This article is from 2006.
Model, actress, animal lover and now producer, Charlize Theron is heading for Edinburgh to spill the beans on two new films she is currently producing. Is this the beginning of something even more beautiful, asks Paul Dale.
The rise of Charlize Theron happened so suddenly. One minute I'm in a multiplex, giggling at the incompetence of her agent in such cinematic silage as Men of Honour, The Astronaut's Wife and The Italian Job (a sequel to which, The Brazilian Job, starring Theron again, will hit our screens next year). Next thing I know she's collecting gongs for playing facially pockmarked lesbian serial killers, and being offered the kind of intense roles Meryl Streep got offered 20 years ago (didn't you think North Country was just Silkwood in dungarees?). Don't get me wrong; I'm pleased for the dame. She's following a proud tradition that leads from Clara Bow to Diane Kruger, of troubled young girls who become models and then excel on the big screen in a way that few could have expected. All I'm saying is, I didn't see it coming.
Anyway the story goes something like this - Charlize Theron was born on a mildly humid, earthy-smelling day, 7 August 1975, in Benoni, in Gauteng Province, to the east of Johannesburg in South Africa. It has been argued that her fine looks came from her father, Charles Theron, a construction company owner of French Huguenot descent, more than her German-descended mother Gerda. It was her mother, though, who represented her earliest example of female empowerment, taking over the running of the firm when her husband died. Her mother also had other things to teach Charlize.
An Afrikaans speaker first and an English speaker second (much of which explains Theron's talents with some of the US' more, shall we say, Boer-ish accents) Theron grew up as the only child on her parents' farm before going to a boarding school at the age of thirteen. At fifteen, Theron witnessed the death of her abusive, alcoholic father when her mother shot him in self-defence. No charges were brought.
A young lady with an inevitable urge escape the bone dry plateaux of South Africa, Theron travelled to Milan, Italy at the age of 15, on a one-year modelling contract, after winning a local competition. Her contract ended while she was in New York City, and she decided to remain there, attending the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer, though a knee injury put paid to this career at the age of 18.
Unable to dance, the legend goes that, in 1994, either Charlize or her mother bought her a one-way ticket to Los Angeles, where Charlize started beating down the doors of agents on Hollywood Boulevard. While she didn't instantly hit the jackpot, this Cinderella was eventually discovered as she bawled out a bank clerk out for refusing to cash a $500 'out of State' check from her mother. As she made a scene, her future agent gave her his card and told her to get in touch when she had learnt English, which she did by watching soap operas on TV. Bit parts in John Herzfeld's underrated 2 Days in the Valley and Tom Hanks' film directorial debut That Thing You Do! followed. Then in 1997 she hit pay dirt with the first of a series of alarmingly awful (but sadly lucrative) films. Her roles in The Devil's Advocate, Mighty Joe Young, The Cider House Rules, The Legend of Bagger Vance and so on were occasionally leavened by good work in interesting films like James Foley's The Yards and Woody Allen's Celebrity. But, for the most part, Theron was picking up the detritus Diaz was too dizzy for, and Pfeiffer too old for. After a run in, in 1999, with Playboy photographer Guido Argentini for publishing nude photos of her which were meant for 'private use', Theron made a few more rubbish films (Sweet November, 15 Minutes) before being cast in Monster. This, my friends, is where it all changes.
With Golden Globes, Uncle Oscars and eulogies from irrelevant uber-critic Roger Ebert hanging from her, Theron was suddenly seriously big business, and not just the cut price beauty that well preserved, ageing actors like De Niro, Pacino and Depp begged for as a co-star. Now, she was the star. John Galliano and Christian Dior came knocking; she received her own bronze star on the Hollywood Walk of fame, and she was repeatedly voted one of the sexiest women on the planet. Hell, just for good measure, the lady even outed herself as pro-gay rights, anti-fur and anti-marriage.
So far, so lovely-dreamypeachy-creamy; all these facts and mythology are well within the public domain. The problem is: despite being declared by all and sundry as 'the greatest living actress who ever played hitchhiking manslayer', Theron's movie career has hardly set the world alight. Admittedly, she cut a sexy dash as Britt Ekland in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers but WW2 period drama Head in the clouds was a big yawn, North Country was a worthy turkey and Aeon Flux was just nonsense. None of this was, of course, Theron's fault. The big difference between all these films and Monster, is a single producer credit. That of Charlize Theron.
So it is and so it shall be that in August, 30-odd-year-old Theron will (almost certainly) take part in a Reel Life EIFF debate about 'producing movies'. The movies she will be talking about are her two next ones - Alan Parker's (remember that old big budget bully?) navy-man-returns-home-to-his-dysfunctional-family yarn, The Ice at the Bottom of the World, and, more interestingly, an adaptation of Brian Bendis' superb graphic novel Jinx.
All of which tells us what about Theron exactly? That she believes that, like Benjamin Franklin, she should, 'Drive thy business, let not it drive thee'? Or, like Wilde, that, 'a man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure'? Or simply that, like her mother before her, it is now time to take over the family business and begin turning a profit? It's difficult to say with Theron. She is undoubtedly a serious Hollywood talent, but, like so many other beautiful female emigres who once beat California's boulevards of broken dreams, she boasts a seriously unimpressive CV. Is this the fault of the (mostly) men who run the studios? Probably. They are usually guilty of everything. Is it because movies take an age to develop and make, but only take ten days to fall off everyone's radars? Probably. If so, is it now time for sisters to do it for themselves? Definitely. But this time, Charlize, like so few before you, please make it count. Stick by your sisters and take over every single diseased lot and office of that dyspeptic town they call Hollywood. Let's face it, such a radical shift is the only thing that is going to stem the tide of twaddle and testosterone in Tinseltown.
Reel to Reel with Charlize Theron, details tbc.