Charlize Theron (pronounced /ʃɑrˈliːz ˈθɛrən/; born August 7, 1975) is a South African actress, film producer, and former fashion model. She became an American citizen in 2007.
She rose to fame in the late 1990s following her roles in 2 Days in the Valley, Mighty Joe Young, The Devil's Advocate, and The Cider House Rules. She received critical acclaim and an Academy Award for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the film Monster, for which she became the first African to win an Academy Award in a major acting category. She received another Academy Award nomination for her performance in North Country.
Theron was born in Benoni, South Africa, the only child of Charles and Gerda Theron, and is of German and French descent. Theron's first language is Afrikaans; she is fluent in English and speaks some Zulu. "Theron" is an Occitan surname (originally spelled Théron) pronounced in Afrikaans as "Tronn", although she has said that she prefers the pronunciation "Thrown".
Theron grew up on her parents' farm near Johannesburg (Benoni). She attended Putfontein Primary School (Laerskool Putfontein). At the age of 13, Theron was sent to boarding school and began her studies at the National School Of The Arts in Johannesburg. At 15, Theron witnessed the death of her father, an abusive alcoholic; Gerda shot him in self-defence when he attacked her. The police pressed no charges against her.
At the age of 16, Theron traveled to Milan, Italy, on a one-year modeling contract, after winning a local competition. She went to New York with Pauline's Model Management. She decided to remain after her contract ended, attending the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer. A knee injury closed this career path when Theron was 19.
Unable to dance, Theron flew to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket her mother bought her. During her early months there, she went to a bank to cash a check her mother had sent her to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron immediately started into a shouting match with her. Afterwards, a talent agent in line behind her handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to some casting agents and also an acting school. She later fired him as her manager after he allegedly kept sending her scripts for films similar to Showgirls and Species. After eight months in the city, she was cast in her first film part, a non-speaking role in the direct-to-video film Children of the Corn III (1995). Larger roles in widely released Hollywood films followed, and her career skyrocketed in the late 1990s with box office successes like The Devil's Advocate (1997), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and The Cider House Rules (1999). She glossed the cover of the January 1999 issue of Vanity Fair as the "White Hot Venus". Theron appeared on the cover of the May 1999 edition of Playboy Magazine with an accompanying nude pictorial by photographer Guido Argentini taken at a time when she was but an aspiring model. Theron later claimed that the photographs had not been intended for publication and had appeared in the magazine against her wishes. She sued the photographer and won the case.
After appearing in a few notable films, Theron starred as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003). Film critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema". For this role, Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, as well as the SAG Award and the Golden Globe Award. She is the first African to win an Oscar for Best Actress. The Oscar win pushed her to The Hollywood Reporter's 2006 list of highest-paid actresses in Hollywood; earning $10,000,000 for both her subsequent films, North Country and Æon Flux, she ranked seventh, behind Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Renée Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon, and Nicole Kidman
On September 30, 2005, Theron received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the same year, she starred in the financially unsuccessful science fiction thriller Æon Flux. Additionally, Theron received Best Actress Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her lead performance in the drama North Country. Ms. magazine also honored her for this performance with a feature article in its Fall 2005 issue.
In 2005, Theron portrayed Rita, Michael Bluth's (Jason Bateman) love interest, on the third season of FOX's critically-acclaimed television series Arrested Development. She also received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her role of Britt Ekland in the 2004 HBO movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
In 2007, Esquire named her the Sexiest Woman Alive.
In 2008, Theron was named the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year. That year she also starred with Will Smith in Hancock, a movie that grossed $227.9M in the U.S.A. and $396.4M internationally, and in late 2008 she was asked to be a UN Messenger of Peace by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
On November 10, 2008, TV Guide reported that Theron will star in the film adaptation of The Danish Girl alongside Nicole Kidman. Theron will play Gerda Wegener, wife of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe (Kidman), the world's first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery.