Theron was born in Benoni, in the then Transvaal Province (now Gauteng Province) of South Africa, the only child of Gerda (née Maritz) and Charles Theron (27 November 1947 – 21 June 1991). Second Boer War military leader Danie Theron was her great-great-uncle. She is from an Afrikaner family, and her ancestry includes Dutch as well as French and German; her French forebears were early Huguenot settlers in South Africa. "Theron" is an Occitan surname (originally spelled Théron) pronounced in Afrikaans as [trɔn].
Although seeing herself as a dancer, at age 16 Theron won a one-year modelling contract at a local competition in Salerno and moved with her mother to Milan, Italy. After Theron spent a year modelling throughout Europe, she and her mother moved to the US, both New York City and Miami. In New York, she attended the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer until a knee injury closed this career path. As Theron recalled in 2008:
Charlize Theron (/ʃɑːrˈliːz ˈθɛrən/ shar-LEEZ THERR-ən; Afrikaans: [ʃarˈlis ˈtrɔn]; born 7 August 1975) is a South African and American actress and producer. She is the recipient of several accolades, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, an American Cinematheque Award, and the Silver Bear for Best Actress. Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2016, and she is one of the world's highest-paid actresses, as of 2019.
In 2017, Theron starred in The Fate of the Furious as the main antagonist of the entire franchise, and played a spy on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 in Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel The Coldest City, directed by David Leitch. With a worldwide gross of US$1.2 billion, The Fate of The Furious became Theron's most widely seen film, and Atomic Blonde was described by Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times as "a slick vehicle for the magnetic, badass charms of Charlize Theron, who is now officially an A-list action star on the strength of this film and Mad Max: Fury Road".
She grew up on her parents' farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg. On 21 June 1991, Theron's father, an alcoholic, threatened both teenaged Charlize and her mother while drunk, physically attacking her mother and firing a gun at both of them. Theron's mother retrieved her own handgun, shot back and killed him. The shooting was legally adjudged to have been self-defense, and her mother faced no charges.
In 1994, Theron flew to Los Angeles, on a one-way ticket her mother bought for her, intending to work in the film industry. During the initial months there, she went to a Hollywood Boulevard bank to cash a cheque her mother had sent to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron engaged in a shouting match with him. Upon seeing this, talent agent John Crosby, waiting behind her, handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to casting agents and also an acting school. She later fired him as her manager after he kept sending her scripts for films similar to Showgirls and Species.
Larger roles in widely released Hollywood films followed, and her career expanded by the end of the 1990s. In the horror drama The Devil's Advocate (1997), which is credited to be her break-out film, Theron starred alongside Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino as the haunted wife of an unusually successful lawyer. She subsequently starred in the adventure film Mighty Joe Young (1998) as the friend and protecter of a giant mountain gorilla, and in the drama The Cider House Rules (1999), as a woman who seeks an abortion in World War II-era Maine. While Mighty Joe Young flopped at the box office, The Devil's Advocate and The Cider House Rules were commercially successful. She was on the cover of the January 1999 issue of Vanity Fair as the "White Hot Venus". She also appeared on the cover of the May 1999 issue of Playboy magazine, in photos taken several years earlier when she was an unknown model; Theron unsuccessfully sued the magazine for publishing them without her consent.
Theron was in a three-year relationship with singer Stephan Jenkins until October 2001. Some of Third Eye Blind's third album, Out of the Vein, explores the emotions Jenkins experienced as a result of their breakup.
In Monster (2003), Theron portrayed serial killer Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was executed in Florida in 2002 for killing six men (she was not tried for a seventh murder) in the late 1980s and early 1990s; film critic Roger Ebert felt that Theron gave "one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema". For her portrayal, she was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Golden Globe Award. She is the first South 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 up to US$10 million for a film; she ranked seventh. AskMen also named her the number one most desirable woman of 2003.
Theron came to international prominence in the 1990s by playing the leading lady in the Hollywood films The Devil's Advocate (1997), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and The Cider House Rules (1999). In 2003, she received critical acclaim for her portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, becoming the first South African to win an Oscar in an acting category. She received another Academy Award nomination for playing a sexually abused woman seeking justice in the drama North Country (2005). Theron has since starred in several top-grossing action films, including Hancock (2008), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Prometheus (2012), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), The Fate of the Furious (2017), and Atomic Blonde (2017). She also received praise for playing troubled women in Jason Reitman's comedy-dramas Young Adult (2011) and Tully (2018), and for portraying Megyn Kelly in the drama Bombshell (2019), receiving a third Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
Having signed a deal with John Galliano in 2004, Theron replaced Estonian model Tiiu Kuik as the spokeswoman in the J'Adore advertisements by Christian Dior. From October 2005 to December 2006, Theron earned US$3 million for the use of her image in a worldwide print media advertising campaign for Raymond Weil watches. In February 2006, she and her corporate entity were sued by Weil for breach of contract. The lawsuit was settled on 4 November 2008.
For her role of Swedish actress and singer Britt Ekland in the 2004 HBO film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Theron garnered Golden Globe Award and Primetime Emmy Award nominations. In 2005, she portrayed Rita, the mentally challenged love interest of Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman), on the third season of Fox's television series Arrested Development, and starred in the financially unsuccessful science fiction thriller Aeon Flux; for her voice-over work in the Aeon Flux video game, she received a Spike Video Game Award for Best Performance by a Human Female.
In the critically acclaimed drama North Country (2005), Theron portrayed a single mother and an iron mine worker experiencing sexual harassment. David Rooney of Variety wrote: "The film represents a confident next step for lead Charlize Theron. Though the challenges of following a career-redefining Oscar role have stymied actresses, Theron segues from Monster to a performance in many ways more accomplished [...] The strength of both the performance and character anchor the film firmly in the tradition of other dramas about working-class women leading the fight over industrial workplace issues, such as Norma Rae or Silkwood." For her performance, she received Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Actress. Ms. magazine also honoured her for this performance with a feature article in its Fall 2005 issue. On 30 September 2005, Theron received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2007, Theron became a naturalized citizen of the United States, while retaining her South African citizenship.
In 2007, Theron played a police detective in the critically acclaimed crime film In the Valley of Elah, and produced and starred as a reckless, slatternly mother in the little-seen drama film Sleepwalking, alongside Nick Stahl and AnnaSophia Robb. The Christian Science Monitor praised the latter film, commenting that "Despite its deficiencies, and the inadequate screen time allotted to Theron (who's quite good), Sleepwalking has a core of feeling". In 2008, Theron starred as a woman who faced a traumatic childhood in the drama The Burning Plain, directed by Guillermo Arriaga and opposite Jennifer Lawrence and Kim Basinger, and also played the ex-wife of an alcoholic superhero alongside Will Smith in the superhero film Hancock. The Burning Plain found a limited release in theaters, but Hancock made US$624.3 million worldwide. Also in 2008, Theron was named the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year, and was asked to be a UN Messenger of Peace by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Since the early 2000s, Theron has ventured into film production with her company Denver and Delilah Productions. She has produced numerous films, in many of which she had a starring role, including The Burning Plain (2008), Dark Places (2015), and Long Shot (2019). Theron became an American citizen in 2007, while retaining her South African citizenship.
The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) was created in 2007 by Theron, who the following year was named a UN Messenger of Peace, in an effort to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The project is committed to supporting community-engaged organizations that address the key drivers of the disease. Although the geographic scope of CTAOP is Sub-Saharan Africa, the primary concentration has mostly been Charlize's home country of South Africa. By November 2017, CTAOP had raised more than $6.3 million to support African organizations working on the ground.
In 2008, Theron was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In his citation, Ban Ki-Moon said of Theron "You have consistently dedicated yourself to improving the lives of women and children in South Africa, and to preventing and stopping violence against women and girls". She recorded a public service announcement in 2014 as part of their Stop Rape Now program.
Her film releases in 2009 were the post-apocalyptic drama The Road, in which she briefly appeared in flashbacks, and the animated film Astro Boy, providing her voice for a character. On 4 December 2009, Theron co-presented the draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, accompanied by several other celebrities of South African nationality or ancestry. During rehearsals she drew an Ireland ball instead of France as a joke at the expense of FIFA, referring to Thierry Henry's handball controversy in the play-off match between France and Ireland. The stunt alarmed FIFA enough for it to fear she might do it again in front of a live global audience.
Theron is a supporter of same-sex marriage and attended a march and rally to support that in Fresno, California, on 30 May 2009. She publicly stated that she refused to get married until same sex marriage became legal in the United States, saying: "I don't want to get married because right now the institution of marriage feels very one-sided, and I want to live in a country where we all have equal rights. I think it would be exactly the same if we were married, but for me to go through that kind of ceremony, because I have so many friends who are gays and lesbians who would so badly want to get married, that I wouldn't be able to sleep with myself". Theron further elaborated on her stance in a June 2011 interview on Piers Morgan Tonight. She stated: "I do have a problem with the fact that our government hasn't stepped up enough to make this federal, to make [gay marriage] legal. I think everybody has that right".
While filming Æon Flux in Berlin, Germany, Theron suffered a herniated disc in her neck, caused by a fall while filming a series of back handsprings. It required her to wear a neck brace for a month. In July 2009, she was diagnosed with a serious stomach virus, thought to be contracted while overseas. While filming The Road, Theron injured her vocal cords during the labour screaming scenes.
In December 2009, CTAOP and TOMS Shoes partnered to create a limited edition unisex shoe. The shoe was made from vegan materials and inspired by the African baobab tree, the silhouette of which was embroidered on blue and orange canvas. Ten-thousand pairs were given to destitute children, and a portion of the proceeds went to CTAOP.
Theron began a relationship with Irish actor Stuart Townsend after meeting him on the set of the 2002 film Trapped. The couple lived together in Los Angeles and Ireland. Theron split from Townsend in January 2010.
Following a two-year hiatus from the big screen, Theron returned to the spotlight in 2011 with the black comedy Young Adult. Directed by Jason Reitman, the film earned critical acclaim, in particular for her performance as a depressed divorced, alcoholic 37-year-old ghost writer. Richard Roeper awarded the film an A grade, stating "Charlize Theron delivers one of the most impressive performances of the year". She was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and several other awards. In 2011, describing her process to portray a character on screen, she said:
In 2012, Theron took on the role of villain in two big-budgeted films. She played Evil Queen Ravenna, Snow White's evil stepmother, in Snow White and the Huntsman, opposite Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, and appeared as a crew member with a hidden agenda in Ridley Scott's Prometheus. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle found Snow White and the Huntsman to be "[a] slow, boring film that has no charm and is highlighted only by a handful of special effects and Charlize Theron's truly evil queen", while The Hollywood Reporter writer Todd McCarthy, describing her role in Prometheus, asserted: "Theron is in ice goddess mode here, with the emphasis on ice [...] but perfect for the role all the same". Both films were major box office hits, grossing around US$400 million internationally each.
Theron has adopted children: She adopted Jackson in March 2012 and August in July 2015. She lives in Los Angeles. In April 2019, Theron revealed that her seven-year-old child Jackson is a transgender girl. She stated, "They were born who they are and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up, and who they want to be, is not for me to decide".
In 2013, Vulture/NYMag named her the 68th Most Valuable Star in Hollywood saying: "We're just happy that Theron can stay on the list in a year when she didn't come out with anything [...] any actress who's got that kind of skill, beauty, and ferocity ought to have a permanent place in Hollywood". In 2014, Theron took on the role of the wife of an infamous sheepherder in the western comedy film A Million Ways to Die in the West, directed by Seth MacFarlane, which was met with mediocre reviews and moderate box office returns. In 2015, Theron played the sole survivor of the massacre of her family in the film adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel Dark Places, directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, in which she had a producer credit, and starred as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), opposite Tom Hardy. Mad Max received widespread acclaim, with praise going towards Theron for the dominant nature taken by her character. The film made US$378.4 million worldwide.
In December 2013, Theron began dating American actor Sean Penn. The two announced their engagement in December 2014. Theron ended their relationship in June 2015.
In March 2014, CTAOP was among the charities that benefited from the annual Fame and Philanthropy fundraising event on the night of the 86th Academy Awards. Theron was an honoured guest along with Halle Berry and keynote speaker James Cameron.
In 2015, Theron signed an open letter which the ONE Campaign had been collecting signatures for; the letter was addressed to Angela Merkel and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, urging them to focus on women as they serve as the head of the G7 in Germany and the AU in South Africa respectively, which will start to set the priorities in development funding before a main UN summit in September 2015 that will establish new development goals for the generation.
Theron reprised her role as Queen Ravenna in the 2016 film The Huntsman: Winter's War, a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman, which was a critical and commercial failure. In 2016, Theron also starred as a physician and activist working in West Africa in the little-seen romantic drama The Last Face, with Sean Penn, provided her voice for the 3D stop-motion fantasy film Kubo and the Two Strings, and produced the independent drama Brain on Fire. That year, Time named her in the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
In the black comedy Tully (2018), directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diablo Cody, Theron played an overwhelmed mother of three. The film was acclaimed by critics, who concluded it "delves into the modern parenthood experience with an admirably deft blend of humor and raw honesty, brought to life by an outstanding performance by Charlize Theron". She also played the president of a pharmaceutical in the little-seen crime film Gringo and produced the biographical war drama film A Private War, both released in 2018.
In 2019, Theron starred and produced Long Shot directed by Jonathan Levine, portraying a U.S. Secretary of State who reconnects with a journalist she used to babysit in the romantic comedy film Long Shot, opposite Seth Rogen. The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest in March 2019, and was released on 3 May 2019, to positive reviews from film critics. Theron next starred as Megyn Kelly in the drama Bombshell, which she also co-produced. Directed by Jay Roach, the film revolves around the sexual harassment allegations made against Fox News CEO Roger Ailes by former female employees. For her work in the film, Theron was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actress, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, and BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. That year, Forbes ranked her as the ninth highest-paid actress in the world, with an annual income of $23 million.
She will reprise her role as Cipher in F9: The Fast Saga, set for release on 22 May 2020. Theron will next star and produce The Old Guard directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, opposite KiKi Layne for Netflix.