Humanitarian, actor and warrior
Charlize Theron taps into the fiercest side of her personality for Mad Max: Fury Road as it roars through international box offices, but she is just as well known for fighting for important causes back in the real world.
Actor, mother, humanitarian and all-round tour-de-force, Charlize Theron mines the kind of deep social conscience that only gives more weight to her status as an inspirational role model.
The South-African born star talks emphatically about the late, great Nelson Mandela. “He was a huge inspiration – our great liberator!” she exclaims. “He’s the reason why South Africa is as united as it is today. I was very honoured to know him and call him my friend. I think very rarely do people as great as him come into your life and have such a huge influence on you so I feel incredibly lucky that I got to experience that.”
Theron’s staunch commitment to women’s rights is so crucial in a world where many high profile stars make the decision to distance themselves from the feminist cause, Theron has always been a leading spokesperson in the battle for gender and age equality. She’s ready to challenge our world’s propensity for discrimination against older woman.
“People say women come into their prime in their 40s, but for some reason, our society just wants to treat us like dead flowers. It’s like we wilt or something,” declares Theron.
It’s hardly surprising that the 39-year-old took to her new acting role as amputee War Rig driver Imperator Furiosa – playing the hardboiled female protagonist in George Miller’s fourth instalment of his sci-fi fantasy franchise, Mad Max – with all the heft of someone who really and truly believes in the importance of their character. In Mad Max: Fury Road, British actor Tom Hardy takes on the namesake but Charlize Theron plays the female desert warrior who joins Hardy’s Max Rockatansky in an epic road war in their joint effort to cross the wasteland.
For Theron, the film gave her the chance to throw herself into the kind of supercharged role that suits her fiercer side.
“The original Mad Max created such a vivid world…George (Miller) really created a female character that I’ve never read anything like before,” says Theron about the film. “It’s a really challenging piece of material. Originally…I was like, ‘Uh, I’m not going to play the girl for Mad Max. Then I read it and I was like, ‘Oh, ‘Mad Max.’ I feel sorry for you.’” She laughs, “That rarely happens… it’s two great characters. It’s not the original Mad Max. It’s the revamped Mad Max. It’s Tom Hardy, who’s incredible. So, the whole thing is just exciting, very, very exciting.”
Born on a farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg, (her first language is Afrikaans) Theron endured a painful childhood when her alcoholic father was shot and killed by her mother in self-defence. After winning a one-year modelling contract, she moved to Milan aged 16 with her mother, before temporarily settling on New York where she began carving out a career as a ballet dancer until a knee injury cut this dream short.
She decided to give Hollywood a whirl so fled for LA at 19, and went on to score a string of small-fry acting roles throughout the 90s, in films like The Devil’s Advocate, Mighty Joe Young and The Cider House Rules.
Her agonisingly real portrayal of serial killer Eileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster took her career to exceptional heights and made her the first South African to win an Oscar for Best Actress.
But aside from her pursuits on camera, Charlize Theron became a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2008, and has worked tirelessly to combat rape and HIV for the past two decades, She launched the Charlize Theron Outreach Africa project in 2007, she says, with the primary focus on prevention care and giving children, the youth of South Africa, “some kind of future to look up to.”
“Coming from a country like South Africa, it’s impossible to forget how incredibly blessed my life has turned out and how that is not the case for many people in my country,” says Theron. “Not only taking ownership of their health and making choices to actually save their own lives, but to actually give them something to live for and that has become a huge part of my life. That’s the only reason that I go back to South Africa, that’s my family and that’s what I go back for.
She continues. “And my work with the UN couldn’t be more neutralising and sobering to really, really witness the fortunate aspect of all of our lives. When I travel with the DRC or do any work with them in Africa, it’s nothing short of miraculous that I am where I am. And that’s why I can probably sit here and say that I am incredibly blessed in my life.”
April Clare Welsh
Mad Max Fury Road is in cinemas now