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Oprah: So you were 18 going on 19 when you arrived in Hollywood. Who the hell did you think you were?

Charlize: Stupid! If I had to do that whole journey again today, I don't know if I'd have the guts even to live in the places I lived. When I got off the plane, I asked the cabdriver to take me to the cheapest hotel in Hollywood. He took me to the Farmer's Daughter, which is not the Farmer's Daughter of today [with quaint furnishings and celebrity galas]—no Maxim magazine parties. Back then the hotel could be rented by the hour. But I'd lived in worse model apartments. I took a bottle of bleach and some rags, and I cleaned up my room and stayed there for a couple of weeks. From my window, I could see the Hollywood sign.

Oprah: In the movies, when a woman's going off to fulfill a dream, she's always carrying one suitcase, maybe two. I'm thinking, Is that her whole life?

Charlize: My whole life was in one suitcase. It was a fabric suitcase that I had to fix with hairpins because it had torn. But I just knew there was a world I wanted to see.

Oprah: How could you be so fearless?

Charlize: My only alternative was to go home. At the time, there really wasn't a future for me in South Africa. I didn't finish high school or go to college.

Oprah: Was your family considered middle class?

Charlize: Yes. The problem is that we lived really nicely when we shouldn't have. My father was spending money where there was no money to spend. When he died, we were left with major debts.

Oprah: How much was the Farmer's Daughter?

Charlize: About $28 a day.

Oprah: Let me tell you, you're not going to get a good thread count in your sheets there. Did you take acting classes?

Charlize: I went to a couple that I just couldn't deal with because though I didn't know anything about acting, I instinctively knew it shouldn't be manipulated the way it is in most of the classes. Then one day in a bank, I got my chance. I was trying to cash my last check from a modeling job in New York, but because it was an out-of-state check, the bank wouldn't accept it—and I really needed the money. So I began pleading with this teller to help me.

Oprah: From what I've read, you were throwing a tantrum.

Charlize: I know that's what people say, but I'm like, "It's survival, people." If I didn't cash that check, I wouldn't have had a place to sleep that night. I said to the teller, "You don't understand—please!" I was begging and pleading, and a gentleman came over and tried to help. I had to fill out a ton of paperwork and open an account, and I cashed the check.

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