Charlize Theron doesn’t step down when faced with a challenge. Over the years she has taken on intense, gripping roles that might have intimidated other actors—but certainly not her. Her life has gotten tough at times, but she’s proven her ability to trudge on forward, learning from her experiences to come out fiercer, bolder, and as indomitable as ever.
Charlize Theron has always been a stand-out in Hollywood, and it all started from her childhood, where she had a unique upbringing. Theron was born and grew up in Benoni, a town in South Africa. Her parents owned a farm, and she spent her childhood there, surrounded by animals. Afrikaans was her first language, although you wouldn’t be able to tell—she no longer carries an accent.
Her mother was very invested in cinema, speaking of her passion and taking her only daughter to drive-in movies. This is where Theron’s own passion for acting began. Her upbringing wasn’t as peaceful as it may seem, however. Theron’s dad was an abusive alcoholic, and when she was 15 the abuse reached a chaotic high. Her dad threatened to shoot both her and her mother with a shotgun and out of self-defense, her mother retrieved her own gun and shot him. The killing of her father was deemed a justifiable homicide, and her mother never faced any charges. The traumatic event had a huge impact on Theron, and throughout her early career she attempted to hide the real cause of her father’s death, until the press discovered it and published the story. “My early life, I was just speeding through, because I saw a lot of life taken away around me,” Theron admitted.
A year after the distressing event, Charlize decided to move to New York City to pursue ballet at Joffrey Ballet School. She was intensely focused on becoming a dancer, until she suffered a knee injury that stopped her in her tracks. After discussing her future plans with her mother, she arranged to switch gears and moved to Los Angeles, California. Her acting career took off rather suddenly when she was approached by a talent manager in a bank. She had started a scene after the teller at the bank refused to cash her mother’s out-of-town check, and the talent manager was impressed with her dramatic “performance.”
Her first credited role was in 2 Days in the Valley, a 1996 film involving subplots of different lives and crimes in Los Angeles. She then starred in 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate—arguably her first prestigious role, as she worked alongside Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves. The year after, she took roles in Woody Allen’s Celebrity, and Disney’s Mighty Joe Young. The fact that she was able to grab the attention of Allen and Disney showed her fast rising star. In 1999, she acted in The Astronaut’s Wife with Johnny Depp and in The Cider House Rules with Tobey Maguire.
Then, in 2003, a shift in her career arrived when she agreed to take on the role of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. The movie, which was produced by her production company, Denver and Delilah Productions, forced Theron to undergo a serious physical transformation. The striking blonde beauty became unrecognizable in her final form as Wuornos, which required her to put on 40 pounds, and wear fake yellow teeth, colored contact lenses, and blotchy makeup. It wasn’t only her physical alteration that was shocking—Theron completely embodied the role of Wuornos as she took on her posture, mannerisms, and mindset. She spent days reading Aileen’s letters from prison, trying to understand her. It all paid off. Critics loved Theron’s spot-on portrayal of the infamous serial killer, and it even earned her her first Oscar, as well as a Golden Globe.
“I didn’t think I could do it at first…[but] the thing that convinced me ultimately was that I had never had somebody believe in me like that before,” Theron said about director Patty Jenkins’ faith in her.
The accolades didn’t stop there. In 2005’s North Country, she played a woman who endured sexual abuse while working as a miner and won the first major sexual harassment case in the U.S. She was again nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Then in 2011, her performance was praised in the independent film, Young Adult, which was also produced with her production company, and earned her another Golden Globe nod.
Throughout the years, Theron continued to show off her impeccable range; it became clear that this actress didn’t like to stick to just one type of script. In 2012, she starred in two action flicks: Prometheus and Snow White and the Huntsman, where she played the evil queen. Then two years later she took on a much lighter tone in Seth MacFarlane’s comedy, A Million Ways to Die in the West.
After her short pause from the action genre, Theron dove back in head first. Some of her most notable roles came forth, with hits like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), her return as the evil queen in The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016), her badass spy flick Atomic Blonde (2017), and her involvement in The Fate of the Furious (2017). For Atomic Blonde, Theron underwent another transformation, but this time through intense training. She performed nearly all of her own stunts for the film, but not until she had trained for three months with her trainer, David Leitch, who is also the film’s director and has been a stunt double for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon in the past. It was an extreme three months. She bruised her ribs, twisted her knee, and even had to undergo dental surgery after cracking two teeth.
However, even those injuries weren’t enough to slow her down as she underwent another transformation in 2018’s Tully. This movie, directed by the same director who worked with her on Young Adult, revolves around a mother of three who is suffering in her life. For the role, she had to put on close to 50 pounds, something that was very hard for her to do at 41. Sure, she had packed on the weight for her earlier film, Monster, but in her 40’s it was a different ballgame. “It was brutal in every sense,” Theron shares, “This time around, I really felt it in my health. The sugar put me in a massive depression. I was sick. I couldn’t lose the weight.” It took her a year and a half to finally slim back down, but she wouldn’t change what she did. To her, it’s bigger than just a sacrifice for a role—it actually represents what women have to go through every day. “It was one of the hardest things that my body went through — and women do this every day. When I do it, people are like — “so brave” — and I’m like: No. Women do this all the time and we don’t acknowledge it enough,” Theron states.
Following the two demanding films, Charlize took a break and allowed herself to explore more light-hearted genres. She starred in Gringo in 2018, a dark comedy about a businessman who finds himself becoming a wanted criminal. Then this year she surprised audiences with her role in romantic comedy Long Shot alongside Seth Rogen. The plot follows her character, Charlotte Field, as she saddles up to run for president, with her speechwriter and childhood friend, Fred Flarsky (Rogen) by her side. In October of this year, she lent her voice to Morticia Addams in the animated comedy, The Addams Family, and now she’s back on track.
On December 20th, her drama Bombshell is set to hit theaters with a star-studded cast that includes fellow blondes Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, and Kate McKinnon. It’s a true story that follows a group of women who band together to take down Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who has long contributed to a toxic work environment through his alleged sexual harassment and misconduct. Theron plays well-known journalist Megyn Kelly, who was a news anchor at Fox News from 2004 to 2017. The movie highlights the era we are in—the era of the powerful #MeToo movement, which encourages victims of sexual harassment to speak out against their abusers.
When Bombshell finally hits theaters, Charlize will have a couple of more projects to work on. She’s set to star in The Old Guard, a movie adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, which will follow a group of immortal soldiers. She will also revisit her role as Cipher in Fast and Furious 9, which is expected to premiere in May 2020. And finally, she will come back as Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde 2, but a release date is still unknown.
With a track record like hers, it’s easy to see why talk of a new Charlize Theron film garners lots of excitement and anticipation. She has tested her body’s limits, undergone insane physical transformations, and spent months studying characters to properly depict them. Theron is a true titan in the acting world, and has yet to be defeated.
By Selene Rivera