plays British spy Lorraine Broughton. Set in Berlin during the Cold War, the film follows her as she investigates the death of a fallen agent while also searching for a list of double agents. Needless to say, she encounters a lot of trouble along the way, and a number of fights ensue.

And in those fights, Lorraine is tough, determined, inventive, and strong as hell — as is the actress behind our heroine extraordinaire. Even more impressive, Theron did almost all her own stunts. Not to mention, she proved so capable that the filmmakers reworked the action of the film so that Theron would perform longer sequences, because she could handle it.

Atomic Blonde stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave spoke with HelloGiggles about the above and much more:

HelloGiggles: Charlize is so kickass and you totally believe her as this empowered, action lead. What would you say she brought to the stunts of the film? As I understand, she did most of them on her own.

Sam Hargrave: She did. Charlize was a dream to work with. She makes the job of a stunt coordinator and a fight coordinator easy, because she is a very physically capable actress. She brought an intensity that I’ve really only seen in a couple of other actors, male or female, in my career. She would be at rehearsals every day. She would come early, work hard. She really put a lot of time and effort into her training, because she really wanted to portray this character as real as possible, and to be involved in as much of the action as we would allow her to be. Which was, I think, 95% of the fighting.

There’s a couple fixed stunts that her double, Monique Ganderton, did for insurance reasons. There’s just no reason to use the actor for those big things. But, for example in the stairwell fight, 90% of that is Charlize. She was going for long, extended periods of takes. Really impressive work that she did as an action actor.

HG: Is that why you would say Charlize works so well as an action lead, because she’s deeply involved in the action? Or is there something else about her, like charisma?

SH: There are a number of reasons I think Charlize is the queen of the action genre at this moment. Her potential has been realized. She has a presence physically, she’s almost six feet tall. So when she squares off against men, you believe that when she throws a punch or an elbow, it’s going to hurt. She’s made even larger by her charismatic presence, or her acting presence, where she brings an intensity that the stunt performers try and match, just to keep the intensity of that scene going. She brought so much heart and fire to that character, that it was a struggle for all the guys to keep up. Like, “Oh man, we’ve got to keep bringing it, take after take, because she is.” She’s a tough cookie.

HG: How would you say that she did with the stunts? Was there one that was especially challenging to pull off, but all the more rewarding once it came together?

SH: There was never really question of her being able to perform the stuff. As a stunt coordinator and second unit director, I’d never put her in a position to fail. [I’d always want] her to excel at things that she did well. The fight stuff, she worked so hard at. It actually changed the way we approached shooting the action, based on her training videos. We had a few training sessions before I left, and I went with [director David Leitch] to prep the movie in Budapest. Jon Valera, who was our fight coordinator, he was training with her back at 87eleven and he would send these videos.

Our original plan was to shoot most of the film in the style of the fight that was in the apartment. We call it the hose fight. That fight worked five or maybe six beats per setup, and then you cut to an angle — very actor friendly. That was the idea, not knowing her skill level. Then, he’d send these videos and David and I were blown away. We were like, holy cow, she’s able to retain large amounts of choreography and it looks really good when she’s doing them. We should try to extend these tapes and make a longer bit out of it. And that’s where that idea for a oner [the lengthy stairwell fight that was meant to look like one take] was born.

Atomic Blonde is now in theaters.