Charlize Theron (/ʃɑːrˈliːz ˈθɛrən/ shar-LEEZ THERR-ən; Afrikaans: [ʃarˈlis ˈtrɔn]; born 7 August 1975) is a South African and American actress and producer. One of the world's highest-paid actresses, Theron is the recipient of numerous accolades, including an Academy Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Golden Globe Award. In 2016, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Theron came to international prominence in the 1990s by playing the leading lady in the Hollywood films The Devil's Advocate (1997), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and The Cider House Rules (1999). She received critical acclaim for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003), for which she won the Silver Bear and Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first South African to win an Oscar in an acting category. She received another Academy Award nomination for playing a sexually abused woman seeking justice in the drama North Country (2005).
Theron has since starred in several commercially successful action films, including The Italian Job (2003), Hancock (2008), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Prometheus (2012), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The Fate of the Furious (2017), Atomic Blonde (2017), and The Old Guard (2020). She also received praise for playing troubled women in Jason Reitman's comedy-dramas Young Adult (2011) and Tully (2018), and for portraying Megyn Kelly in the biographical drama Bombshell (2019), receiving a third Academy Award nomination for the last.
Since the early 2000s, Theron has ventured into film production with her company Denver and Delilah Productions. She has produced numerous films, in many of which she had a starring role, including The Burning Plain (2008), Dark Places (2015), and Long Shot (2019). Theron became an American citizen in 2007, while retaining her South African citizenship. She has been honoured with a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Theron was born in Benoni, in Transvaal Province (Gauteng Province since 1994) of South Africa, the only child of road constructionists Gerda (born Maritz):16-18 and Charles Theron (27 November 1947 – 21 June 1991).:16-18, 34 Second Boer War military leader Danie Theron was her great-great-uncle.:14 She is from an Afrikaner family, and her ancestry includes Dutch as well as French and German; her father is French and her mother is African and Dutch. Her French forebears were early Huguenot colonizers in South Africa.:14 "Theron" is an Occitan surname (originally spelled Théron) pronounced in Afrikaans as [trɔn].
She grew up on her parents' farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg. On 21 June 1991, Theron's father, an alcoholic, threatened both teenaged Charlize and her mother while drunk, physically attacking her mother and firing a gun at both of them. Theron's mother retrieved her own handgun, shot back and killed him. The shooting was legally adjudged to have been self-defense, and her mother faced no charges.
Theron attended Putfontein Primary School (Laerskool Putfontein), a period during which she has said she was not "fitting in". She was frequently unwell with jaundice throughout childhood and the antibiotics she was administered made her upper incisor milk teeth rot (they had to be surgically removed) and teeth did not grow until she was roughly ten years old. At 13, Theron was sent to boarding school and began her studies at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg. Although Theron is fluent in English, her first language is Afrikaans.
Although seeing herself as a dancer, at age 16 Theron won a one-year modelling contract at a local competition in Salerno and moved with her mother to Milan, Italy. After Theron spent a year modelling throughout Europe, she and her mother moved to the US, both New York City and Miami. In New York, she attended the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer until a knee injury closed this career path. As Theron recalled in 2008:
I went to New York for three days to model, and then I spent a winter in New York in a friend's windowless basement apartment. I was broke, I was taking class at the Joffrey Ballet, and my knees gave out. I realized I couldn't dance anymore, and I went into a major depression. My mom came over from South Africa and said, "Either you figure out what to do next or you come home, because you can sulk in South Africa".
In 1994, Theron flew to Los Angeles, on a one-way ticket her mother bought for her, intending to work in the film industry. During the initial months there, she lived in a motel with the $300 budget that her mother had given her; she continued receiving cheques from New York and lived "from paycheck to paycheck" to the point of stealing bread from a basket in a restaurant to survive. One day, she went to a Hollywood Boulevard bank to cash a few cheques, including one her mother had sent to help with the rent, but it was rejected because it was out-of-state and she was not an American citizen. Theron argued and pleaded with the bank teller until talent agent John Crosby, who was the next customer behind her, cashed it for her and gave her his business card.
Crosby introduced Theron to an acting school, and in 1995 she played her first non-speaking role in the horror film Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Her first speaking role was Helga Svelgen the hitwoman in 2 Days in the Valley (1996), but despite the movie's mixed reviews, attention drew to Theron due to her beauty and the scene where she fought Teri Hatcher's character. Theron feared being typecast as characters similar to Helga and recalled being asked to repeat her performance in the movie during auditions: "A lot of people were saying, 'You should just hit while the iron's hot'[...] But playing the same part over and over doesn't leave you with any longevity. And I knew it was going to be harder for me, because of what I look like, to branch out to different kinds of roles".
When auditioning for Showgirls, Theron was introduced to talent agent J. J. Harris by the co-casting director Johanna Ray. She recalled being surprised at how much faith Harris had in her potential and referred to Harris as her mentor. Harris would find scripts and movies for Theron in a variety of genres and encouraged her to become a producer. She would be Theron's agent for over 15 years until Harris's death.
1997–2002: Rise to fame
Larger roles in widely released Hollywood films followed, and her career expanded by the end of the 1990s. In the horror drama The Devil's Advocate (1997), which is credited to be her break-out film, Theron starred alongside Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino as the haunted wife of an unusually successful lawyer. She subsequently starred in the adventure film Mighty Joe Young (1998) as the friend and protector of a giant mountain gorilla, and in the drama The Cider House Rules (1999), as a woman who seeks an abortion in World War II-era Maine. While Mighty Joe Young flopped at the box office, The Devil's Advocate and The Cider House Rules were commercially successful. She was on the cover of the January 1999 issue of Vanity Fair as the "White Hot Venus". She also appeared on the cover of the May 1999 issue of Playboy magazine, in photos taken several years earlier when she was an unknown model; Theron unsuccessfully sued the magazine for publishing them without her consent.
By the early 2000s, Theron continued to steadily take on roles in films such as Reindeer Games (2000), The Yards (2000), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), Men of Honor (2000), Sweet November (2001), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), and Trapped (2002), all of which, despite achieving only limited commercial success, helped to establish her as an actress. On this period in her career, Theron remarked: "I kept finding myself in a place where directors would back me but studios didn't. [I began] a love affair with directors, the ones I really, truly admired. I found myself making really bad movies, too. Reindeer Games was not a good movie, but I did it because I loved [director] John Frankenheimer."
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