The high-profile Charlize Theron, who grew up on a small farm outside Benoni, South Africa, was an only child who always had an affinity for pets. Her mother’s fondness for animals naturally helped to awaken Theron’s connection to the animal world, including the issues facing African wildlife, like poaching and diminishing habitat due to human encroachment on wild lands – something she would bring with her into her often envied Hollywood lifestyle.
“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,” shared Charlize.
However, Charlize’s life wasn’t always as glamorous as it is often portrayed and she stresses the importance of animal connection to keep a sense of calm in her life.
Since growing up in a home of violence and fear, Charlize has opened up about family dysfunctions, a set of arguing parents and an alcoholic father.
At age 15, Charlize witnessed a horrific parental struggle, which ended in the loss of her father, Charles, when her mother, Gerda, shot and killed him in defense of herself and that of her daughter. Only recently has she shared with the public that this is something that has made her who she is today – absolutely brilliant and stronger than ever.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer this winter, Charlize said, “I wish I could change it. I can’t. And I know if my daughter were in the same situation, I would do the same thing. It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t rule my life.”
Yet, through all this drama off screen, Charlize managed to use her childhood and adolescence to build those drama skills that would soon make her a star.
At the age of four, Theron started ballet classes and aspired to become a prima ballerina. She danced her way at fourteen years old into a modeling career in Paris and Milan. Her talent landed her a place in the Joffrey Ballet in New York City, but a knee injury prevented her from pursuing dancing long term.
When Charlize Theron turned 18, her mother sent her to Los Angeles to ignite her acting career. In just two weeks, an agent discovered her in a bank, eight months later she appeared in her first feature film, 2 Days in the Valley.
Theron’s career soon took off when she played opposite Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate. She went on to star in still glamorous, beauty queen roles like in The Cider House Rules, Mighty Joe Young and Reindeer Games.
Most recently she won the coveted Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture Drama, for her portrayal of executed female serial killer Aileen Carol Wournos, in Monster. Two months later she won the Oscar for Best Actress for the very same role.
The movie Monster is a chilling depiction of a woman desperate for survival in a world of prostitution, rape and demise. Wournos, sentenced and put to death for the killings of at least seven men, led a deeply troubled and tormented life – all of which Theron portrayed with brilliance and masterful skill.
Charlize’s transformation into Wournos stunned and impressed critics beyond what they had anticipated. Gaining 30 pounds and practicing diligently the facial expressions of a woman haunted by an evil and tumultuous life, Charlize shocked audiences everywhere with her talent.
Charlize is active in animal rescue groups and wildlife preservation organizations and her high profile acting career brings a spotlight to those causes close to her heart. She is intelligent, beautiful and committed.
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 causes close to her heart.
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: And when did you move to the US?
CT: In ’91. Well, 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 that wants to please you all the time and can’t stand 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 4 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 all the 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 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 that 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 vets from Back to Africa don’t believe that wildlife is a business; that animals have a price tag on them. Which is really wonderful.
Charlize Theron’s next film, Head In The Clouds, is a romantic dram set in the 1930’s England, France and Spain, starring alongside her is the real love of her life, actor Stuart Townsend. The release date is slated for later this year. Animal Fair is sure that Charlize Theron will continue to make an impressive difference in both the acting and animal kingdoms!