South African supermodel-actress and the causes that inspire her.
With her angelic face and tousled blonde hair, animals may think of South African-turned-California girl Charlize Theron, as kind of a savior. She’s active in animal rescue groups and wildlife preservation organizations. Her high profile acting and modeling careers bring the spotlight to the causes close to her heart. She’s smart, beautiful and committed.
Originally born an hour and a half outside of Johannesburg, in a small town called Benoni, Charlize grew up on a farm and knew well the issues facing African wildlife, like poaching and diminishing habitat due to human encroachment on wild lands.
Animal Fair’s very own Wendy Diamond tracked down the big-screen siren for a Q&A about the animals in her life both at home and abroad, and some of the organizations and causes she avidly supports.
WD: You grew up in South Africa? What was that like?
CT: We had a small farm in South Africa and we lived off the land. We had tons of animals-mostly strays. They ended up getting taken care of at our home because they weren’t wanted anywhere else.
WD: Were the strays mostly dogs?
CT: They were dogs, cats, birds, ducks, chickens, sheep, goats, and ostriches. Pretty much everything you can imagine on a farm!
WD: Any elephants?
CT: (Laughs) No, that’s real wildlife.
WD: Do you have a favorite animal in the wild?
CT: I don’t know if I have a favorite. Sometimes I get a little elephant-addicted, and other times I’m a little leopard-addicted. They are all so special.
WD: And when did you move to the US?
CT: In ’91. I left South Africa in ’91. I came here in ’94 and I stayed in Europe for a while as well.
WD: When you came here and started acting, did you have animals?
CT: I was traveling for four years without any animals. When I came to Los Angeles, I knew I was going to stay there for a while, so I got my first dog, Denver.
WD: Where did you get Denver?
CT: His mom was a rescue. She was heavily pregnant at the time. The people who rescued her let her have the babies. He was one of the pups.
WD: Why did you name him Denver?
CT: I had a really good friend named Denver where I grew up. He actually passed away three years later, so it’s kind of ironic that I named him Denver.
WD: Does your dog remind you of your friend Denver?
CT: Yes, Definitely. He has an old soul. He’s very wise, and the
easiest dog I’ve ever had.
WD: How old is Denver? What’s his personality?
CT: Seven, and he’s very much the dog who wants to please you all the time and can’t stand it to think he’s done something wrong. Very gentle, gentle guy. We call him the little guy in the dog suit.
WD: Do you have other dogs?
CT: Yes, I have 3 others, also Orson, Tucker, and Delilah
WD: Tell me about Orson. How old is he? What’s he like?
CT: Orson, I think, is around three now. We call him the kid. He’s
really the entertainment in the house. He’s the clown. Everybody falls in love with Orson. He’s Italian, you see, so he loves women. He loves snuggling. He’s very very affectionate, and very mischievous too. He’s very funny.
WD: What kind of dog is he? You said he’s Italian?
CT: He’s a Great Dane/Dalmatian/mutt-something and looks like a big, black and white spotted cow. I adopted him last year in September on the streets of Italy-in Postiano. I was on vacation there with my mom and a friend, and he lived in our little neighborhood where we stayed. He took a liking to us and started following us around. Before we knew it, we were taking him into the hotel. I just fell in love with him and couldn’t leave him there. He just needed a rabies shot, and then I brought him back with me.
WD: And Delilah? Tell me about her.
CT: She’s six. She’s the princess– a Cocker Spaniel. She knows she has some issues. She should be in therapy all the time, but she can’t be. Unfortunately, she’s the result of puppy mills. She was in a pet store. But now we call her ‘The Princess’ because she needs
special love, and [because] she just lies on the couch and kind of lets the guys take care of her…
WD: Hmmm…On the couch all day with guys taking care of her? Delilah has got the right idea!
CT: Maybe she does. I’ll tell her you said so.
WD: What about Tucker? Where did you get him?
CT: Tucker came from a girl I know. She rescued him in Wisconsin. She worked at a shelter there, and a year ago she decided to join the Peace Corps in Thailand. She knew she was going to be there for at least three years, so I said I would take him. He’s going to be with me now. We’re not going to switch him back to her. It would be too much for him. That’s how he ended up with me. He was three years old at the time, and he’s just a sweetheart.
WD: What’s his personality?
CT: Kind of reserved. I think he was an only child for a long time, so he wants you to think of him as an only child, but he’s very sweet-and very aware of what’s going on around him.
WD: Is there somewhere special you bring your dogs in LA for a treat? Somewhere they really like?
CT: Tucker, Orson and Denver really, really love the beach, but Delilah’s very happy to stay on the couch all day, for the rest of her life. They are the most spoiled dogs. When I am in Los Angeles, they travel with me. They go places. They are always around people. I think they love that.
WD: What about cats? Do you have any?
CT: No, but I love cats. It is just that I live in the hills and I have a horrible fear of coyote and cats. The dogs are completely walled in. It’s a half an acre, so they have a lot of room, but can’t go anywhere. But with a cat you just never know. But I have fish though. I have a beautiful pond, filled with comet and koi, that the love of my life gave me for my birthday. Last year, in August.
WD: What do you think about dating and pets?
CT: It’s great. I could never be with anybody who isn’t an animal lover. So I’m very lucky I’m with somebody who shares the same interests as me as far as animals.
WD: Being South African, what are your thoughts about the future of African wildlife-with all of the poaching that goes on, and the problem of people encroaching on animals’ land?
CT: Its something I’m very concerned about, and I think quite a few people are concerned about it. I do believe there are a handful of South Africans who actually realize what’s going on when it comes to wildlife protection. There is a great company, for instance, called Wildlife Works. I don’t know if you have heard of them, but they’ve set up their factory in Kenya. They’re providing so much work for Kenyans so they won’t have to go and poach. They don’t have to pick up spears and kill wildlife and destroy the land.
WD: What kind of company is Wildlife Works? I think I’ve seen them-do they make those adorable T-shirts?
CT: Yes. It’s a really great idea, because they are very nice shirts and the people really do need the work. At the same time, a huge chunk of the company’s growth goes into preservation. They are a great company to support. I think they have the right idea. A lot of people don’t bring that up, they say that wildlife is so great in South Africa, but nobody asks if anybody is trying to protect the land and the animals out there. Unfortunately, [in this area], it’s the easiest thing to get a hunting license. We are lucky that there are still spots that are filthy with animals-if you can say that (laughs). Like the Chobi River. There is so much wildlife there, and they live in such a heavenly place.
Also, there is a wonderful organization called ‘Back to Africa’ in Cape Town. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but they are great. There are two vets and an ecologist who started this group, who
basically spend all of their time doing pro bono work. They go all over Africa and try to successfully re-release a lot of animals back into the wild. They are also active in promoting against hunting licenses-which is something I believe in. Unfortunately, a lot of South Africans don’t. The people involved in Back to Africa don’t believe that wildlife is a business; that animals have a price tag on them. Which is really wonderful.
WD: Are there any other organizations or causes that you are active in? Any non-animal related causes?
CT: I was approached by a rape crisis center in Capetown to start an anti-rape campaign, so I got involved with the Cape Town Rape Crisis Center. The government refused to let them put advertisements or any kind of print that actually stated the numbers of rapes that happen in South Africa. I went there and it was fought in civil court, and actually won. We started this huge campaign letting the pubic know how high the numbers were and urging them that they could actually change it.
WD: Why are the numbers so high? Why is rape such a huge problem in South Africa?
CT: It’s a problem with education and people being naïve, as you are dealing with cultures that are very superstitious. You have huge HIV numbers and nobody is educated on how you get HIV. And, many think that ‘if I rape a child or a virgin, they will cure me of my diseases. That’s just old African culture. Superstition, beliefs-not scientific education.
WD: Unbelievable. Tell me a little about what you are working on now professionally? Any upcoming movies?
CT: I’m producing a film with my company that we are going to shoot in June. It’s a family story, about a father coming home for the first time in a long time to try to reconcile with his family.
WD: And your pets. Will they travel with you to shoot the film?
WD: All of them? You can bring them on the set and everything?
CT: Of course!!
Causes Close to Charlize’s Heart:
475 Gate Five Road
Sausalito, CA 94965
34 Deloss Street
Framingham, MA 01702
Rape Crisis Cape Town
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
5001 Angel Canyon Road
Kanab, UT 84741