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Behind the making of a 'Monster'

A Q&A with writer-director Patty Jenkins

By Stephanie Snipes
CNN

Monster
Patty Jenkins, left, directs Charlize Theron in "Monster."

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(CNN) -- When writer-director Patty Jenkins decided to make "Monster," she went right to the source -- serial killer Aileen Wuornos.

Jenkins struck up a correspondence with Wuornos and dug into her life over part of the course of Wuornos' 12-year incarceration. The two developed a trusting relationship, to the point that Wuornos shared letters she'd written to her best friend.

The movie, now in theaters, is a gritty look into Wuornos' life of prostitution and murder, and her eventual capture and conviction. It features a Golden Globe-nominated performance by Charlize Theron as Wuornos. Christina Ricci plays Selby Wall, Wuornos' friend in the movie, a character based on a real-life woman named Tyria Moore.

CNN talked with Jenkins in a telephone interview to discuss the film.

CNN: How did you first make contact with Aileen Wuornos?

PATTY JENKINS: I knew that I was doing this film, so I wrote her a letter and told her really honestly everything that I felt about her story. I also warned that I did feel that there was a space for some compassion ... and enriching of the story, while still acknowledging that she crossed the line and committed some murders in cold blood. I was very honest with her and she wrote me back.

CNN: Did you discuss the details of the film with her?

JENKINS: Not really. For the most part I didn't want to try to explain that kind of thing to her. She had her own things she wanted people to make movies about. ... I did tell her the period of time, and I did tell her it was focused on the relationship but I didn't get to specific with her.

CNN: While incarcerated she wrote detailed letters to her best friend, and she shared these with you?

JENKINS: Yes, the night before she was executed. All of our letters were leading up to us meeting. We had no idea she would be executed. She was suddenly scheduled to be executed, and it became inappropriate to pursue meeting. I just sort of wrote her, "Look, if there's anything you want me to know, I'll show up" but otherwise, Godspeed you know, I didn't know what I could do.

And the night before she was executed she and her best friend made the decision to open up the letters to Charlize and I.

CNN: Did the letters help you determine the course of events?

JENKINS: I had already written the script. A lot of it [the letters] supported, which felt great. I realized I was on the right track.

Monster
Christina Ricci and Charlize Theron in "Monster."

But I also had so much information before I started writing it too. The letters enriched the story with such detail, and the performance with such detail.

CNN: How did you do the rest of the research?

JENKINS: Court documents ... lots of footage of her interviews, all of the transcripts and depositions from those trials. There have been a ton of books written about them. And talking to [Aileen].

CNN: How was Charlize Theron's transformation into Wuornos accomplished?

JENKINS: That is a great testament to our makeup artist. She was unbelievable. But the interesting part was how all of us, including [Theron's makeup artist] Toni G, were working straight from character. It was so much less like, "Let's look at this person and now let's make Charlize look fat and ugly and look just like her." That wasn't our process at all.

Charlize and I didn't have enough time to really prepare for this movie and we just went head-first straight into research and character, and that constantly was informing new details about Aileen and why she looked the way she did. So, this great transformation that has become a big topic now was never a conscious thought on our mind. It's amazing how extreme it ended up being at the end of the day.

CNN: It was pretty shocking.

JENKINS: Yeah, just shocking because it was little details. It was, "Oh, she was homeless. She lived on the street in bad weather. OK, well that means sun damage." Well, then we addressed the sun damage. She was insecure about her hair, OK, well, then we address the hair. It was little little layers and then suddenly she's Aileen.

CNN: You had a lot of details in the film, including shooting scenes in the Last Resort, the bar Wuornos used to visit.

JENKINS: All those details in the film were meticulously worked on. I am really obsessive about those details and so is Charlize. I can't stand characters with contradictory information. And that's the reason why, hopefully, there's the level of reality there -- because we made that reality.

CNN: This is Theron's first attempt at producing. How was working with her in that regard?

JENKINS: It was great. She really signed on as producer because I think that she knew, as did I, that there is a long hard road for a movie like this. And [the movie] can get pushed and pulled in all kinds of different directions. So instead of being this ... overlord as producer ... she really just put herself in a position where she could really defend what it was we wanted to do. And fight for it.

CNN: And working with Christina Ricci?

JENKINS: The thing about Christina is, she is the great unsung hero of this entire film. It's unbelievable for an actor as powerful and beautiful and in her height to have taken on a role like this.

We're now in a situation where Charlize -- and she deserves every ounce of it -- is just being showered with all the attention. But the amazing thing is, Christina took this role knowing that it would go down that way. And that's a shocking thing for an actor like her to do. She follows her heart and does what she believes in.


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