But according to Smith, Theron has little to fear. “Without question, this is going to be the biggest film of my career,” he says boldly. (Theron is likely to be thinking along similar lines: Her biggest-grossing feature to date has been 2003’s The Italian Job.)
By all accounts, Smith, Theron, Berg and Bateman, with whom Theron was teamed in several episodes of the TV series Arrested Development, teased one another endlessly during filming. “Charlize just gets in your grill and likes to stir it up,” says Berg. Recalls Theron, letting out one of her throaty laughs, “You wouldn’t have to twist my arm to join that party again. During the day I went and got to just laugh my ass off with very, very funny boys, and we got to play.” Another perk was the rare chance to work near her home in Los Angeles. “I got to sleep in my own bed at night; I got to see my man.”
For the past seven years, that man has been Irish actor Stuart Townsend, whom Theron met on the set of the 2002 film Trapped. While Theron calls Townsend her husband and wears a ring, the pair are not married. Asked how she’d describe their relationship, Theron, adopting a cavewoman grunt, says, “Man, woman. Like to touch each other.”
More seriously, she adds, “I always knew that I didn’t want to get married.” She does, however, see kids in her life. “I’ve always known that I’d be a mom from the time I was a little girl.”
Theron spent her childhood on a farm in her native South Africa, where her parents ran a road construction company. At age 16, after winning a modeling contract, she left for Milan and then moved briefly to New York to study at the Joffrey Ballet School. When a knee injury ended her hopes of a dance career at 18, she packed up for Hollywood at her mother’s suggestion.
“I had no résumé, I had a really thick accent and I had never acted in my life,” says Theron.
Her first break came while she was in line at the bank. Theron needed money because she was late on her rent at the seedy motel where she was then living, but without a bank account, she couldn’t cash a check. Overhearing her heated argument with the teller, the man standing behind her in line offered to help—and this being Hollywood, he asked if she was an actor, gave her his card and soon became her manager. (He was the one fired.)
She made her uncredited screen debut in Children of the Corn III and appeared next in the 1996 crime story 2 Days in the Valley, playing a hit man’s Norwegian girlfriend. Though it was a small role, the lingerie-clad Theron (and her long, long legs) were prominently featured on the movie poster, and offers for hot-chick parts quickly followed. But Theron turned them down. “A lot of people were saying, ‘You should just hit while the iron’s hot,’” she says. “But playing the same part over and over doesn’t leave you with any longevity. And I knew it was going to be harder for me, because of what I look like, to branch out to different kinds of roles.”