She's a beauty who played a beast—and brought home a Best Actress Oscar for her effort. Now former model and dancer Charlize Theron opens up about her trauma-filled childhood, the joy of turning 30, the role luck has played in her career (but wait till you hear Oprah's two cents' worth about that)—and the anti-rape campaign she's championing in her native South Africa.
When 18-year-old Charlize Theron arrived in Hollywood in 1994, she had a single, tattered suitcase, $400, and a very big dream—to find her way in the movie business. Just ten years later, Charlize was walking across a stage to accept the Academy Award® for Best Actress.

She is stunning, of course—the kind of woman you assume had it easy. Then you hear her story: Born in a South African farming community, at 15 she saw her mother shoot and kill her alcoholic father in self-defense after he threatened to murder them both. A year later, Charlize moved to Milan to model, having won a contest her mother had entered her in. After a short stint as a ballerina in New York, she bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, where she might have made a career of playing bombshells. Instead she refused to be typecast. For her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, she gained 30 pounds and allowed her face to be made unrecognizable. Serious about bringing important social issues to light onscreen and off, she has started an anti-rape campaign in South Africa.

When I walk through the door of her place in L.A., I see that she has transported a slice of her homeland here, with handmade drums in one corner, a bust of a black woman on the mantel, and a copy of Lost Africa on her coffee table. After serving me a scrumptious lunch (oh, the roasted potatoes!), she tells me about her childhood, her ambitions, her boyfriend, and the road to stardom...and we even have a friendly disagreement.

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This interview appeared in the November 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.


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