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October 4, 2005

Charlize Theron: Nobody's Fool

Behind those baby greens is a will of steel and a gutsy, outspoken actress who isn't afraid to offer a little payback to a Hollywood director who did her wrong, Charlize Theron tells Marie Claire.

Q&A With Charlize Theron

Photo Credit: John Shearer/Wire Image

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Behind those baby greens is a will of steel and a gutsy, outspoken actress who isn't afraid to offer a little payback to a Hollywood director who did her wrong. Here, the star of North Country (a film about the first successful class-action sexual-harassment case in U.S. history) speaks with fierce frankness about the mother who made her tough and the redemptive power of forgiveness.

More than a decade ago, before she became the big screen's siren of choice and well before she could put an Academy Award on her mantelpiece, Charlize Theron was an 18-year-old aspiring actress, dewy-fresh from her South African hometown of Benoni, thoroughly unschooled in Hollywood dos and don'ts. So when an experienced director asked her to read for a role in his latest film, she was eager to take part. "It was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night, at his house in Los Angeles," she recalls. "But I didn't know anything about the business, so I thought maybe that was a normal thing."

Off Theron went ‑- but when the director opened his door that night, "he was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas. I thought, Maybe this is how he works. I go inside, and he's offering me a drink, and I'm thinking, My God, this acting stuff's very relaxed ‑- when do we actually start working? It pretty soon became very clear to me what the situation was. And then you're either someone who can't deal with that situation, or..."

Or you're Charlize Theron, apparently. "I think when you put forth a certain kind of attitude, people don't fuck with you," she says. "I never walked into a room the naive farm girl from South Africa." So, even at 18, "I knew how to deal with it: 'Not going to happen. Wrong girl, buddy.'"

Sitting in L.A.'s Chateau Marmont hotel wearing jeans and an off-the-shoulder yellow top, Theron is relaxed, with skin that's just as flawless as advertised. It's clear that the wait is over for 30-year-old Charlize Theron ‑- one lecherous director's Wrong Girl has become the Right Woman in Hollywood's eyes. Theron's fearlessness made its mark right away ‑- 2 Days in the Valley, Reindeer Games, Devil's Advocate ‑- but it climaxed with her rendering of a serial killer in last year's Monster. Her performance won her a Best Actress Oscar and proved to the world that she could play both sex goddesses and society's outcasts.

Theron will appear in the gritty drama North Country (in theaters October 14), the moderately fictionalized tale of the first woman ever to file a successful class-action sexual-harassment suit in the U.S. Theron plays ringleader Josey Aimes, a single mom who goes to work in the mines of her Minnesota town, only to be terrorized by the mine's males, driving her to legal action against the mining company. To prepare for the movie, which was shot in the same region where the actual events took place, Theron got to know many of the female miners involved in the landmark case. "They were incredible," she says. "I think they know that they were part of history ‑- part of something that changed a lot of things for women all over the world."

For Theron, among the biggest challenges of playing Aimes was a scene in which she addresses a meeting of the miners' union...a challenge, because Theron is actually scared of public speaking. "I get this really strange sensation where everything goes black, and I see white spots, and I break out in hives," she says. "It's probably the most frightening thing you can make me do."

But that's just what North Country director Niki Caro did make her do. "Four hundred guys, some of the real deals," sighs Theron. "It was my first day of shooting, and literally, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk. I thought I was going to faint. I didn't know what was happening."

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