Charlize Theron is set to replace Brad Pitt in upcoming action thriller The Gray Man. The project, which was once set to star Pitt with James Gray (Two Lovers, The Immigrant) in the director’s seat, will be an adaptation of Mark Greaney‘s 2009 novel of the same name. The novel follows a CIA operative turned assassin who must evade mysterious forces as their estranged daughters (estranged to the point the ex-agent does not know they exist) are targeted.
The film is yet to set a director; the Russo siblings were intended to helm the project and wrote the script, but have since been drafted by Marvel for Captain America: Civil War. Now, Deadline is reporting that Theron will take the lead role in the film, however no information has been offered over how far the script will need to be adapted.
A female actor replacing a male peer is a rare occurrence in Hollywood; a well known example of this is Angelina Jolie replacing Tom Cruise in 2010 action picture Salt, while Viola Davis took on the role of Major Anderson in Gavin Hood‘s adaptation of Orson Scott Card‘s incendiary sci-fi Ender’s Game, who was originally a male character.
The most successful instance of gender swapped characters must be Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley in Ridley Scott‘s Alien franchise. In early drafts of the first film the Ripley role was intended as male, however without a female protagonist Alien would have lost a large part of its impact; the drama relies heavily on the sexual politics of the crew, and the threat of the extra-terrestrial becomes less sexual when applied to female prey.
Charlize Theron starred as Furiosa in George Miller‘s Mad Max: Fury Road, an action thriller with strong feminist sensibilities. The film explored and discarded the idea that women in action films must be victims or prizes. Theron previously starred in Scott’s Prometheus and the big screen adaptation of MTV’s dystopian cartoon Aeon Flux; both thrillers with large scale action set-pieces, neither performing well critically.
However, the news that she will replace Pitt gives us hope that audiences are willing to see action films with female protagonists; though we cannot deny that Theron is riding a wave of fame that moves her into a separate category to most female actors attempting to break into such films.