Charlize Theron is nothing if not self-aware.

In the latest issue of Variety (on newsstands now), the actress admits her career took a surprising turn after she won an Oscar in 2004 for Monster. "As far as work goes, it opens up a lot of doors. But also, it's so overwhelming to have everybody clamoring and saying, 'This is what you should do.' There's so much noise," Theron recalls. "I felt a little unstable afterwards."

How did the actress find her way? "Someone else wins," she says. "So it takes it off you."

One of Theron's first post-Oscar projects was Aeon Flux, based on the animated science fiction television series of the same name. "I got offered a lot of stuff in action movies that was either the girl behind the computer or the wife," she says. "When Aeon Flux came to me, I thought that could be something." Even in the beginning, she had her doubts about the widely panned movie. "I was never completely sold on the entire concept, but I really loved Karyn Kusama's movie [Girlfight]. So, I threw myself into that with the belief that she's a great filmmaker."

Charlize Theron, Variety

Kurt Iswarienko/Variety

"And then we f--ked it all up," the actress says with a laugh. "I just don't think we really knew how to execute it. And it's disappointing, but it happens. I've been in this business long enough to know that you cannot get it right every time. I might have gotten this right because of that."

Theron is referring to her new movie Atomic Blonde, produced through her company, Denver & Delilah Prods. The 41-year-old actress spent five years developing the material after reading a treatment based on an unpublished graphic novel titled The Coldest City. She hired screenwriter Kurt Johnstad and director David Leitch, and they set the budget at $30 million. Theron, who earns $10 million per project, took a pay cut in exchange for a percentage of box office profits. In the Focus Features film, Theron plays the badass Lorraine Broughton, a top-level spy for MI6.

Patty Jenkins, who made Wonder Woman and directed Theron in Monster, hopes Atomic Blonde is a hit. "For our films to be successful and make a lot of money as well as having a female lead sends a huge message to the world that this is something possible," she says. "People are watching and paying attention." Jenkins hasn't seen the film yet, but she feels a kinship with it. "Every once in a while, I'll see a newspaper with a picture of Gal Gadot on the left and Charlize on the right, and I'll get emotionally confused," she says. "Those are my girls!"

While Wonder Woman is breaking box office records left and right, Theron knows the movie industry still has a long way to go in terms of gender equality. "I think we would be remiss not to acknowledge [Alien's] Sigourney Weaver and [Terminator's] Linda Hamilton. We've had moments like this, where women really showcase themselves and kind of break glass ceilings. And then we don't sustain it. Or there's one movie that doesn't do well, and all of a sudden, no one wants to make a female-driven film," the actress-turned-producer tells Variety. "And look, I am ashamed that I'm part of an industry that has never allowed a woman to work with a budget higher than what the budget has been on Wonder Woman. That's so f--king caveman-like. I am always hoping that this is the movie that's going to change it and keep it for us."

(E! and Focus Features are both members of the NBCUniversal family.)

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