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