NEW YORK CITY — Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are the couple of the year.
OK, that sentiment might actually be given some credence if you lived on Bizarro World, that mythical comic-book planet where beautiful is ugly and smart is stupid.
But Theron and Oswalt may end up selling the notion, despite their flagrantly oddball onscreen dynamics.
Theron, 36, is the Amazonian thespian goddess who won an Oscar for her role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the movie Monster.
Oswalt, 42, is the short, scrappy standup comic who impressed as the voice of Remy, the rat gourmand in the Pixar feature Ratatouille and in his dramatic role of a football fan who gets beaten up by his idol in the indie drama Big Fan.
Watching the two actors spar onscreen in the Jason Reitman film Young Adult is a refreshing change from the grim spectacle of attractive movie stars attempting to generate chemistry. They certainly produce more interesting dramatic friction than, say, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie trading smouldering glances in The Tourist.
In the Diablo Cody-scripted Young Adult, Theron plays Mavis Gary, a 37-year-old writer of young-adult fiction who acts on the disastrous impulse to return to her hometown to claim her old high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he is married and has a new baby. Oswalt plays Matt Freehauf, Mavis's former locker neighbour who has similar stuck-in-the-past issues as Mavis as the victim of a brutal attack by fellow high school students who mistakenly believed him to be gay.
Discovering a mutual passion for excessive drinking, the two fringe characters form a kind of relationship that neither could have imagined in their teens.
At a press conference for the film, Theron and Oswalt enjoy a certain conspiratorial glee together, whether tormenting a hapless New York reporter over a question Theron deems unseemly ("Let it go," Oswalt whispers in front of a bank of recording devices. "No, I'm going to f-him up," Theron whispers back) or claiming that actual boozing lubricated their performances. ("We call it acting juice," Oswalt explains.)
The two were brought together for a table read of Cody's script at the home of Jason Reitman. Theron hates table reads. Reitman assured her all she would be doing was reading the lines aloud. But Theron rose to the challenge when Oswalt (who had already participated in two previous table reads) brought his A-game to the supposedly casual read-through.
"He just, like, (went) to the mat," Theron says. "And I'm sitting there going, 'You're kidding me. Are we gonna do this now?'
"And by page 20, we were like..."
"At it," Oswalt volunteers.
"At it, Theron affirms. "I walked out and I... just knew we were gonna make the film together."
Theron on what attracted her to the role of the delusional, unsympathetic Mavis:
"I never had a hard time not liking her. I would love to go and have a beer with her. I mean, I would never let her hang out with my boyfriend.
"What I liked when read Diablo's script was the idea of a woman who's dealing with very, very common mid-to-late-30s issues that women can really relate to. But because of how she went through life, she's dealing with them the way a 16-year-old would deal with them.
"She says things like, 'Don't you know love conquers all?' and the typical 16-year-old would say that. And here she is, 37, trying to get her life together. And she just doesn't have the tools to do it."
Oswalt on whether he deliberately made the segue from comedy to dramatically charged performances in this film and Big Fan:
"Well, first, thank you for implying that I have any control over my career, that I get to choose projects. 'Tell Spielberg to get ready to be disappointed! I'm going with Reitman on this!'
"I was very lucky to be offered this script. I started doing these table reads early for the script. But as far as my intentions, I'm so beyond, like, genre: drama, comedy. I just want to do really good, interesting projects.
"And that can mean something like this script ... stuff that constantly rolls the dice down the felt and just goes for it. And this, man, this script went for it.
"Hopefully, someday, if I'm ever at a point where I have the luxury of intention, I will make the right choices. But so far I've been lucky enough that the choices I have been given have been really, really good."
Theron on female characters that are as complicated as male characters:
"I think women are way more conflicted than men. We're very comfortable with the Madonna-whore complex, you know. We're either really good hookers or really good mothers. (Or) we're not bad hookers and we're not bad mothers, and we're nothing in between.
"I grew up on cinema where guys got to do that -- Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman and De Niro -- got to play all of those kind of characters that, you know, I saw a little bit of myself in. (They played) those kind of struggles and the lurking, dark things, you know. And I think (women) are getting a chance to kind of play those kind of honest characters."
Oswalt on the peculiar comedy that arises when working with Reitman and Theron:
"The comedy was never needy. We were never going for a laugh. It all came very naturally. And a lot of times, what was so great about the way that she played Mavis was that the laugh comes from her not giving me any response, and then I get more nervous, which is a really real thing that a lot of actors really don't have the balls to do. They always want to be saying something or listening and reacting. And she was able to just go, 'You know what? My character's just not engaging in this scene at all.' And that is where the humour came from.
"I got to play off somebody that really understood human nature, which is important to comedy... And then, so all of that kind of swirled together, and created a thing and ... fade to Golden Globe."
Young Adult opens in theatres tomorrow.