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

The constant focus on her appearance can be tedious, she says. “When people talk about that in this isolated manner, it starts to sound like its schtick. And it’s not schtick. It’s part of the job. It’s interweaved with performance and story and all that stuff. If you break it away and just focus on that one aspect, it sounds like dress-up. That can bother me a little.”

Fair enough. After all, nobody could fault Charlize Theron for effort. She throws herself into her roles with a drive and intensity: she herniated a disc in her neck filming Aeon Flux (2005) and injured her vocal chords filming the labour scenes on The Road (2009). She’s a go-getter, right?

“You know what? When you love something – I mean really, really love something – I believe, or I want to believe, that your passion will carry you through and make you good at it.”

She speaks like she looks: elegantly and flawlessly and without a trace of her native Afrikaans. That’s what I think: she insists she’s just getting by.

“Sometimes people think I can speak English perfectly,” she laughs. “And then I’ll make some basic grammar mistake and they’ll be really shocked. I only learned the language at 19. And I do this horrible thing where I take a phrase and translate directly from Afrikaans and hope for the best. And that can sound very bizarre. People turn around and go ‘the camel and the horse do what on the roof?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, you don’t have that saying?’”

She has a particular affection for Ireland: when we meet in London, she’s expecting a gaggle of her Irish friends to descend the next day. In 2009, during the rehearsal for the 2010 Fifa World Cup Draw, she called out Ireland instead of France, a little dig at the expense of Thierry Henry’s famous handball.

“That was only fair. But you should have seen them. They were so panicked about it. They really, really thought I was going to do that on the day. I gave them all a heart attack.”

A committed activist, Theron has long campaigned for animals and Peta and same-sex marriage. She was close to the late Nelson Mandela and attended his memorial service earlier this year. “It’s so sad,” she says. “It wasn’t a surprise. But that doesn’t take away the sadness of it.”

She has referred to her recent screen work in Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman as her “bitch period”. And now for something completely different. Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West sees Theron tutoring MacFarlane’s cowardly sheep farmer in the art of the shootout.

Theron has starred in comedies before, notably Jason Reitman’s darkly humorous Young Adult. But A Million Ways is the first time she has worked with horseshit gags. The comedy western follow-up to MacFarlane’s wildly successful Ted is very much in keeping with the R-rated tone MacFarlane’s TV hits, Family Guy and American Dad.