The shooting that scarred her childhood. Persuading boyfriend Sean Penn to scrap his weapons. Packing a pistol in a spoof Western. Charlize Theron despises firearms, she tells TV Week – but just can’t escape them
The South African beauty talks guns, guys and motherhood
Guns. I should have known we’d be talking about guns. Halfway through the trial of Oscar Pistorius for the shooting of his blonde South African model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, here I am, meeting another blonde South African former model whose childhood was scarred by an eerily similar shooting.
When Charlize Theron was 15, her alcoholic father Charles returned home drunk to their farmhouse, firing a gun and threatening to kill his wife and daughter. Her mother, Gerda, shot him in self- defence. The actress has hated guns ever since. And yet it’s Theron who raises the subject.
‘It has to change,’ she says about the gun ownership laws in America, where there have been 44 school shootings since the 2012 Newtown massacre. ‘Where we are now is not helping – we see an increase of gun-related deaths. If it’s not working, we have to change it. I’m a mum. I’m going to be sending my kid to school and I want to know he is going to be safe.’
Views of this kind don’t make you very popular in America’s conservative heartland. But unlike a lot of A-list stars, Theron is not afraid to speak her mind – even when it comes to toxic subjects like gun control and gay marriage. ‘I have to be truthful to myself,’ she tells me. ‘I think that’s the beauty of living in a democracy. I was raised to have awareness of what’s happening and to take a view.’
Theron told TV Week columnist Piers Morgan in a 2011 interview that the childhood shooting was ‘ the great tragedy of my life’.
She said: ‘I had a parent who led me through the grief, shock and anger – she guided me to not being a victim. It doesn’t haunt me. I am at peace.’
The actress has come a long way since that terrible day in Benoni, near Johannesburg, 23 years ago. Beautiful, rich (Celebrity Net Worth rates her as worth € 79million; the influential Forbes has her at 85th most powerful celebrity)
‘I was raised to have awareness of what’s happening’
and supremely talented, Theron, 38, rose to fame as an actress in the late Nineties, before being offered the role that cemented her reputation in 2003, playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster.
Her performance won her a Best Actress Oscar (she remains the only South African to win the award) and the wide acclaim of critics, one of whom, the late Roger Ebert, called her performance ‘one of the greatest in the history of cinema’. Since Monster she has become established as a Hollywood A-lister – though she’s about as far removed from that stereotype as it’s possible to be.
Away from her film work, Theron has a proud campaigning reputation, from promoting HIV awareness in Africa to supporting the animal rights organisation PETA and being involved in groups that highlight violence against women.
She may not acknowledge it herself, but she is part of Hollywood’s political set, alongside George Clooney, Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Leonardo DiCaprio and new boyfriend Sean Penn. Theron attended last December’s Nelson Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg and was photographed laughing alongside Bono.
Penn, 53, is a recent convert to the anti-gun lobby, and underscored his commitment to the cause earlier this year when he commissioned American artist Jeff Koons to make a sculpture out of his 67 – yes, 67 – weapons.
The yet-to-be-completed piece was auctioned at a glitzy
Charlize Theron with boyfriend Sean Penn at a fundraiser at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Right: in her new Western spoof A Million Ways To Die In The West