Since landing in Hollywood, Charlize Theron has delved into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, pursued truth into uncomfortable corners, driven Minis at speeds definitely not recommended by the Highway Code, and disarmed disorderly superheroes. But it’s all in a day’s work for one of Tinseltown’s most gifted – and boldest – actresses. Next up, she takes on wicked witch duties in Snow White And The Huntsman before Ridley Scott blasts the Benoni-born actress into space to an uncertain future in Prometheus. In case she never returns, we’ve looked back at her brilliant career to date, taking in all those sociopaths, speed freaks and superheroes along the way...
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Monster (2003)
It was Theron’s portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos that really announced her arrival in Hollywood. The 30lbs she put on to play the real-life killer proved that vanity didn’t play into her choices, while her lank hair and prosthetic teeth transformed her into Wuornos’s virtual doppelganger. It was an astonishing turn lauded by Roger Ebert as “not a performance but an embodiment”, while Empire hailed Theron’s portrayal as “unnervingly accurate”. Christina Ricci deserves praise too, playing lover Selby Wall as a wide-eyed counterpoint to Wuornos’s bipolar rages, but Monster is Theron’s film from start to finish. “There’s a whole world of people killing and rapping,” she blasts at one point, “but I’m the only one killing them.”
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: Young Adult (2011)
We’re guessing that the Academy’s failure to hand Theron a third Best Actress nod for her fantastic performance as spiky woman-child Mavis Gary meant either it went unacknowledged in voting circles or everyone was just too sick of that Teenage Fanclub song to risk hearing it again on a Kodak Theater montage. If it’s the former, they missed a treat. Theron delivers the most majestic on-screen meltdowns since the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark. It would have been easy to overplay her character’s endless hostility – this is, after all, a woman who smuggles her dog into a pet-friendly hotel – but Theron brings pathos to the pity party. As she haunts high-school flame Patrick Wilson in ways the word “inappropriate” doesn’t begin to do justice to, you find your heart going out to this brittle, self-absorbed psychotic prom queen bitch. Her best yet? Could be.
ESSENTIAL VIEWING: North Country (2005)
Kiwi director Niki Caro coaxed Oscar-nominated performances from Theron and Frances McDormand in this slice of Midwestern social realism. Theron ultimately missed out to Reese Witherspoon and Walk The Line (McDormand also drew a blank), but she’s the best thing in a heavy-handed drama that teeters perilously close to silliness at times. Like Karen Silkwood or Erin Brockovich shoved down a Minnesota iron-mine, she takes a metaphorical pickaxe to the grim sexism of late ‘80s America. She, and on-screen best pal McDormand, keep things just the right side of hammy as the uplifting dramatic beats play out with all the subtlety of a dinner gong. Extra kudos for avoiding the black lung.
RECOMMENDED: Hancock (2008)
Peter Berg’s near-miss was a respectable jab at subverting the superhero movie and left us wondering what Theron could do if she could only add bionic powers to her impressive armoury. But wait! There’s more to this one than meets the eye. Without venturing too deep into spoiler territory, there are surprises in store for Theron’s character – good prep for Prometheus, we reckon – and she buys into the movie’s knowing tone beautifully as PR man Jason Bateman’s long-suffering wife. Where she excels, though, is in providing a foil for Will Smith’s not-so-super superhero shenanigans, delivering real emotional beats that the film probably doesn’t deserve. She also looks really good chucking lorries around.**
RECOMMENDED: In The Valley Of Elah (2007)
Mark ‘Hurt Locker’ Boal’s Playboy article formed the basis for this tough, worthy Iraq war thriller. It’s Tommy Lee Jones’ film, but Theron provides stellar support as a crusading detective and single mum who supports Jones’ quest to find out what really happened to his son in Iraq. Theron, said Empire’s reviewer, generates “depth and honesty” in a demanding role. She also tones down her good looks with a severe ponytail, carrying the harried expression of a woman who’s keeping the pursuit of justice and her domestic chores in desperate equilibrium.
FOR THE FAN: The Italian Job (2003)
If you can forgive the shiny new chassis F. Gary Gray put on the Michael Caine classic and if you’re able to look past Edward Norton’s Musketeer-inspired moustache – two big ‘ifs’, we grant you – there’s fun to be had in this crime, ahem, “re-boot”. Theron takes on the grieving daughter role with vengeful gusto, driving stick like the Stig and even getting to punch ole’ D'Artagnan Features in the kisser for good measure. It may not be a massive test of her acting skills, bar one scene facing Norton’s villain on his own turf, but she goes toe-to-toe with an all-male cast boasting enough testosterone to fell a Predator. If the Expandables were ever looking for a female member, they could do a whole lot worse.
ONE TO AVOID: Æon Flux (2005)
On a positive note, this hooky sci-fi reminded moviegoers that Theron looks amazing in a svelte leotard; on the down side, everyone knew that already and, well, EVERYTHING else. Karyn Kusama’s dismal dystopian sci-fi (‘Dreck-uilibrium’?) sets her in pursuit of Marton Csokas’s government leader because, well... does anyone need a reason to hunt down the hunky Kiwi? They do? Okay, how about because he presides over the kind of sci-fi city-state that brutalises its people and doesn’t even have the courtesy to give them a nice calming dose of Prozium along the way. It’s to Theron’s credit that she escapes with dignity intact, despite the dodgy dye-job and being clad in what looks like a mo-cap suit with ping-pong balls removed.