11/11/2011 06:53 am ET | Updated Jan 11, 2012

Charlize Theron Talks Evil Characters & Playing Hitler

Charlize Theron isn't afraid to try bold, risky things. For all her beauty, it was playing an unsightly serial killer in "Monster" that won the South African actress an Oscar, and even when she keeps her natural look, her choices often put the attention on the immorality of the troubled women she chooses to play.

To wit: this fall, she stars in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult," in which she plays Mavis, a surly, hard-drinking young adult fiction author with a serious dark streak who stretches the limits of likable protagonist. And early next year, she will make the Evil Queen look more evil than ever in the dark fairytale adaptation, "Snow White and the Huntsman."

For Theron, exploring the dark side of human behavior is more compelling than it is scary.

"We have innately bad human behaviors that sometimes we can explain and justify," she tells The Hollywood Reporter in a new roundtable of Oscar-contending leading ladies. "It's easy to say someone's an as*hole because they had this, this and this happen to them, so we have to forgive them. But what if someone was just an as*hole? That's interesting to me."

That begged the question: what about Hitler? Could she, hypothetically, play the Nazi dictator? And, how would she approach it?

"We are definitely are capable of some sh*t that will scare you, given the right circumstances," Theron says. "You have to be brave enough to say he's a human being. And on that level, we're all like him. It doesn't mean that you're saying what he did was right, but you've got to admit that he's from the same breed as all of us. It has to make you aware that, given the right circumstances, there are things you might do that you don't want to believe you're capable of doing."

Back in 2004, when she was on a successful awards season campaign for "Monster," Theron justified playing Aileen Wuornos in a similar way, making a case for empathy even amidst the terrible murders she committed.

"I think it's sometimes hard to look at those things because she had done such horrendous things in her life. And I don't think in this movie we tried to oversee that or forget about that," she told AboutFilm.com. "We stayed very true to the fact that she killed innocent people. I think that's what people have a problem with. When you show that truth, it becomes a little tough to watch, because those are the things that she did. But I really believe -- otherwise I wouldn't have done this movie -- that in the greater truth of her story, in watching that, you do get to a place of empathy."

For more from Theron, as well as Felicity Jones, Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Carey Mulligan, click over to The Hollywood Reporter.