|August 7, 1975|
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Charlize Theron was born on Aug. 7, 1975, and raised on a farm outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. In addition to English, she grew up speaking the Afrikaans language of her parents and over a dozen local dialects she learned from employees of the farm and her father's road construction company. An only child, Theron was and outdoorsy and adventurous kid who did her part taking care of the family's animals and farm chores. But she was also a natural born entertainer, encouraged by her supportive mother to begin dance training at the age of six. When she was 12, Theron left home to attend an arts-oriented private school in Johannesburg where she joined the rigorous dance training program. The tall, lithe preteen had shown a great deal of promise as a dancer, but the move was also intended on her mother's part to remove Theron from an increasingly difficult home life with an alcoholic father. While home on a school break during 1991, Theron's parents erupted into a domestic dispute that ended in gunfire and the death of Theron's father. Mother Gerda had fired in self-defense from her attacking husband, and was not charged with any wrongdoing. The incident intensified the mother-daughter bond even more.
The shaken teen returned to boarding school and her mother, who was now managing the duties of the family construction business, encouraged her daughter to enter a modeling contest in Johannesburg. After earning top prize, Theron was flown to Italy to represent her country in another contest. She was signed to an agency and promptly quit school to travel Europe as a runway and advertising model. She was advised that she was a contender for runway supermodel if she wanted to slim down to the era's hot "heroin chic" weight, but Theron was merely interested in making some money to finance a career in dance. Modeling did indeed take her to New York City, where she remained even after her modeling contract ended. It was there that she began dance training with the renowned Joffrey Ballet. In less than a year, though, the 19-year-old suffered a serious knee injury that, sadly, made her dance career an impossibility. Instead, she retreated to the warm weather of Miami, FL, earning some more money modeling before opting to move to Los Angeles and try to break into movies as an actress.
Theron's "Hollywood discovery" story rivaled that of Lana Turner's legendary scouting at Schwab's drugstore, with the soon to be "it" girl attracting the attention of talent manager John Crosby during a tour de force hissy fit thrown in a bank when a teller refused to cash her out-of-state check. Crosby introduced Theron to casting directors and got her into acting classes, as there was a pretty thick accent to contend with. In mere months, she made her grand Hollywood entrance with a three-second, non-speaking role in the direct-to-video feature "Children of the Corn III" (1995). It may not have seemed like it at the time, but Lady Luck was smiling on her when she subsequently lost the lead in the disastrous "Showgirls" (1995) to Elizabeth Berkley. Instead, she was well on her way to establishing a memorable screen presence with a role as a sexy, cat-suited Norwegian hit woman going toe-to-toe with Teri Hatcher and titillating fellow assassin James Spader in John Herzfeld's "2 Days in the Valley" (1996). The unknown actress's scantily clad, gun-toting image stared down from billboards and imprinted itself on the studio mindset, even if her name did not yet register.
Offers poured in for Theron to essentially play that icy sex kitten again, but she demurred, further displaying her versatility with an about-face as the prissy marriage-minded girlfriend of a drummer (Tom Everett Scott) in Tom Hanks' directorial debut, "That Thing You Do!" (1996). She earned a blush from Hanks during her audition when she confessed she had had a crush on the actor since seeing "Splash" at the age of nine. Adorable in her comic role as a waitress who catches Jeff Daniels' eye in Jonathan Lynn's "Trial and Error" (1997), Theron really impressed with her deglamorized turn as Keanu Reeves' brunette wife in Taylor Hackford's thriller "The Devil's Advocate" (1997). Fighting hard against the stereotyping of her as "too beautiful for the part," she more than held her own against Al Pacino and Reeves - most obviously with her impressive onscreen breakdown that landed her character in the loony bin.
Woody Allen gave Theron the chance to spoof her modeling experience as the oversexed supermodel of "Celebrity" (1998), before she had the honor of returning to her homeland to star as an orphaned African girl who grows up with an orphaned gorilla in Disney's well-crafted remake of "Mighty Joe Young" (1998). Once again convincingly maneuvering through a wide range of emotions, Theron was right on the money with her mixture of strong-willed resilience and moist-eyed vulnerability as "The Astronaut's Wife" (1999), an extraterrestrial spin on "Rosemary's Baby" which disappeared quickly, due to its predictability and lackluster promotion by the studio. The flames of her instant career continued to burn bright with an impressive portrayal of a young woman tempted by desire while her soldier boyfriend is away at the war in "The Cider House Rules" (1999). The Lasse Hallstrom film was one of the year's critical and audience favorites, and Theron was glad that he and screenwriter John Irving had not made her character overly sympathetic. She next endured freezing conditions and even took on some stunt work for John Frankenheimer's "Reindeer Games" (1999), playing a restless Midwestern woman whose sexual dalliance with an ex-con (Ben Affleck) inadvertently leads him back to a life of crime.
Directors showed faith in Theron's talent by continually casting her opposite A-list actors, even if the roles she was given were sometimes of the underdeveloped "girlfriend" variety. In 2000, she played a heroin addict with a habit for ex-cons (Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix) in "The Yards." She went on to appear in "Men of Honor" (2000) as the wife of a tough-as-nails military man (Robert De Niro). A larger role in another male-centric film, Robert Redford's "The Legend of Bagger Vance" (2000), saw the actress as the mobilizing force of a golf tournament in 1930s Georgia. Theron finally took center screen as a terminally ill woman looking for love in "Sweet November" (2001), but unfortunately her pairing with Keanu Reeves in the heavy-handed romantic drama earned only Razzie Awards. With Woody Allen's "Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001), Theron showcased her comic timing as an opium-smoking Hollywood diva, but the film was generally panned, as was the chilling drama "Trapped" (2002) in which she played a kidnap victim alongside Stuart Townsend, with whom she would begin a long-term relationship.
In 2003, Theron was effective in an otherwise stock role of sexy, icy babe, in F. Gary Gray's slick remake of the 1969 heist classic "The Italian Job," but her performance was soon forgotten in the shadow of her Oscar and Golden Globe-winning portrayal of convicted murderer Aileen Wuornos, one of America's first known female serial killers, in "Monster" (2003). Theron's glamming-down and bulking-up were only part of the actress' stunning transformation into the highly intense Wuornos; she also dug deep into her own emotional history to relive the pain of an abusive background. Theron received nearly universal praise and landed on most critics' short lists for the best actress of the year. She followed up her performance with the low-profile wartime melodrama "Head in the Clouds" (2004), before earning an Emmy nomination for portraying actor Peter Sellers' one-time wife Britt Ekland in the HBO biopic, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" (2004), starring Geoffrey Rush. The following year she turned out another powerhouse dramatic triumph in "North Country" (2005), which was inspired by the true events surrounding the first ever class action sexual harassment suit against a corporation. Theron starred as an abused, single mother of two who finds pride and economic freedom as a miner, only to experience the constant humiliation of sexual harassment on the job. She earned nominations from the Golden Globes and Academy Awards, even though some detractors bemoaned that director Nikki Caro never quite transcended the realm of a high quality cable telepic.
Theron's apt reputation for empowered women led her to accept the sci-fi heroine role in a live-action adaptation of the edgy "Aeon Flux" (2005). The film did moderately well at the box office but failed to excite critics or transform the actress's image into that of an action heroine. She did keep pushing the boundaries of her image however, with a recurring role on the critically-lauded comedy "Arrested Development" (Fox, 2003-06), playing a British schoolteacher who catches the eye of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman). In 2007, she co-starred in a pair of politically-tinged dramas: Stuart Townsend's little-seen directorial debut "Battle in Seattle" (2007), a fictionalized account of 1999 protests of the World Trade Organization, and "In The Valley of Elah" (2007), an Iraq war study that earned star Tommy Lee Jones an Academy nomination for Best Actor, even if the film was criticized for it simplified approach to a number of complex situations. Theron was solid as a detective investigating a military crime, but as with "Battle in Seattle," the film received only limited release.
Theron again received critical praise for playing an abandoning mother in the bleak family drama "Sleepwalking" (2008), but the Sundance-screened indie received overall negative reviews. She returned to the big screen later that summer in the blockbuster action-comedy "Hancock" (2008) as the only woman able to stand up to an incorrigible superhero (Will Smith). Another intense performance in a lamentably under-seen film came with "The Burning Plain" (2009), writer Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut, in which Theron portrayed a woman tortured by unresolved guilt. Soon after, she was deeply affecting in a smaller role as the fatalistic wife of Viggo Mortensen in John Hillcoat's admirable adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalyptic-drama "The Road" (2009). Having long been considered one of Hollywood's more stable unions, observers were shocked at the news that Theron had ended her nine-year relationship with Townsend in January of 2010. After an absence of nearly two years, Theron returned with a bang, winning near universal accolades for her bravura turn as a bitter, self-centered writer returning to her hometown to reclaim her now-married childhood sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) in "Young Adult" (2011). The dark comedy-drama, directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, became the talk of the festival circuit prior to release, and earned kudos for co-star Patton Oswalt, in addition to those heaped upon Theron. Around the same time her deliciously over-the-top performance of the Evil Queen Ravenna in 'Snow White and the Huntsman" (2012) was garnering attention, the 36-year-old actress announced she had adopted an African-American baby named Jackson in March 2012.