BLONDE AMBITION

Don’t Mess with Charlize Theron, Fierce Beauty, Atomic Blonde, and the Ultimate Hollywood Badass

In W‘s August cover story, the actress talks about her new movie Atomic Blonde, why she loves playing villains, and what it was like to punch Teri Hatcher.


Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful

The search for the next James Bond is over—Charlize Theron is perfect for the role. Proof positive: In Atomic Blonde, in theaters July 28, Theron displays her suave spy talents as Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent who is sent to Berlin in 1989, five days before the Wall falls. As Lorraine, Theron is an exhilarating mix of icy beauty, alluring mystery, in-your-face sexuality, and fierce, fearless fighting skills.

In one epic battle, she takes on a team of brutal bad guys on a staircase, pummeling and decking them one by one while looking stunning in thigh-high boots and a shaggy bob. It is a triumphant female-power moment that is rarely seen in cinema, and Theron owns it completely.

“I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” Theron told me at the W photo shoot, which channeled the late-1980s, gritty punk-meets-glam mood of the film. “It would be so boring to just be ‘the girl’ and wait for the guys to come in when there’s a fight. Instead, I thought about Atomic Blonde the way I imagine men think about parts in action films. I was intrigued and challenged.”

The role wasn’t easy. The film’s director, David Leitch, was once the stunt double for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, and he trained Theron, who has a background in ballet, for three months, four to five hours a day. (Theron, along with her producing partner, Beth Kono, developed the film, which is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City.)

In an interesting twist for an action film, Lorraine bears the marks of her battles. She is scarred and bloodied, and those scars are vital to the power of the movie. Like Bond, she is wounded, emotionally and physically. “I remember it was day two, my body was hurting, and my face was all bruised up, and my eye was swollen shut,” Theron said in an interview with The New York Times. “I remember thinking to myself, Really?”

Lynn Hirschberg: When you developed Atomic Blonde, did you think about James Bond at all? Charlize Theron: Lorraine is a little bit like Bond. He drinks a lot of martinis, doesn’t he? Shaken or not stirred, or whatever they are. Yeah, Lorraine and James are equally messed up. Maybe they should marry! Maybe they should have a baby! That would be an interesting baby.

Are you a fan of action films? I really like them. One of my first memories is of watching Die Hard and just loving it. Maybe something’s wrong with me.

Charlize Theron Toughens Up for W‘s August 2017 Cover, and Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron, who stars in the upcoming Atomic Blonde action thriller, is the star of W‘s August issue.

Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful

Charlize Theron, who stars in the upcoming Atomic Blonde action thriller, wears a Paco Rabanne top and skirt.

Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful

Charlize Theron, who stars in the upcoming Atomic Blonde action thriller, wears a Proenza Schouler dress; Jimmy Choo sandals. Beauty note: For a velvety touch, try Dior J’Adore Beautifying Body Crème.

Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful

Charlize Theron, who stars in the upcoming Atomic Blonde action thriller, wears a Dior blazer.

Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful

Charlize Theron, who stars in the upcoming Atomic Blonde action thriller, wears a Tom Ford blazer, shorts, scarf, tights, and shoes; Cosabella bodysuit; La Perla bra.

Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful; Hair by Enzo Angileri at Cloutier Remix; Makeup by Francesca Tolot for Dior at Cloutier Remix; manicure by Ashlie Johnson for chanel at the Wall Group; Set Design by Colin Donahue for Owl and the Elephant; Production by Joy Asbury Productions; retouching by output; photography assistants: Lex Kembery, Matthew Healy, Simon Mackinlay, angel ramos; fashion assistants: Dena Giannini, Devon Head.
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In one of your first films, you had a memorable action scene in a catsuit. Yes! 2 Days in the Valley. Rotten Tomatoes gave it number 17 on the list of 20 Greatest Fight Scenes Ever. The fight was between me and Teri Hatcher. I hit her really bad.

Did you knock out her teeth? No. But I think she was bruised. And because it was Teri Hatcher, who was a star, and I was this bleached-blonde-Amazonian, catsuit-wearing nobody who was punching her in the face, I was like a wild animal. Back then I didn’t know how to hone in my energy and I was knocking over lights. I had no concept of a set. I connected right with Teri Hatcher’s face. I felt terrible about it. I had no money and sent her some cheap beer the next day. Sorry, Teri.

Was it difficult to stage the fight scenes in Atomic Blonde? Yes, but it’s like dance, and I grew up taking ballet. I love discipline. I function really well within the parameters of discipline and knowing what to do. For instance, you have to throw yourself into ballet 100 percent, and that was really good for me as a young girl. But other than Teri Hatcher, I had only connected my fist with a girl’s face once in my entire life, so I had to do a lot of training for this film.

Charlize Theron, Dior Darling, Is All About Edgy Glamour on the Red Carpet

Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the 24th annual American Cinematheque awards in Beverly Hills, California, March 2010. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in a Balenciaga blazer with Alexander McQueen clutch and Stella McCartney heels at the launch party for Rage in Los Angeles, California, September 2011. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Alexander McQueen at W magazine’s Golden Globes party in Los Angeles, California, January 2012. Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the world premiere of Prometheus in London, England, May 2012. Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Stella McCartney at the 5th annual Variety Power of Women party in Beverly Hills, California, October 2013. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the Help Haiti Home gala in Beverly Hills, California, January 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the 86th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, March 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the Christian Dior Fall 2014 couture presentation in Paris, France, July 2014. Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2015. Photo by Daniele Venturelli.

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Charlize Theron in Cushnie et Ochs at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premier of Mad Max: Fury Road in Los Angeles, California, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Valentino at a photocall for Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at Life Ball 2015 in Vienna, Austria, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Tom Ford in Hong Kong, China, October 2015. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in custom Dior at the 88th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 2016. Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Altuzarra in Milan, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in a Stella McCartney blouse and The Reformation skirt at a photocall for The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Hamburg, Germany, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in a Saint Laurent blouse, Chloé skirt, and Alexandre Vauthier heels at a photocall for The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Milan, Italy, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the Asia premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Singapore, April 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Westwood, California, April 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the photocall for The Last Face at the annual 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, May 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

Mike Marsland/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the premiere of The Last Face during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, May 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

Laurent Viteur/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the 89th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Dan MacMedan/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Paris, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Gucci at the premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Madrid, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the Berlin premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Berlin, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Franziska Krug/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Saint Laurent at the amfAR Hong Kong Gala in Hong Kong, May 2017.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the 70th anniversary celebration during the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Prada with Chopard jewelry at the Chopard Trophy during the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the cruise 2018 Dior show in Calabasas, California, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Chris Delmas/Getty Images
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What? Who was the girl you socked in the face? And why? I was working in Milan as a model, and this girl got very aggressive with me at a bar. She pushed me and started talking smack, and that was it. My body just took over, and I thought, I didn’t just do that, did I? It was not badass like Lorraine at all. With Lorraine, we talked a lot about, ‘What would it be like if a girl was really fighting these big guys?’ David Leitch was so specific about knowing that a girl would never punch with her wrist, or her wrist would break. She would use her elbows. Or her knees. He designed the fights around what my strengths would be. And we made sure that we showed the impact of the hits that she took. We wanted the audience to feel the pain.

Do you think you would make a good spy? No. I think I would just hide. I’d be really good at hiding. [Laughs] But I would fight. I would try, you know? To fight to the death you have to have a certain personality. Someone who lives like Lorraine cannot be superhealthy and dream of unicorns. She’s haunted.

Was it fun to toss a huge guy over your shoulder? I do, like, a wrestling move. It took me a while to get that right. I was like, ‘We’re not throwing big dudes, right?’ But I did. I was pretty proud of myself.

You have a whole new future: WrestleMania! That would be kind of awesome. I’ve always wanted to stand on the ropes and scream.

In addition to Atomic Blonde, you are the villain, Cipher, in the massive global hit The Fate of the Furious. You were also the villain in Snow White and the Huntsman. Is it fun to be bad? Ravenna, in Snow White, was fun. She’s obsessed with youth and, yeah, she’s a psychopath. She kills young girls and sucks the life out of them. [Laughs] Look, I’ve always been fascinated by abhorrent behavior. I have a real interest in why people do horrible things. I read a lot of books and am fascinated by whether deviant behavior is caused by nature or nurture. There’s a part of me that wants to understand that darkness, but I can’t really understand it. So, it is cathartic to play a character who is evil. It’s a free pass for your soul: Nothing bad is going to happen, and you can explore what it would be like to be in that skin.

A Celebration of Charlize Theron’s Ever-Changing Hairstyles

Charlize Theron at the “2 Days in the Valley” film premiere on September 20, 1996 at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the “Mad City” premiere in Los Angeles on 1997. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron at the 36th Annual New York Film Festival on September 25, 1998 at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arriving at the Sixth Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 12, 2000 at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron at the premiere of “Sweet November” at Bruin Theatre in Westwood, California on 2001. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron at the world premiere of “Monster” at the closing night of AFI Fest 2003 at the ArcLight Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, California, 2003. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the 76th Annual Academy Awards at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, 2004. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, 2005. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron at the 17th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, 2006. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron during the DKNY Jeans Presents East of Havana film premiere at the IFC Center in New York City, 2007.

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Charlize Theron attends the 1st Hollywood Domino Tournament hosted by De Grisogono at the Beverly Hills Hotel on February 21, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the launch of the new designers floor at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 9, 2009 in New York City. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar party hosted by Graydon Carter held at Sunset Tower on February 27, 2011 in West Hollywood, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 15, 2012. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the World Premiere of “Snow White And The Huntsman” at Empire Leicester Square on May 14, 2012 in London, England. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts Inaugural Gala on October 17, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the “A Million Ways To Die In The West” Los Angeles premiere at Regency Village Theatre on May 15, 2014 in Westwood, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the “Mad Max: Fury Road” premiere during the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2015 in Cannes, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives for the screening of the film “The Last Face” at the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2016. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends “The Last Face” photocall during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 20, 2016 in Cannes, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends Focus Features luncheon and studio program celebrating 15 years during CinemaCon 2017 at Caesars Palace on March 29, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the Chopard Trophy photocall at Hotel Martinez on May 22, 2017. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the anniversary event during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 23, 2017 in Cannes, France. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Actress Charlize Theron arrives for the Premiere Of Amazon Studios And STX Films’ “Gringo” held at Regal LA Live Stadium 14 on March 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the 25th Annual ELLE Women In Hollywood Celebration at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 06, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the “Long Shot” screening at the Paramount Theatre during the 2019 SXSW Conference And Festival on March 9, 2019 in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the premiere of “Long Shot” at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on April 30, 2019 in New York City. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron arrives at the 91st Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 24, 2019 in Hollywood, California. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron attends the “Long Shot” special screening at Curzon Cinema Mayfair on April 25, 2019 in London, England. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

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Like Lorraine, do you have any surprising skills? I’m a great driver. I grew up on a farm. When I did The Italian Job, Mark Wahlberg, my costar, would do one 360 and start puking. I was like, ‘What’s up, girl?’ [Laughs] And also, I’m really, really good at cleaning—at laundry! I love coming back from a trip and opening my suitcase and doing laundry at 4:30 a.m. because I’m so jet-lagged. I dig that. I can’t help myself: I’ll walk into my kitchen, and be 20 minutes late because I’m cleaning and I can’t stop. The worst is when I’m making a film and I don’t get enough cleaning out of my system. It kind of builds up, and I’ll be in my trailer with my toothbrush cleaning the filthy corners. They’ll say, ‘We’re ready for you, Charlize,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m going to be right there! Just need to get some more corners.’

On an entirely different topic, where was your first kiss? In my backyard. In South Africa. I was 12. His name was Mickey Smith, and he had braces. He worked at the local video store, so I would see him all the time and flirt with him. We were really nervous about the kiss. We had set it up: This weekend, we are watching Friday the 13th and we are making out. But we stalled and stalled and stalled, and finally his mom was in the driveway honking for him, and we were like, ‘Come on, let’s just do it.’ And we did it. It was horrible. Super-rushed and terrible.

No follow-up a week later or anything? Nope. He was the sweetest guy ever, or was back then. He could be a serial killer now. I don’t know.

Charlize Theron, Dior Darling, Is All About Edgy Glamour on the Red Carpet

Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the 24th annual American Cinematheque awards in Beverly Hills, California, March 2010. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in a Balenciaga blazer with Alexander McQueen clutch and Stella McCartney heels at the launch party for Rage in Los Angeles, California, September 2011. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Alexander McQueen at W magazine’s Golden Globes party in Los Angeles, California, January 2012. Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the world premiere of Prometheus in London, England, May 2012. Photo by Stuart Wilson/Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Stella McCartney at the 5th annual Variety Power of Women party in Beverly Hills, California, October 2013. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the Help Haiti Home gala in Beverly Hills, California, January 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the 86th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, March 2014. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the Christian Dior Fall 2014 couture presentation in Paris, France, July 2014. Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2015. Photo by Daniele Venturelli.

Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Cushnie et Ochs at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premier of Mad Max: Fury Road in Los Angeles, California, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Valentino at a photocall for Mad Max: Fury Road at the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at Life Ball 2015 in Vienna, Austria, May 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Tom Ford in Hong Kong, China, October 2015. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in custom Dior at the 88th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 2016. Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage.

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Charlize Theron in Altuzarra in Milan, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in a Stella McCartney blouse and The Reformation skirt at a photocall for The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Hamburg, Germany, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in a Saint Laurent blouse, Chloé skirt, and Alexandre Vauthier heels at a photocall for The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Milan, Italy, March 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the Asia premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Singapore, April 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of The Huntsman: Winter’s War in Westwood, California, April 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

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Charlize Theron in Givenchy at the photocall for The Last Face at the annual 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, May 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

Mike Marsland/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the premiere of The Last Face during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, May 2016. Photo by Getty Images.

Laurent Viteur/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the 89th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Dan MacMedan/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Paris, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Gucci at the premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Madrid, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior couture at the Berlin premiere of Fast & Furious 8 in Berlin, April 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Franziska Krug/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Saint Laurent at the amfAR Hong Kong Gala in Hong Kong, May 2017.

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the 70th anniversary celebration during the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Prada with Chopard jewelry at the Chopard Trophy during the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Charlize Theron in Dior at the cruise 2018 Dior show in Calabasas, California, May 2017. Photo by Getty Images.

Chris Delmas/Getty Images
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Charlize Theron Nails This Flawless “Talladega Nights” Audition