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While it's hard to imagine that anyone could have made the disastrous T&A spectacle that was Showgirls worth watching, moviegoers who got a charge out of seeing actress Charlize Theron open a can of whup-ass in Teri Hatcher's face in 2 Days in the Valley may agree that it's a bit of a shame the statuesque South African beauty didn't quite beat out Elizabeth Berkley for the Showgirls lead role. Not that Theron herself ever shed any tears over that particular missed opportunity — as she later explained of her failure to land the high-profile part, "It was like I had some guardian angel." And though it didn't exactly vault her onto Hollywood's A-list overnight, Theron's energetic, well-reviewed performance in 2 Days — her feature-film debut and her very first professional acting gig — ensured that Hollywood casting directors would most definitely remember her name.

The only child of Afrikaaner parents who owned both a road construction company and a farm, Theron was born and raised in Benoni, South Africa, where she experienced a thoroughly rural upbringing that included (naturally) getting up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows. At age 6, young Charlize began studying ballet, a pursuit that would command her attention throughout the next decade of her life. Whenever she was out of toe-shoes, the agile youngster devoted her free time to a consuming passion for American movies: She first experienced them at a drive-in located a 45-minute drive down the road from the family farm, and later cajoled her parents into purchasing a VCR. "I screamed and I yelled and we got one," she later recalled. "And this little video store opened in town with, like, 20 videos. I saw everything about 50 times." A particular favorite was the Tom Hanks-Daryl Hannah mermaid romance Splash, which caused the wide-eyed Theron to develop a huge crush on the hunky Hanks.

Eventually her study of ballet landed the talented teen at a school for the performing arts in Johannesburg, where she occasionally sat in on drama classes. As a result of that casual interface, the striking 16-year-old stumbled upon a modeling contest, which she entered and won. Just weeks before her wholly serendipitous introduction to the world of modeling, Theron's father had passed away, and when an Italian fashion scout informed her that there was a modeling contract awaiting her in Milan, the unassuming South African farm girl was seized by a sudden ambition to travel and try something new. Though a moderate success on the runways, Theron was unable to land any major modeling contracts or cover shots, and eventually the newness of her latest endeavor wore thin. When an American magazine flew her to New York for a photo shoot, she decided to stick around and make a new life for herself in the States. As she later told one interviewer, "I went, did the job, and never made it back to the airport. I was thrilled."

On her own in the Big Apple at age 18, Theron worked modeling jobs whenever she could get them and swiped bread from restaurants when she couldn't. The cold, wet winters proved especially trying for the South African expat, who was accustomed to much milder seasons, and she found herself continually intimidated by the city's maze of towering skyscrapers. New York's Joffrey Ballet provided a respite from her woes, but the security of taking up her childhood passion once again was abruptly withdrawn in 1995, when a career-ending knee injury forced her to fall back on modeling. She confided her troubles to her mother, who recalled Theron's childhood passion for cinema and suggested her intrepid daughter go to Southern California and try to break into movies. Mom sent her money for that one-way ticket to the big city, and Theron booked a flight to "Hollywood," only to discover, to her dismay, that her travel agent had put her on a plane to "Los Angeles."

Once arrived at her destination, Theron checked into a low-rent L.A. motel and spent the next two weeks blundering around town attempting to make connections. She eventually ended up in line at a bank with the final check from her various employments in New York, and threw an impressive tantrum when the teller refused to cash the check because it was drawn on an out-of-state bank. Hollywood talent manager John Crosby happened to be standing in line behind her, and, after helpfully explaining that she could cash her out-of-state check at any post office, asked if she were, perchance, an actress. Somewhat flustered, Theron replied that she wasn't, but that she fully intended to become one. Crosby, who earlier in his career had discovered Rene Russo at a Rolling Stones concert, offered his card. Friends told Theron she'd been taken in, but after asking around and discovering that Crosby was entirely reputable, she got in touch with him, and he agreed to take her on as a client.

Thereafter, Theron underwent countless auditions for television commercials, but was unable to land a single gig; as she later put it to Interview magazine, "I could've sooner gotten arrested." Her perseverance eventually resulted in her 2 Days role, which was immediately followed by a chance to work with childhood crush Hanks on his directorial debut, 1996's That Thing You Do! Hanks raved over her audition, blushed when told of the bright young neophyte's youthful infatuation, and eventually signed her for a small role as an all-American everygirl who finds love with the dentist of her dreams after her drummer boyfriend starts spending too much time with his bandmates. The following year, Theron logged prominent roles in decidedly different lawyer flicks, the Michael Richards farce Trial and Error and the Keanu Reeves-Al Pacino thriller The Devil's Advocate. Though absent from theaters during most of 1998, she turned heads with her bang-on portrayal of a callow supermodel in Woody Allen's Celebrity that fall, and made her debut in a starring role, opposite Bill Paxton, in Disney's remake of Mighty Joe Young.

No stranger to the ups and downs of celebrity romance, Theron dated actor Craig Bierko for two years before moving on to Third Eye Blind vocalist Stephan Jenkins. Before 1999 was out, she starred opposite a trio of Hollywood hotties: the New Line horror flick The Astronaut's Wife paired her with Johnny Depp; she joined Tobey Maguire in an adaptation of John Irving's The Cider House Rules; and she wrapped the crime drama The Yards which matched her with Joaquin Phoenix. She is currently starring once again with Keanu Reeves in the weepy Sweet November.

"I was always Mama's girl, and I always felt like her protector." - on the revaltion that Charlize's mother shot and killed Charlize's father while he was in a drunken rage. The shooting was ruled self-defense. "At first I found it really hard using three different English accents: South African, faking the American, faking the accent required by the job. I decided to make it easier for myself and just do one. I haven't lost my culture, just my accent."

"Women have conquered the world. And with everything we go through, it's about time we had a female president. I don't think we're that far away, but it should have happened already. I wouldn't be surprised if Hillary Rodham Clinton runs - I really admire her."

"I've always been very proud to be a South African and I've always been very honest to people about that. And whatever I can do in my power I promise you I will do. I don't think it's too much pressure. I think it's our duty as citizens of this country. You don't have to win an Oscar to do something good for your country. We all can do that. If I can be an encouragement for that I'll be glad to be that."

I'm 50-50 on glamour stuff. I'd rather put on a pair of jeans and get on my Harley and act like a guy.

"I think of myself as a highly sexual creature. I have to use that. I have no choice. I like it. I didn't grow up with a mother telling me what was under my clothes was bad or evil."

"When all the Hollywood hype falls away, what is left? The work, living and breathing a character. When you find that core, nothing else matters."

"I've always been very proud to be a South African and I've always been very honest to people about that. And whatever I can do in my power, I promise you I will do. I don't think it's too much pressure.

I think it's our duty as citizens of this country. You don't have to win an Oscar to do something good for your country. We all can do that. If I can be an encouragement for that I'll be glad to be that."


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