Charlize Theron: shooting star

The South Africa-born actor has always commanded respect by sticking to her guns and going against the grain. So how does an Oscar winner end up starring in Ted guy Seth MacFarlane’s new gross-out comedy western?

Fri, May 30, 2014, 00:00

Actor and producer Charlize Theron walks up to me looking like . . . well, do you really need me to tell you she wasn’t exactly hammered with the ugly stick?

Anyone who encounters Theron uses words like “stunning” and “statuesque”. And then there’s the perfect red lipstick (none on her teeth, obviously) and the silky hair (wrangled and golden). A deft shimmy folds her into a perfect perch on the edge of a sofa, a heavily cushioned affair seemingly designed to make most mortals flop indelicately. That must count as a 10.0 dismount, surely?

Before we can begin chatting, an assistant, possibly a specialised shankologist, checks how her legs look from the front and the side: said limbs do go on for a bit and require some degree of management.

A former dancer and model, Theron ought to be 10 kinds of girlie. But that’s not her at all.

“I’m a 50/50 split person,” she say. “There has always been a part of me that wants to climb trees and ride motorcycles and run around barefoot and loves fast cars. But I was always a kid who loved putting on my mom’s heels and trying on make-up and all that stuff. I’m a very willing participant in both camps.”

Many commentators write about Theron’s South African childhood like it’s a superhero origins story, but they’re not too far off. The descendent of hardy Boer pioneers and Huguenot settlers – her great-great uncle was a commander at the Battle of Spion Kop – Theron was present when her mother shot and killed her father in self-defence.

Within a year, the 16-year-old won a modelling contract that brought her to Milan and then New York, where she attended the Joffrey Ballet School. Her dancing career was ended by a knee injury. She was in a funk. But not for long.

“Once I lost that, I had to sit down and analyse why I loved dance so much. And that’s when I discovered it wasn’t really dance at all. It was storytelling. For years, I could do that through dance. I would get on stage and even though I was never technically the strongest dancer, I succeeded in it because I could transform into a swan or whatever.”

She swears she’s not all about triumph over adversity: “I can complain about stuff as much as the next guy. I’m not tough and cool about things all the time.”

And yet Theron’s career forms an “against all odds” arc to rival any of her movies. Within five years of a 1995 inauspicious screen debut in Children of the Corn III (1995), she had worked with Tom Hanks (That Thing You Do!), Al Pacino (The Devil’s Advocate), Woody Allen (Celebrity), Johnny Depp (The Astronaut’s Wife) and Robert Redford (The Legend of Bagger Vance).

In 2003, she took things up a notch as the star and producer of Monster, the Aileen Wuornos biopic that won her an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a SAG award. Much was made of the 30-pound weight gain and prosthetics required; much has been made of her subsequent physical transformations for the screen.