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THERON, CHARLIZE: Devil's Advocate

It's the stuff that Hollywood dreams are made of. Charlize Theron has one film out at present, The Devil's Advocate, alongside Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino, in which she bears more than her soul. All of this is a long way from the minuscule South African village which she left a mere 5 years ago. PAUL FISCHER spoke with her in New York.

Charlize Theron carries herself with more confidence than an actor twice her age, yet minus the pretensions of a movie star. Casually attired in jeans, her long ash-blonde hair shortened for yet another movie, Theron is a Hollywood success story, reminiscent of the movie colony of yesteryear. Already, the 22-year old has starred in 2 Days in the Valley and Trial and Error, is yet to be seen in Disney's upcoming Mighty Joe Young and is at work in a new Woody Allen comedy. But it's her starring role in The Devil's Advocate that has really tested her mettle.

It was a tough film for the actress, beginning with one vital scene during which she is required to be nude. "I've gotta say, I was reluctant to do the film at all because of that, but eventually I was persuaded to do it, because it was so important for the film and what this poor woman is going through." Theron goes through a remarkable metamorphosis in the film, describing it as the greatest challenge of her career – however short. She was helped, she adds, by working with Pacino and just observing him. "I was like a sponge, soaking up as much as I could." She plays a southern girl, and was determined to find this character. "Keanu and I went to a small southern town, and I noticed all the women have their hair up, the way I did in the movie. It was weird. My character also repossesses cars for a living, so while Keanu was at court observing, I was helping repossessing cars. It was cool."

"My mum taught me great survival skills"

Yet it's all a far cry from her beginnings. Born in South Africa in a small "dorp" named Benoni, she grew up as the only child on her family's farm. At the age of 6, Charlize took up ballet and began dancing professionally in Johannesburg soon after. At the age of 15, her father, Charles, died, which left her mother, Gerda, in charge of the family's road-construction business. She had, she recalls, a fairly lonely childhood as a result of which the desire for performing grew. "I didn't have any friends and was the only child growing up on this farm, so I would be in the back yard, dressing up, but with no one to feed me the lines, pretending I'm Sheena, Queen of the Jungle." There was little for her to do in this small South African town, not even be inspired by television. "We had three stations, only one of which I could understand."

She lived with her mother and eventually, stepfather, and it was tough to venture out , despite her strong desire to leave for a brave new world. "There was no way that my mum would be able to buy me a ticket to New York or Los Angeles. The whole thing was to find me someone who could buy me a one-way ticket and get me a working visa, just so that I can get closer to that dream. My mum, however, taught me great survival skills, finally let me go when I was 16, telling me: Go and make your dreams come true. She also knew that the possibilities in South Africa were zero. She told me that she was unable to support me. 'I will also get you home, but I cannot support you over there.'"

"Charlize bought a one way ticket to Hollywood."

At the tender age of 16, she took an offer to begin modelling in Milan, Italy. This lasted for only a year when she grew tired of being seen as "somebody beautiful who should not say a word." Modelling was not for her. "I could never understand the concept of modelling. I look at it as my waitressing job, what I was waiting for before my true dream transpired." On the last day of a modelling shoot in Manhattan, she decided she would not return to Italy, and returned to her first love - ballet. She began dancing with the Joffrey School in New York but that came to a sudden end. "I had a terrible knee injury which laid me off for six months, and that was the end of that career. That was a horrible period for me. I was 17 and broke and in New York."

Without the ability to dance ballet, and nearly broke, Charlize bought a one way ticket to Hollywood. It was in 1994 that she was "discovered." When an LA bank teller refused to cash her check because she did not have an account at the bank, she "threw a little tantrum. I tried explaining to the guy how desperately I needed the money, but to no avail. I had to go the post office. This guy behind me offered to direct me to the post office, and once there, he pulled out a business card and said: 'I don't know if you're an actress, but here's my card - I'd love to have a meeting with you' " He has remained a best friend - and her manager.

"I love my life the way it is now"

This was followed by an audition for Tom Hanks’ debut as a director, That Thing You Do, followed by 2 Days in the Valley. Charlize Theron had well and truly arrived. "I love my life the way it is now, the fact that I CAN go down the street with minimum make-up, and not have somebody stare at me. That's a horrible thing to be taken away from a person. But it's a double-edged sword. I'm doing this because I can't see myself doing anything else. I just want to continue working the way I am, with the people I want to, playing those great, colourful characters."

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With Devil's Advocate co-star Keanu Reeves

Film debut in 2 Days in the Valley

See Paul Fischer's exclusive interview with


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