Q & A with Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron's star turn in the 2003 movie "Monster" won her an Oscar. For an actress who's been dubbed one of the most beautiful women in the world, she's played some rather unglamorous characters. In fact, she wouldn't want it any other way, as she told Lee Cowan:
Even in a tank top, walking her dogs in the Hollywood Hills, Charlize Theron is radiant - disarmingly so - and so is her sense of humor.
"When people refer to you as a movie star, or a mega star, what do you think about that term?" asked Cowan.
"Well, that's how it should be!" he laughed.
You learn very quickly that, despite her A-list status, Charlize Theron is as grounded as ever.
"The greatest thing that I've learned in my journey in doing this, is that if you come with your own agenda and with your own ego and you try to kind of force something and control something, you can't make a good movie," Theron said.
It's a philosophy she carried onto the set of her new film, "Young Adult," where she teamed up with director Jason Reitman.
She plays Mavis Gary, a ghost writer of young-adult novels who returns to her small hometown to reclaim her high school flame.
The catch: He's married with kids.
"It's a woman who just never grew up," Theron said. "She just didn't. She doesn't have the tools to really cope or deal."
"It's sad," said Cowan.
"In a way, it is. But in a way, you know, it's somewhat refreshing."
And in a departure for Theron, it's also funny.
"There's definitely a moment, especially in my career, I tend to have people in tears or throwing up in bathrooms," she laughed. "So to hear them giggle was a new experience for me, yeah! I looked at my producing partner and said, 'They're laughing! They're laughing at me!'"
"Where you surprised?
"Yeah, because you never know what people are going to tap into," Theron said.
The characters audiences have "tapped into" in the past are often anything but glamorous, like her Oscar-nominated portrayal of miner Josey Aimes in "North Country."
"The characters that you portray so often are troubled and challenged," Cowan said.
"I'm very troubled," Theron laughed. "Lee, I'm really troubled. I am!"
"But what is it though? What is it that draws you to those kinds of characters?"
"I guess I respond to those characters because when I read them they're familiar to me," she replied. "I know them. They feel human to me. They feel real to me. They don't feel like movie people to me, you know?"
Perhaps that's why her most famous role wasn't fictional at all - portraying real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in "Monster."
It was a performance that earned her the Oscar for Best Actress.
But there were plenty of skeptics early on: "Financiers at the time - I will never forget it - called me at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and said, 'We just saw the first dailies and we don't understand what you're doing. Why are you not smiling? Why do you look like that?' They didn't understand why I gained weight."
She's appeared in more than 30 films, and yet even now she says a great performance is still a puzzle.
"A lot of it I don't understand. I don't. A lot of it is a mystery to me."
"You like it that way?" Cowan asked.
"I do. I really love the mysteries of the world and of life. And I don't necessarily want to figure it out."
"You ever worry though that the mystery might not show up one day?" asked Cowan.
"Every day!" Theron said. "Are you kidding me? Every day I go to work!"
It's all a long way from the small South African farming community where Charlize Theron was born.
It's a country she still calls home - but also a place of tragedy.
At 15 she saw her mother, in an act of self-defense, shoot and kill Theron's abusive alcoholic father.
"As huge a moment as that was obviously in your life, it seems as though you've not let it define you in any way," said Theron.
"You know, couldn't change it, not matter how much I wanted to," said Theron. "I was just never going to define myself as a victim. Maybe that's what I love about my characters. They're not victims. And they don't try to lean on those crutches, you know?"
She left home at 16, became a model, and studied ballet, before launching a movie career.
"I just loved acting so much that all I dreamed for was that I could support myself just doing that, that I didn't have to do a second job."
"How much money did you have?" asked Cowan.
"I had nothing. I was literally living from paycheck to paycheck," said Theorn. "Like, yeah, there was a time that I stole bread from a bread basket in a restaurant."
"You really stole bread?"
"Yeah! I put the bread in my bag. And I cherish those moments. I cherish them."
She's ended up putting down roots in California - and became a U.S. citizen.
"I'm not a passive person," she said. "I feel like if I'm going to be living here, then I want to contribute to my community. And I want to contribute to elections and I want to feel like I'm truly part of it."
And at 36, she says, her life is right where she wants it.
"Oh my God, my life is AMAZING!" she said. "I'm just a really blessed person. I have amazing friends, oh my God! You know, I come from a country where there's an awareness for me every single day of how blessed I am."
South Africa is never far from her heart. Four years ago, she started a charity, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project.
Its goal is to reduce sexual violence, and educate the young about how to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS.
"There's no way that you can take a trip to South Africa and work with the kids that we work with that you don't come home and open the fridge and you realize circumstances somehow worked out for you," she said. "They don't work out for everybody else in the word."
In fact she says, she never expected it to work out as well as it has.
"I mean, the dream was never this big" Theron said.
"It really wasn't?
"No! God no. Are you kidding me?"
She lives just a few miles from her mother, who she says is a model for the kind of mom she'd like to be ... one day.
But not yet. Her nine-year relationship with actor Stuart Townsend ended two years ago.
"Are you dating anybody now?" asked Cowan. "... not that I'm coming onto you."
"Yeah, wait a second!" she laughed. "No, I'm not. I'm single. I haven't been since, God, since I was 19."
She is, after all, busy working - going from one unlikable protagonist to another.
This summer she'll be on the big screen again, as the evil queen in "Snow White and the Huntsman."
She may again surprise audiences and herself - and that, she says, is her favorite part.
"If there was anything that was guaranteed in this industry, we would be doing it over and over and over again," she said. "I think that's what's amazing about being in this business. It's creative. There is no recipe. It's all a stroke of luck sometimes."
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