She’s set to play one of the women instrumental in pioneering the #MeToo movement via the take-down of Fox News titan Roger Ailes.
It was a move which gave women all around the world strength to speak up against sexual harassment in various industries by men in positions of power.
But long before Charlize Theron took on the role of Megyn Kelly – a pivotal yet controversial figure in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Ailes portrayed in upcoming film Bombshell – she witnessed the violent take down of a dangerous man in her own life.
Her father, who was killed by her mother in self-defence.
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THE NIGHT OF HER FATHER’S DEATH
Charles Theron was shot and killed by his wife, Theron’s mother Gerda Maritz, in 1991.
The actress, who grew up during apartheid in South Africa, was 15 years old, asleep in bed when her alcoholic father held a gun to her bedroom door and threatened to pull the trigger in a drunken rampage.
He had fired shots throughout the house on returning from a night of boozing with his brother, informing his wife of his plan to “murder them both” with the shotgun he brandished, a court later heard.
Gerda – protecting her teenage daughter who was fresh home from a stint at boarding school – scrambled to arm herself with her own handgun. She fired, killing her husband, with whom she had a turbulent relationship for years. His brother was wounded by a second gunshot.
No charges were laid. Gerda’s actions were found to be in self-defence. Theron has since praised her mother’s actions in interviews for making her the “brave woman she is today”.
But in the years that followed the 1991 night, Theron told a very different story about how she lost her father.
The true story, she told Howard Stern in 2017, was too hard to tell.
“I just pretended like it didn’t happen. I didn’t tell anybody — I didn’t want to tell anybody. Whenever anybody asked me, I said my dad died in a car accident. Who wants to tell that story? Nobody wants to tell that story.”
1998 – WHEN THE CASE WAS MADE PUBLIC
As the now-43-year-old star’s career began to flourish following standout performances in a handful of films, the true story of her father’s end and her mother’s act of bravery, was made public via police reports.
At first too painful to discuss, over the years, Theron has opened up about not only his death, but the impact her father’s addiction had on her life.
Speaking with Howard Stern in 2017, she revealed that she lived in fear for much of her childhood.
“I think what more affected me for my adult life that happened in my childhood was more the every day living of a child living in the house with an alcoholic and waking up not knowing what was going to happen. And not knowing how my day was going to go and all of it dependent on somebody else and whether he was not going to drink or drink,” she said.
Years earlier, in a candid sit-down with Diane Sawyer in 2004, she reflected fondly on her father, but said even in her formative years, she knew it would never end well.
“[He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic.
“Nature gives you instinct. And I knew something bad was going to happen,” Theron said.
Looking back, she said she would have done just as her mother did.
“I know what happened, and I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing.”
THERON’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HER MOTHER
The actress is known for her nuanced portrayal of complex female characters.
In 2003, she played serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, undergoing an incredible physical transformation which ultimately landed her an Oscar.
In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Theron shaved her head to play the gritty role of Imperator Furiosa, a lieutenant under the tyrannical Immortan Joe. And in 2017 film Atomic Blonde, she played the most elite – and lethal – spy in M16.
All undeniably strong women on screen, but her courage in real life, she says, comes from her mum.
“No matter who you are or where you come from, the struggle is maybe a little bit different, but all interconnects. I am lucky enough that I had a great mum who really kind of made me brave and always told me to be brave. I don’t know who I might have been without that.”
In her 2017 Howard Stern interview, she said mother’s selfless resilience made her who she is.
“I have an incredible mother … She’s a huge inspiration in my life,” said Theron. “She’s never really had therapy. So a mother who never really had therapy dealing with something like that — trying to get your child out of that. Her philosophy was ‘This is horrible. Acknowledge that this is horrible. Now make a choice. Will this define you? Are you going to sink or are you going to swim?’ That was it.”
In honour of their close connection – Theron and her mother both have matching koi fish tattoos on their ankles.
The image symbolises perseverance in adversity and strength of purpose. In Buddhism, it represents courage.
A LASTING IMPACT
Armed with a thick skin she attributes to her mother, the stoic Theron is not defined by the darkness of the night in question – a fact she wants the world to know.
She says, rather, it’s often the reaction from others that makes life difficult.
“They don’t know how to respond to it. And I didn’t want to feel like a victim. I struggled with that for many years until I actually started therapy.”
In the Howard Stern interview, she admitted growing up with a parent suffering from addiction was what haunted her more through to adulthood.
“I was actually okay about (her father’s death),” she said.
It was the constant state of hyper-vigilance, she said, which pushed her to seek therapy in her late 20s.
“It was the great tragedy of my life, I think what follows is … you have to find where you want yourself to be, and how you want people to see you in this world, I had a parent who led me through the grief, shock and anger going through all of the emotional things that you do when you — when something like this happens to you,” she told Piers Morgan in 2015.
BEING A MOTHER HERSELF
The mother-of-two adopted her first child, Jackson, in her late thirties and she said it was the best thing she could’ve done.
“My 20s were really about getting a lot of stuff out of my system – wanting to experience the world, do drugs, travel to Turkey for four months with a backpack. By the time I had kids, I was really ready,” she told Marie Claire Australia in May.
A month earlier, Theron had revealed seven-year-old Jackson identifies as female.
Speaking with Daily Mail in April, she said Jackson revealed her identity when she was three-years-old.
“She looked at me when she was three years old and said: ‘I am not a boy!’,” she said.
“So there you go! I have two beautiful daughters who, just like any parent, I want to protect and I want to see thrive.
“They were born who they are and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up, and who they want to be, is not for me to decide.”
With her mother a guiding force, she said her number one goal is to “make sure that they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be.”
“My job as a parent is to celebrate them and to love them and to make sure that they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be … I will do everything in my power for my kids to have that right and to be protected within that.”
Bombshell, starring Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and Charlize Theron, will be released internationally on December 20, 2019.
Originally published as ‘Horrible’: Theron’s nightmare past