Anatomy of a Nude Scene: Charlize Theron Lands on the Map with '2 Days in the Valley'

In our weekly seriesAnatomy of a Nude Scene, we're going to be taking a look at (in)famous sexscenes and nude scenes throughout cinema history and examining their construction, their relationship to the film around it, and their legacy. This week, Charlize Theron goes from relative unknown to every guy's dream girl with her first speaking role in 1996's Tarantino knock-off 2 Days in the Valley!

The release of Pulp Fiction in 1994 caused a seismic shift in the film industry as studios looked to capitalize on the success of the film's high-concept, dialogue-driven, ultra-violent style. Scripts which studios had thumbed their noses at just a year or two prior now became a hot commodity as they played catch-up once again, attempting to saturate the market with all manner of knock-offs. Basically, if you wrote a profanity laden script with an ensemble cast and shocking moments of violence, you had a better than average shot of getting it produced in the mid-to-late 90s.

Writer/director John Herzfeld had done the whole high concept thing before with his directorial debut, the notorious 1983 bomb Two of a Kind which reunited Grease! stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. That film's failure had seemingly doomed his career and he spent the rest of the 80s and the early 90s directing ripped-from-the-headlines, made-for-television dreck like "The Preppie Murder" and "Casualties of Love" starring Alyssa Milano as Amy Fisher.

Thanks to the cyclical nature of the entertainment industry, however, Herzfeld got lucky when high concept ensemble films came back into fashion in the mid-90s, allowing him to embark on his first theatrical feature in over a decade with2 Days in the Valley. The film's sprawling ensemble featured actors from multiple eras with everyone from Danny Aiello, James Spader, Marsha Mason, and Paul Mazursky to Jeff Daniels, Eric Stoltz, Teri Hatcher, and Glenne Headly involved. The ace up Herzfeld's sleeve, however, was a completely unknown South African model turned actress named Charlize Theron who quickly became the centerpiece of the film's advertising campaign.

Just one year earlier, Theron was broke and on the verge of having to leave Los Angeles, failing at audition after audition. While at a bank one day attempting to cash a check from her mother, the teller refused to cash the check, causing Theron to have an emotional breakdown. This caught the attention of the man in line behind her, talent agent John Crosby, who was so impressed by Theron's raw emotional state that he cashed the check himself and gave her his business card. He helped her take acting lessons and soon helped her book auditions—including one for Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls—and you might be inclined to say, the rest is history.

However, looking back at 2 Days in the Valley, the film was not a hit at the box office and, more than 20 years later,its cultural footprint is more or less non-existent, leading many in the present to wonder how it managed to launch Charlize Theron's career. As mentioned earlier, Charlize was at the dead center of the film's advertising campaign. In fact, she was more or less the film's entire advertising campaign because even with some relatively big name stars in the film, audience members were obviously intrigued to discover more about her.

The film was released in late September, meaning that audiences saw the trailer countless times that summer attached to such big name films as Independence Day, The Rock, The Nutty Professor, Eraser, A Time to Kill, and many others. One cannot buy that sort of exposure and it wasn't long before everyone wanted to knowmore about this modern day femme fatale. Those who actually saw the film, however, were treated not only to a great performance from a first-time actress, but also one of the best nude debuts of the 90s.

In the flick, Charlize plays Helga, the lethal Eastern European girlfriend of hitman Lee (Spader). While her catfight with Teri Hatcher is certainly legendary, it was her sex scene with Spader thatreally grabbed the attention of every man in the audience—andplenty of women as well, I'm sure...

Theron proved herself one of the most savvy actresses in the industry, however, when she refused to play variations on this same role in other films. She even fired her agent John Crosby, the guy who discovered her in the bank, when he continued sending her out for similar roles.In a 2008 interview in W Magazine, Theron gave a very candid answer about why she turned down so many roles in the aftermath of 2 Days in the Valley...

“A lot of people were saying, ‘You should just hit while the iron’s hot,’” she says. “But playing the same part over and over doesn’t leave you with any longevity. And I knew it was going to be harder for me, because of what I look like, to branch out to different kinds of roles.”

She fought hard for her next role, in 1997's The Devil's Advocate, which we covered just recently in this very column, and NOW the rest is history.

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**Click Here to Read All Past Editions of Anatomy of a Nude Scene/Anatomy of a Scene's Anatomy**