On lips: Rouge Dior Baume in Bleuette #288, $35, at Neiman Marcus
Black wool ribbed knit turtleneck, $1,500, at Dior
It is difficult to put into words the effect that Charlize Theron imparts when she walks into a room. She doesn’t just enter the space; she completely hypnotizes it, a blond bombshell goddess radiating inner strength, beauty and confidence. This rarefied presence was on full display one recent afternoon at the Palace of Versailles, where Theron was shooting the new campaign for Dior J’adore. (Even the iconic palace—the very definition of opulent—cannot compete with her breathtaking beauty.) Having served as the face of the French fashion house’s fragrance since 2004, the latest installment, debuting this month, reunites Theron with renowned photographer and director Jean-Baptiste Mondino for a film that sees the actress glide down the hallowed Hall of Mirrors in her sparkling gold Dior gown, her reflection bouncing off the walls, a silk scarf flowing down from above; she entwines herself in the fabric and soars off into the sky. Its end, with Theron perched on a glittering dome overlooking Paris, makes clear that she is the conqueror of a bold new world.
“The new campaign is the next level of the J’adore world and J’adore woman,” Theron explains. “She is more assured now; stronger, more powerful. She knows who she is and where she is going, and the campaign highlights and celebrates this.” In many ways, Theron could, of course, be talking about herself. She has always been a force of nature, but these days—with increasingly varied film roles, a 2-year-old son and a highly publicized romance with Sean Penn—the 39-year-old Oscar-winning actress seems to have really hit her stride. “I would like to think that I am a woman who is comfortable [with] and celebratory of my strengths,” she allows. “And indulges in the qualities that make me feel beautiful.”
By now, the story of Theron’s rise to fame is modern Hollywood folklore. While growing up on a farm outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, Theron witnessed her mother fatally shoot her father in self-defense when she was 15 years old. Understandably, the experience profoundly affected her life, and although she doesn’t speak much about the event, it’s clear that her challenging upbringing equipped her with both the drive and survivor’s mentality to land her where she is today. It also created an uncommonly strong bond with her mother, Gerda, who encouraged her then teenaged daughter to move to New York City as a model and dancer, then finally to Los Angeles to pursue her acting dreams. Here, Theron was discovered at a bank on Hollywood Boulevard. As she argued with the teller over cashing a check her mom had sent to help with her rent, talent agent John Crosby handed her his card. The rest, as they say, is moviemaking history.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Theron is one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and respected stars. She received her Best Actress Oscar for her raw portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster and has won numerous other awards and accolades along the way. She also adopted her son, Jackson, in 2012, two years after splitting from her longtime boyfriend, actor Stuart Townsend. Like everything else in her life, Theron has managed to balance single motherhood and a hugely successful career with unflappable ease and grace. “All mothers, working or not, do the best they can,” Theron explains. “No. 1 is always my child. … I arrange my filming and working around [Jackson and my family]. Luckily Jackson is young enough where I am able to take him with me on the films that I make, so he has adventures on set with me—he has seen a lot of really cool things at the ripe old age of 2!”
Clearly motherhood hasn’t slowed her down one bit. This May saw the release of Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, a raunchy, slapstick ode to the Western film genre in which Theron played its comedic leading lady—a first for the star, known for heavier, more dramatic fare. Although the film received mixed reviews, Theron was delightful as Anna, the new girl in town who steals the heart of MacFarlane’s Albert. This month, however, Theron returns to familiar territory with Dark Places, a thriller based on the 2009 novel by Gillian Flynn. In it she stars as Libby Day, who, 25 years after the horrific massacre that killed her mother and sisters, sets out to find the truth. “I had just come off of A Million Ways to Die in the West and was very much in that comedy space with an ensemble cast,” Theron says of preparing for the challenging role. “For Dark Places, I needed to isolate myself and delve into the darker world of the story. It was more of a mental preparation than anything physical. Once I was in the headspace, arrived on set and was able to step into the basic, somewhat grungy clothes of Libby, that’s when I felt like I was in her skin.”
Known for her fearless ability to take on and completely transform herself for tough roles, Theron has a rare talent for diminishing her own natural beauty and allowing the character’s true essence to be exposed, no matter how dark or ugly it may be. To her, the process is simple. “I choose the films that I make based on the character and story. Do I connect to the character? Is this person’s story one that I want to tell?” she explains. “I don’t choose parts because I am trying to make a personal statement as an actor or I have something to prove.” If Theron determines that one’s narrative deserves telling, she will give everything to “ensure that tale is told in the best way possible,” she says.
Most recently, Theron was in Africa filming Mad Max: Fury Road, an update of the classic Mel Gibson action flick starring Tom Hardy, set for a May 2015 release. Classifying the experience as “very intense and authentic,” Theron says, “we were in the desert of Namibia, working with the elements day in and day out for over six months. Being thrust into that harsh environment was actually helpful as it really informed my performance.” She also was able to film some scenes in her native South Africa, a place she still visits frequently, especially since launching her charity, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, in 2007. “I started CTAOP when I realized the dire need that South Africans, specifically youth, had in the HIV/AIDS realm in the country,” she says. “South Africa has the highest number of HIV-positive individuals in the world, which is frightening given the population size of the country compared to that of other countries [also] impacted by the disease.”
When she isn’t traveling around the world as award-winning actor and activist, Theron leads a quiet life at home in Los Angeles. “My mom and I really enjoy hiking in the morning,” she says. “There is a great trail right around the corner from my house, so I go with Jackson and the dogs.” She also counts yoga and spinning as her favorite activities for maintaining her famous physique. But, she offers, “I do not have a perfect body! I’m always finding things I can work on, but I definitely have reached a point where I feel comfortable and happy with the way my body looks. ... I definitely am not one of those people that is constantly counting calories and doesn’t allow myself to enjoy food—I love food. But I just try to be mindful of what I eat and be good to myself.” Theron’s statuesque figure and natural ability to do justice to the clothes she wears, in fact, have made her something of a style icon, known for flaunting bold structured ensembles, often with an edge, by the likes of Lanvin, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. Theron also collaborates often with Dior designer Raf Simons on her red-carpet looks, like the stunning gold mini dress she wore to his recent fashion show in Paris. “His work is beautiful!” she explains. “Truly inspiring and innovative, yet still beautiful and elegant.”
One thing Theron is clearly enjoying these days is the company of Penn. Friends for 18 years before going public with their romance last January, the pair have since become nearly inseparable, walking hand in hand at each other’s premieres, vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, sitting front row at that aforementioned Dior fashion show and even stirring engagement rumors when Theron stepped out with a sparkler on her ring finger in July. In Penn—a strong, slightly unconventional actor’s actor, with a quiet intelligence and staunch dedication to social causes—it seems that she may have finally met her match. Although the famously private actress stays mum on her relationship, she does reveal her thoughts on the role of men in the life of an independent woman. “A modern man should elevate and celebrate the emerging progression of the modern woman,” Theron says. “These days women are doing any- and everything, and men are realizing that women are able to do everything they can do. I think at the end of the day, we should be supporting one another, building each other up. We need each other.”
Sounds like a woman conquering the world.
Hair by Enzo Angileri at Cloutier Remix
Makeup by Pati Dubroff at The Wall Group