South African Actress Found Success
One look at Charlize Theron, and you might think she was created in Hollywood’s own top-secret star laboratory. The truth is, Charlize’s journey to becoming one of the great film actresses of our time was far more unexpected. In fact, she grew up on a farm in rural South Africa and overcame a number of obstacles before she could be the first person from her country to win an Academy Award.
If we could pinpoint any secret ingredient to Charlize’s unlikely success, it might be the fact that she’s a total boss. Seriously, this woman has made courageous, authentic and passion-based choices throughout her career, and continues to show up as a fierce entrepreneur who’s focused on pushing the limits and giving back to the place she came from. Keep reading for the top five reasons we’re feeling seriously inspired.
As mentioned, Charlize did not have a glamorous upbringing or even a happy home-life and actually experienced heavy childhood trauma. Her father was an alcoholic, and at 15 her mother shot him in self-defense after he violently attacked them (she was not charged with a crime). Though this event must have been shocking and devastating, Charlize didn’t use it as a reason to give up on their dreams. At 16, she entered a modeling contest in Johannesburg and won. Another competition win in Milan and a move to New York City soon followed. Believe it or not, in high school Charlize was perceived as a nerd and not a beauty queen (she was smart, strange and wore glasses), but she still radiated inner confidence.
Charlize always had a passion for dance. While her childhood chores included tending livestock, she had also been allowed ballet lessons from the age of six. So it’s no surprise that upon moving to NYC to pursue her modeling career at 18, she gained entry to the prestigious Joffrey Ballet Academy. Sadly the dream of a promising dance career was soon cut short by a number of knee injuries. At such a young age, it could not have been easy for Charlize to say goodbye to her first calling. Her mother encouraged her to figure something else out, or come home to sulk in South Africa. Charlize chose the former. Soon enough, she had scraped together enough cash to buy a one-way ticket to Hollywood.
Charlize initially struggled to land any acting gigs. Her first language was
Afrikaans and her accent posed a major barrier. She worked hard to hide it, watching hours of television to teach herself American inflections. Her big break came in a moment when she had seemingly hit rock bottom. She was at the bank, desperately trying to pull funds from a South African account so she could pay rent, and boldly (and loudly) standing her ground before an unhelpful bank teller. Serendipitously, Hollywood manager John Crosby was also at the bank that day and was so impressed that he offered to sign her on the spot, securing her first film roles just months later. Flash forward twenty years, and Charlize still stands up for her worth—in the wake of the Sony hack, she negotiated equal pay to her male co-star in The Huntsman.
Few people would have advised Charlize to take her Academy Award-winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster. The project was a small indie film by a first-time director—certainly not a great payday for someone who was on set with Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton starring in the Italian Job—and definitely a risk. Plus, Charlize would have to gain weight, wear prosthetics and take on the kind of emotionally challenging and controversial role that few starlets dare to inhabit. At the end of the day, she loved the script, which had been so carefully researched by writer Patty Jenkins, and felt strongly about the team and their artistic intentions, so she even formed her own production company to help make the movie happen. She’s continued to choose her projects wisely ever since.
It’s one thing to be a star in this world, another to use your star-power to
help shape it. When it comes to impact, there are a couple of reasons why Charlize Theron is the kind of A-lister we can get behind. First of all, her aforementioned production company is currently focused on developing smart, thought-provoking shows with female protagonists for major cable networks. While empowering women through better storytelling in the media, Charlize is also busy giving back to her home country through her foundation. The Africa Outreach Project invests in South African youth to keep them safe from HIV/AIDS, providing direct support to community-based efforts on the ground. And since becoming the mother to two adopted children, Charlize has all the more incentive to make the world a better place.