As legend has it, Charlize Theron was discovered by an agent while fighting with a bank manager on Hollywood Boulevard. Eighteen and starving, Theron purportedly got into the argument after the manager refused to cash her check. The outburst caught the agent's attention, and eight months later Theron got her first acting job. She subsequently went on to become one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood, thanks to a fortuitous combination of talent and the blonde, statuesque good looks so fervently adored by the camera.
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Born August 7, 1975, Theron was raised on a farm in Benoni, South Africa. Trained as a ballet dancer, she was sent to Milan at 16 to become a model following the death of her father (which, it was later revealed, occurred after he was shot by Theron's mother, who was defending herself from his drunken abuse). After tiring of modeling, Theron returned to her first love, dancing, which resulted in a move to New York to dance with the Joffrey Ballet. Unfortunately, her career was halted by a knee injury, which led Theron -- at her mother's behest -- to travel to Los Angeles to try her luck with acting. After a long, unprofitable struggle, fate smiled upon Theron in the form of the aforementioned bank encounter.
Following an inauspicious bit part in 1994's Children of the Corn III, Theron won her first dose of recognition with 2 Days in the Valley (1996). The film wasn't particularly successful, but it did give her both much-needed exposure and critical praise. The film also served as the stepping stone to her first leading role, that of Keanu Reeves' embattled wife in The Devil's Advocate (1997). The film drew poor reviews, but Theron managed to win widespread praise for her performance. Her next project, Trial and Error (1997), surfaced briefly before disappearing with nary a trace, but the subsequent Mighty Joe Young (1998) netted Theron more positive notices. Her ascent was confirmed with her casting in Celebrity, Woody Allen's 1998 cameo-fest that also featured turns from everyone from Kenneth Branagh to Winona Ryder to Leonardo DiCaprio to Isaac Mizrahi. In her portrayal of a perpetually aroused supermodel, Theron shone in a role seemingly designed to allow her to flaunt her natural attributes and little else. She was rewarded with more substantial -- not to mention multilayered -- work in The Cider House Rules (1999), Lasse Hallström's Oscar-winning adaptation of John Irving's novel. As a troubled young woman with secrets to hide, Theron received star billing alongside Michael Caine and Tobey Maguire.
In the wake of The Cider House Rules came a few highly publicized but ultimately disappointing projects, including John Frankenheimer's Reindeer Games (2000), Robert Redford's The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), and Sweet November (2001), the last of which reunited her with erstwhile co-star Keanu Reeves. Theron was also reunited with Woody Allen in his The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), another widely anticipated film that, despite a high-profile cast and stylish period design, was both a critical and commercial underachiever.
None of this, however, nudged Theron from her A-list status, something that was confirmed by her casting in the flashy, star-studded 2003 remake of The Italian Job, a much-beloved 1969 comedy caper starring Michael Caine. The 2003 version featured Mark Wahlberg in the starring role, with Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, and Mos Def, among others, backing him up. That same year, Theron switched gears and dove headfirst into the "serious actress" category with her starring role in Monster, the crime drama based upon the real-life story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who, in the late '80s, murdered seven men in Florida. Co-starring Christina Ricci as Wuornos' lover, the film promised to show audiences a side of Theron that certainly hadn't been hinted at in her previous portrayals of models, girlfriends, and Southern debutantes. It was evidently successful as Theron was showered with more than a dozen awards including an Oscar following her first-ever Academy Award nomination.
2005 would be a decidedly mixed year for Theron. She first appeared in the live-action adaptation of the cult animated series Aeon Flux, a film that was nearly unanimously maligned by critics and largely avoided by audiences. Luckily, she also starred in the well-received docudrama North Country. Playing a woman who successfully battled sexual harassment, Theron was honored with her second Oscar nomination for the performance.
In 2007 Theron earned critical praise for her supporting role as a detective in In the Valley of Elah, and joined the star-studded cast of The Road in 2008. Theron took a lead role the following year in Young Adult (penned by Juno collaborators Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman) as a recently divorced author who returns to her hometown with her sights set on winning back her high school sweet heart. Young Adult was received well by both box office and critical standards. 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman featured Theron as the diabolical queen, while Prometheus (2012) found the actress playing the cold but complex character of corporate representative Meredith Vickers. In 2014, she took on a out-of-character comic role, playing the romantic lead in Seth Macfarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West, before returning to top form in Mad Max: Fury Road the following year. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi