A violent childhood compelled her to succeed and when she won an Oscar, Theron knew she'd made it. How did the beautiful blonde shake off the 'girlfriend' tag to become a Monster?
Charlize Theron was born on 7 August 1975 and grew up on a farm outside of Johannesburg. She was named after her father Charles who was of French descent, while her mother Gerda hailed from German stock – but both parents were born and raised in South Africa.
Aged six, Theron began ballet lessons and at 12 was sent to a boarding school in Johannesburg, specialising in the arts. Here, Theron stepped up her dance training, studying classical ballet as well as flamenco, Greek and contemporary dance.
Back at home though, trouble was brewing. Father Charles had slipped into alcoholism and Theron had come to feel like her mother's protector after Charles started to physically abuse her.
In 1991, when Theron was back from school for the weekend and upstairs in her room, the situation came to a head. Charles attacked Gerda once more and she shot him dead (for years Theron told interviewers her father was killed in a car crash). The incident was viewed as self-defence and therefore Gerda didn’t serve any time in prison.
Keen to move on, Gerda encouraged Theron to enter a Johannesburg modelling contest. Theron won the contest and flew to Italy to represent South Africa at the International New Model Today competition. She won again and modelling work came flooding in. Soon she was living on her own in Milan, travelling to jobs all over Europe.
After a year, Theron moved to New York to study at the Joffrey Ballet School, financing herself by modelling in her spare time. Sadly, her prima ballerina dreams turned to dust when her knee 'blew out' in class, forcing her into premature retirement.
In 1994, Theron found herself living in a cheap hotel, broke and eating bread stolen from restaurants. Fate would play its card though when, while attempting to cash a much-needed $500 donation from her mother, the cashier refused as it was an out-of-state cheque. Theron went ballistic, giving the cashier and bank staff a taster of her South African fieriness.
Unbeknown to her, Theron's blast had been witnessed by John Crosby, a long-time talent manager then representing John Hurt and Rene Russo. He immediately offered to represent her. Crosby organised acting classes and within months, Theron had made her acting debut in 'Children of the Corn III'.
By 1997, Theron had already established a reputation as one of the most promising young actresses on the scene, appearing in a few TV series as well as an ad for Martini. Her silver screen debut was in Jonathan Lynn's 'Trial And Error'. Lynn's previous hit film 'My Cousin Vinny' had earned an unexpected Oscar for Marisa Tomei.
Now Theron was entering the major league. 'The Devil's Advocate' (1997), also starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, saw Theron act her socks off as Reeves' suicidal wife.
1998 saw Theron take a brief but memorable part in Woody Allen's 'Celebrity', followed by a lead part in a Disney remake of 'Mighty Joe Young'. The film was a success and, slowly, Theron's profile was rising among fans and critics alike.
In Hollywood, Theron was now very much in demand. 1999 began with 'The Astronaut's Wife', alongside Johnny Depp. Next, Theron featured in Lasse Hallstrom's 'The Cider House Rules' - the film brought in well-earned box office ratings and Theron was able to demonstrate a wider dimension to her acting abilities.
The Millennium began as a busy year for Theron, yet none of the four films she starred in proved a big enough success to warrant any significant coverage for her. 'Reindeer Games' starring Ben Affleck and 'The Yards' featuring Mark Wahlberg were minor hits. 'Men of Honour', in which she starred as Robert De Niro's alcoholic wife, drew a better audience reaction.
By the start of 2001, Theron's career was at a point whereby her earning potential was far greater than it once had been, yet her status as an A-list actor wasn't quite sealed. 'Sweet November' was a box office flop, earning Theron a Razzie nomination, and signifying the beginning of a nose-dive in her acting credibility. A brief cameo in '15 Minutes' followed, reuniting Theron with Robert De Niro, and she was also reunited with Woody Allen in the period drama, 'The Curse of the Jade Scorpion'.
'Trapped' in 2001 was significant to Theron for more than professional reasons as it was here that she starred alongside the actor Stuart Townsend, whom she started dating shortly afterwards.
Next came 'Waking Up In Reno' (2002), an odd road-trip comedy about two southern couples with Billy Bob Thornton playing a car dealer who cheats on his wife (played by Natasha Richardson) with Theron. She had the opportunity to once again showcase her comic abilities but the film failed to propel her to the forefront of the plot.
The big budget remake of 'The Italian Job' in 2003 saw Theron credited beside Mark Wahlberg again, but the film didn't take audiences by storm and was considered a poor reflection of the 1969 original.
Theron's turn in 'The Devil's Advocate' was to prove more life-changing then she'd ever anticipated back in 1997, when writer and director Patty Jenkins approached her after seeing the film. Theron's willingness to play a part that involved being filmed with her nose openly running was enough to convince Jenkins she was right to star in 'Monster', a film she was writing about Aileen Wuornos, America's first female serial killer.
Theron grabbed the opportunity to play Wuornos and, in gaining nearly three stone, made herself virtually unrecognisable. She threw herself into the part by studying Nick Broomfield's 1992 documentary 'Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer', and nailed all of Wuornos's ticks and body movements to a tee. The hard work finally paid off when she collected an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the role.
Taking a break from the immense time and dedication that had gone into 'Monster', Theron took a part as far from Aileen Wuornos as possible, playing Britt Ekland in 'The Life and Death of Peter Sellers' (2004) alongside Geoffrey Rush.
Since the success of 'Monster', Theron has taken comparatively less demanding roles to date and can be said to be concentrating a little more on her personal life rather than a back-to-back film schedule.
'Aeon Flux' in 2005 was Theron's most high-profile part since her Oscar win but sadly, the critics and audience alike weren't convinced by the big screen adaptation of the 1995 MTV cartoon and subsequently, Theron failed to live-up to her Academy Award profile.
However, the actress received a more favourable response from critics later that year when she starred in the drama 'Home Country'. The star received a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for the role.
In 2009, Theron co-presented the 2010 FIFA World Cup draw in Cape Town. Showing her sense of humour, Theron jokingly drew an Ireland ball instead of France during rehearsals.
Since then she has starred in the superhero parody 'Hancock' with Will Smith in 2008, 'The Burning Plain' (2008) and 'The Road' in 2009.
In January 2010, it was revealed that she had split from her partner of almost ten years, Irish actor Stuart Townsend. After this she took a year out from acting before returning in one of 2012's biggest films 'Prometheus' - the Ridley Scott-directed 'prequel' to 'Alien'. She also played the villain in 'Snow White and The Huntsman' with Kristen Stewart. The twisted, dark take on the fairy tale has already proved such a success that a second one will be made.
Earlier this year, Theron debuted a shocking new look - a bald head – which it turns out is for her latest role. In 2013, she will appear in the remake of 'Mad Max: Fury Road' with Tom Hardy in the main male role. She is also rumoured to be appearing in 'Murder Mystery' next year, as well as 'Hancock 2' and 'Two Eyes Staring', which as yet have no release dates.
As well as acting and modelling, Theron has been involved in charity work over the years and supports a number of organisations including Democracy Now! and animal rights group PETA.
In addition, she supports gay marriage and took part in a march for the issue in California in 2009.
Despite Theron splitting from Townsend after nearly nine years together in 2010, her personal life has improved with the adoption of her son Jackson. The adoption was formalised and announced in March 2012. As of February 2014, she has been dating the actor Sean Penn.