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October 4, 2005

Charlize Theron: Nobody's Fool

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Theron may talk of vulnerability, but her inner toughness always prevails. The cornerstone of Theron's confidence has long been her relationship with her mother, Gerda, who raised her and did the housework while at the same time running a construction company. They've enjoyed a closeness that wasn't hindered by the strict punishments Gerda used to keep her daughter in line. "My mother disciplined me," Theron says. "It couldn't happen in America today, because she'd be put in jail, and to me that's a very sad thing, because I always deserved it. Never once did I go, 'God, this is so unfair.' Afterward, I would go up to her and apologize, because I knew that I had been wrong."

What did Theron's mother hit her with? "Whatever was around: a hairbrush, a shoe ‑- the shoe was a big one," Theron says. One such spanking came after Theron was rude to an older woman in a store. On another occasion, she says, "I went to school with imprints of Disney cartoons all over my thigh from a hanger that she had grabbed that had all these cutouts on them." That time, Theron had disobeyed her mother by eating a bowl of tomato soup while still wearing her girls'-school uniform...and then accidentally spilling the entire bowl down her shirtfront, staining it. "I deserved that one, because that was very disrespectful," Theron says. "She did all the washing and laundry and cooking; she ran the house while running the business. I completely understand. 'I have to be respectful. I'm not washing the clothes, she's washing them.'"

Theron knows such stories may offend contemporary sensibilities, but she feels sure that in her case, mere words wouldn't have made enough of an impact.

Even while Gerda kept her daughter on the straight and narrow, "she was a friend at the same time," Theron says. "I always felt that I could say anything to her without being judged. I knew that I could trust her ‑- and I still do. The woman knows everything that has happened in my life. There are no secrets."

Their closeness endured after Gerda, in self-defense, shot her husband to death in front of 15-year-old Charlize's eyes. It's the sort of personal trauma that could have cast an inescapable shadow over Theron's life. But that didn't happen. "Our lives have gone on; it wasn't like we were living day-to-day, haunted," Theron says. "I mean, in a way you are, but you have to be healthy about it. It's something that will be in my blood forever. It's something that I can't change. So I've had to make the decision to either have it live my life for me or to admit that it happened, and admit that it was something bad, and let go of the guilt. I mean, goddamn it, it's my father, you know? I don't want to walk around with this haunted notion for the rest of my life about him. So I don't. I walk around with fond memories of him."

While some might assume the death of her father would be Theron's dominant emotional memory, as well as a key to the power of her acting, she says otherwise. "I think other things have actually shaped my life much more," she says. "There's this private little chest of ammunition that's just mine, that I get to play with. And I feel like the less people know about that, the more powerful it remains." She laughs. "I guess if I didn't have this job, I'd have to go to therapy. But I don't go to therapy ‑- so I need this job! I don't really want to pay someone to tell them my problems. I would rather be paid to tell my problems."

And she's willing to be revealing: On-screen nudity and portrayals of physical intimacy haven't been a problem for Theron. "I don't have any regrets about the things that I've done nudity-wise," she says. "Would I want kids to see it? Maybe not when they're 7 ‑- but would it be the kind of thing that I would tell them not to do? God, no. I think that all women have to go through a period in their lives when they have to discover themselves before they can have a man discover them."

In fact, the American obsession with the nude female form never ceases to amuse Theron...especially around the holidays, when she gathers dozens of friends and family members for a sunny island getaway: "It's so funny, because the first thing we want to do is take our tops off. And the Americans are like, [uncomfortably] 'I don't quite know how I feel about that...' Then, within a week, they're all topless and they're having the best time ever."

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