Kevin P. Sullivan
July 22, 2017 AT 06:21 PM EDT

Entertainment Weekly‘s yearly celebration of the actresses in movies and television who kick the most ass changed things up a bit for Comic-Con 2017. This iteration, dubbed “Icon Edition,” focused on one ass-kicker in particular — someone who has quickly earned a spot in action movie hall of fame.

Charlize Theron took the stage in Hall H at Comic-Con for an in-depth, one-on-one conversation with Entertainment Weekly senior writer Sara Vilkomerson ahead of her new film Atomic Blonde (out July 28). Theron told Vilkomerson that Atomic Blonde came out of looking for something specific, wanting to play an unrepentant woman who plays by the rules men get to play by.

“Women in film typically need a reason to become warriors — losing a child or husband. They can just be warriors,” she said. “That’s what Atomic Blonde is supposed to portray. Lorraine is simply herself. There’s no explanation for why the way she is the way she is.”

The fans in Hall H were also treated to an extended look at the ’80s-set spy thriller. In a long-take fight between Theron’s Lorraine Broughton and a group of thugs in an East Berlin stairwell, Lorraine takes plenty of hits but is absolutely merciless — and the audience in Hall H responded with huge applause. (“Thanks, guys. Can I bring you everywhere I go?” Theron joked.)

The epic sequence was shot over three-and-a-half days. “We really didn’t think we would be able to pull it off,” Theron said.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Training to play Lorraine was “brutal,” Theron recalled (she said couldn’t sit down on the toilet because she was so sore), but she added that making the film was empowering because she did things she had never done before. When learning the fight choreography, she said she asked, “Could a girl do that?” for every move she was taught, in an effort to maintain authenticity in how the character moved — “all elbows and knees and full body weight to throw, because that’s more practical for a female fighter.”

Theron also discussed her Atomic Blonde character’s steamy affair with a fellow agent, played by Sofia Boutella, noting she was glad that the film acknowledged the LGBTQ community. She also added that Lorraine “never needs a man to confide in about her brokenness,” which elicited cheers from the audience.

The conversation also covered Theron’s previous roles, including her Oscar-winning turn in Monster and performances in The Italian Job and Mad Max: Fury Road. Speaking about Fury Road, Theron said she wants to return for a Furiosa movie — and that she knows more of the character’s backstory, including how she lost her arm — but will wait for director George Miller to be ready. “But I’m going to be 42 in August, so let’s get to it,” she added.

When asked about her Snow White and the Huntsman costar Chris Hemsworth’s suggestion that she be the next James Bond, Theron replied that she’s fine with “Daniel [Craig] or Idris [Elba]” taking on 007 and thinks her Atomic Blonde character can operate in the same format.

Other highlights from the panel included a story about driving Mini Coopers around the track with the cast of The Italian Job while they were filming (Jason Statham and Mark Wahlberg both puked, and she kicked their asses); Theron revealing one of her proudest moments was winning an Oscar and going to shoot Arrested Development five days later (she said she’d make herself available for more episodes if asked); and a discussion about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. “Movies like Wonder Woman succeeding takes the option away from studios,” she said, noting that on the second Huntsman film, unequal pay was never even an option for Universal.

She finished out the panel by encouraging fans to see movies led by women. “We’re just as good as the guys!”

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