Charlize Theron On Overcoming Adversity

Photo: Nino Munoz

By Dana Hall.

How her dream of becoming a dancer led to success in acting.


Growing up on a farm in South Africa had its perks for Charlize Theron. The seclusion made way for an adventurous childhood, full of exploration and creativity. It was from these experiences that Theron discovered her love of dance.


Known today as one of Hollywood’s most successful actresses, dance was Theron’s original passion. Dead set on becoming a professional dancer, she spent years training to master her skills and moved to Europe when she was 16 to pursue a modeling contract; something she viewed as a way to pay bills while she continued on with dance.


“Even though I was modeling, I always thought of myself as a dancer,” she told the New York Times, “I saw modeling like waitressing — it was a way to pay for another career, and that career was dance.”


Life up to that point had been far from glamorous. Born and raised in Benoni, South Africa, Theron has always maintained that the life she leads today would have been foreign to her as a child. She credits much of her success to her mother, Gerda Maritz, who she says always supported her and was there even in the hardest of times.
As Theron puts it, “my mother is amazing, and I know all daughters or children will say this, it sounds very biased, but she is very unique. She’s saved my life many times.”


Among other tales of Maritz’s unwavering support for her daughter and a story of being rescued from a swimming pool as a toddler, Theron’s statement is in response to a question about the death of her father.


On June 21, 1991, and Theron was visiting home from boarding school. Her father, an alcoholic with a history of verbal abuse, had been out drinking.


According to the testimony, Theron’s father, armed with a shotgun, came home with his brother, both of whom were highly intoxicated. He threatened to kill both Theron and her mother and began firing shots outside their home. Once inside, he proceeded to send a bullet through Theron’s bedroom door.


With both her and her daughter’s lives at stake, Maritz got her gun and shot both Theron’s father and uncle. Theron’s uncle was wounded, while her father did not survive the incident.


Theron has been cautiously open about her story since sharing it in an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2004 and is always quick to say that she has moved on from what happened.


“It’s not that something like that doesn’t scar you. But scars can heal,” she said in a 2005 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “The way my father died was traumatic. I would wish for nothing more in my life than for it not to have happened the way it did. But I can’t change that.”


In the aftermath, Maritz urged Theron to leave and continue on with her life at her boarding school. Facing investigation alone, it was quickly ruled that Maritz had acted in self-defense for the safety of both herself and Theron. The case was never brought to trial.


Theron didn’t stay at boarding school for long. By age 16, she’d won a modeling contest and moved to Milan for a year. From there, she moved to New York City, where she began taking classes with the Joffrey Ballet School. Unfortunately, it was here that Theron suffered a knee injury, effectively ending any future she may have had in dance. Heartbroken, Theron sunk into a deep depression.


“I realized I couldn’t dance anymore, and I went into a major depression,” she says in her New York Times interview. “My mom came over from South Africa and said, ‘either you figure out what to do next or you come home, because you can sulk in South Africa.’”


Picking up the pieces of a dream she could no longer achieve, Theron turned to acting, an idea she’d gotten from her mother. She decided to move to Los Angeles and see if she could start a career in film.


At first, things were hard. Theron had moved to a city worlds away from anything she’d ever known, and she was having difficulty landing roles with her South African accent. A casting director recommended that if she wanted to be successful, she should get rid of it. She did, and the result was a flawless American accent that continues to carry her through countless performances.


Theron got her first major role in “2 Days in the Valley”, in 1996. By 2004, Theron had received an Oscar for her performance in 2003’s “Monster”.


Today, Theron’s talent is regarded as some of the best in the business. Her performances have touched on everything from chilling performances in dramas like “North Country” (2005), to more comedic roles in films like “Young Adult” (2011).


With a successful career and many more films on the way, Theron doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Her past, she says, has made her strong. With a rise following every fall, perhaps it is time to give credit to another one of Theron’s mastered skills: recovery.

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