It’s sunset at the Bel Air Bay Club, a private beach enclave atop a Pacific Palisades bluff with stunning views of the ocean, and Charlize Theron is ready to wind down. As she sinks into an oversized leather club chair, the 36-year-old star, widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful women, takes in the view and can’t help but smile. “God, that’s incredible,” she says, looking out the large windows with uninterrupted views of Santa Monica and Malibu. “You gotta be happy when you look at that, right?”
Theron has every reason to be smiling right now. Her career is white-hot, with a key role in Ridley Scott’s hugely anticipated sci-fi epic Prometheus (out now) and the imminent release of big-budget fantasy Snow White and The Huntsman, in which she plays the evil queen. And in her private life, Theron recently adopted a baby boy named Jackson. It was a long-held dream come true; soon after the adoption, Theron recalled a letter she’d written when she was 8 years old: “My mother found [it],” she revealed. “It said, ‘Would you please take me to orphanage, so that I can go and adopt a baby?’ I always knew I would adopt – always.”
Theron has never really played by the rules, and she didn’t wait around for a ring before deciding to start her family; she just did it. “You know,” she has said, “I don’t think any mother aims to be a single mum. I didn’t wish for that, but it happened.” So, does this mean she’s still on the lookout for a husband? “It’s never been a fantasy of mine,” she tells me, matter-of-factly. “Marriage has never been that important to me. I don’t know why exactly. Some might say it’s because my parents didn’t have a good marriage, but I don’t think so. I treat my relationships like marriages. The ceremony isn’t that important to me,” she adds.
Theron split from her long-time boyfriend, actor Stuart Townsend, in 2010 after nine years. Prior to that, the actress dated Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins from 1997 until 2001. It’s a new experience for Theron to be single and she’s enjoying it. “Not that I’m out every night of the week,” she laughs, taking a sip of her drink. “But it’s a nice experience to be single.” When she is ready to date again, it’s hard to imagine she’ll have a lack of suitors.
Today, the star looks effortlessly chic in leather leggings, a white short-sleeved Splendid T-shirt and a long camel scarf draped around her neck. It’s sexy yet polished, a look Theron achieves perfectly. She’s been on just about every best-dressed list going and deservedly so (case in point: her blush pink Dior gown at this year’s Golden Globes), but mention she’s stylish and Theron immediately shakes her head. “I like to dress very simply,” she says. “I’m not like this big, crazy dresser. I mean, we’ve [met and] talked several times and I’m sure you don’t see me as this big trendsetter. I like very simple, classic clothes. Some would say boring clothes, I guess,” she shrugs. I don’t like things very tricky. T-shirts and blouses with a great pair of leggings or jeans. I like to feel like me.”
It’s been a long road for Theron to get where she is today, and things have not always been easy. Growing up in Benoni, South Africa, she was the only child of Gerda and Charles Theron. Her father died on June 21, 1991, after a drunken rage in which he threatened Charlize and her mother. Theron’s mother shot him in self-defence.
At 16, Theron won a one-year modelling contract and her life changed dramatically. As a little girl, says Theron, she would look at a map of the world and know there were bigger and better things out there for her and her mother, with whom she is incredibly close. “We were at the bottom of the world and then there was this whole other thing going on up there. I was always reading encyclopedias about the world. Travel was something I was always attracted to. So when the model scout said, ‘You can go to Milan’, I thought ‘Great, I’m in!’” she laughs.
After living in Europe for a year, Theron and her mother moved to the United States, where she was discovered by an acting agent while in a bank on Hollywood Boulevard. Roles in films such as The Cider House Rules and The Italian Job followed but it was her incredible acting performance in the gritty 2003 film Monster for which Theron garnered an Academy Award for best actress. Winning such an acclaimed accolade may make some take themselves a little too seriously. Not Theron.
“You know what I can’t stand?” she asks. “I hate actors who come and quote [19th century German philosopher Friedrich] Nietzsche. I don’t like pretentious shit. I like being around people who like to live life and understand the value of it. I need to be around people who understand we’re not curing cancer here. I like professional actors who show up, do the job and are not a pain in the ass to either myself or the crew.”
While she may play flawed characters on screen, Theron isn’t the type to stay in that persona for the benefit of her craft. “I don’t believe in this idea that if you’re fucked up and [Stanislavsky] Method, that’s the only way to do good work. It’s bullshit. A professional actor does their homework beforehand and they do their job. Then when it’s all said and done, they have a beer with the crew. That’s what a professional actor does,” she says.
Theron doesn’t mince words. If there was a fake person around, you sense she’d be the first one to sniff them out.
“This is not a dress rehearsal,” she reminds me as she rests her chin on her right hand, her eyes fixing their gaze. “I don’t know what happens after this. [So] I’m really living my life for me. My mum always told me, ‘Don’t be 80, lying on your death bed and wishing you lived your life any other way’, and I think that’s exactly right.”
For more buy the June issue of madison, on sale May 16.
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