“Fearless.” Few words have been used as often to describe Charlize Theron—and she’s certainly deserving of the label. Not only has she built a life in the arts over her 25-year career on her own terms, but a deep dive into her catalog of prestige character studies and genre-defining blockbusters reveals exacting instincts and a woman bold in her choices.
That’s why it’s especially surprising—disarming, even—to speak with the actor on a Sunday afternoon in October and have her confess to her career’s earliest roadblock: fear.
“I would have enjoyed everything a little bit more if I’d just chilled out and didn’t get so caught up in the fear and [the] feeling that there was a clock ticking,” she says, sitting in the privacy of her green room at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. We’re just out of a preview screening of her latest awards-caliber project, “Bombshell,” and it’s a packed weekend trip of back-to-back press in New York City. “I was so rushed by all of it because I had this horrible fear that if this [didn’t] work out, I was going to go back to South Africa. I knew what that life was like, and I just didn’t want to do that.”
Much has been said of the life Theron left behind: a childhood on a farm in rural South Africa, milking cows and befriending goats; a mother who shot her violent, alcoholic father in self-defense during a particularly nasty fight. She left the farm at age 16, soon after his death, after being offered a chance to model, a vocation that took her to Europe and the United States. But her dream since the age of 4 had been to dance, and she moved to NYC to train at the Joffrey Ballet School before a knee injury at 19 cut those aspirations short. Her mother dusted her off, got her back on her feet, and brainstormed an alternative: acting. Theron booked a one-way flight to Los Angeles.