"I Just Pretended Like It Didn't Happen": Charlize Theron on Witnessing Her Mother Kill Her Father

The 'Atomic Blonde' star delves into her traumatic childhood.

Charlize Theron is known for her hard-as-nail roles in movies such as Mad Max and her Oscar Winning film Monster, but the 41-year-old South African actress is also made of stern stuff off the silver screen.

Theron has been relatively open about her childhood, where she witnessed and suffered under her parents' turbulent relationship. Her alcoholic father was physically abusive to her mother Gerda, and verbally abusive to her as a child. This culminated in one traumatic event when her mother killed her father to stop him from harming the family.

In a 2004 interview with Diane Sawyer (opens in new tab), she spoke publicly about how her father returned home, drunk, when she was only 15. He fired his gun into her bedroom, and Charlize's mother shot him dead to stop him. The court agreed with her explanation that it was in self-defense.

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Now, the actress has spoken out further on the incident, discussing how her teenage self dealt with the insurmountable horror she had witnessed. While promoting her newest film, Atomic Blonde, she spoke to Howard Stern (opens in new tab) in a radio interview about her past.

She told Stern that it took her a long time to deal with the death of her father:

I just pretended like it didn't happen. I didn't tell anybody—I didn't want to tell anybody. Whenever anybody asked me, I said my dad died in a car accident. Who wants to tell that story? Nobody wants to tell that story.

It was partly her fear of others' reactions that kept her from speaking freely of the tragedy. "They don't know how to respond to that," she said. "And I didn't want to feel like a victim. I struggled with that for many years until I actually started therapy."

She only started therapy in her late 20s and early 30s, meaning she spent 10 years avoiding the truth of the situation.

And she learned that although the killing itself was traumatic, it was actually the daily stress and fear of living with an alcoholic, abusive father that made more of an impact on her,

I think what more affected me for my adult life that happened in my childhood was more the every day living of a child living in the house with an alcoholic and waking up not knowing what was going to happen. And not knowing how my day was going to go and all of it dependent on somebody else and whether he was not going to drink or drink.

She also spoke of the awe she feels towards her mother in how she dealt with it:

I have an incredible mother…She's a huge inspiration in my life. She's never really had therapy. So a mother who never really had therapy dealing with something like that—trying to get your child out of that. Her philosophy was 'This is horrible. Acknowledge that this is horrible. Now make a choice. Will this define you? Are you going to sink or are you going to swim?' That was it.

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Old black and white photos of a man and his young daughter.

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Daisy Murray
Daisy Murray

Daisy Murray is the Digital Writer at ELLE UK, writing articles on vintage shopping to Melania Trump and everything in between. After four years of studying English Literature she has a good knowledge of everything Virginia Woolf as well as a much-needed keen eye for Ebay bargains. After a day at ELLE HQ you can find her drinking wine, watching SATC and talking to anyone who will listen about Chris Kraus.