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It’s 9 a.m. in Los Angeles. It’s time for my Zoom meeting with Charlize Theron. Her voice is clear, pure, cheerful. Perhaps she is even smiling. But I wouldn’t know as the screen is black! Woof… a dog? She apologizes and gets up to open the door. He wants to go out.
To her many fans, Charlize Theron is the epitome of beauty and femininity, transformed into an ethereal goddess for Dior’s J’adore fragrance. In Breitling’s new Chronomat campaign, she is a woman of commitment. Her reality. Alongside African-American prima ballerina Misty Copeland and Chinese actress Yao Chen, they form a trio of women recognized for breaking the rules and confronting stereotypes and boundaries of all kinds with style and conviction.
It is not a well-known fact that, since 2009, Charlize Theron has been a respected messenger of peace for the United Nations and a tireless campaigner committed to social issues. In 2007, she created her own foundation, Charlize Theron Outreach Project for Africa, which supports the African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other causes. Last year, her charity launched Together for Her, a global campaign against domestic violence, which has risen significantly during the pandemic across the globe. Theron also fights for the LGBTQIA+ community, having stated in the past that she would not remarry until same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S. Finally, she spoke out during the #MeToo movement, disclosing on NPR that she was sexually harassed by a director a few years ago.
When it comes to film, Theron also thrives on action: an uppercut here in Atomic Blonde (a sequel has been announced), another there in Mad Max, Fury Road or in F9. In The Old Guard, she plays an immortal with style in incredible physical shape. She also demonstrates her versatility by choosing more demanding roles, at times requiring a full transformation. In 2004, she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Silver Bear for Best Actress in Patty Jenkins’s Monster, the story of serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The actress appeared unrecognizable having gained an extra 30 pounds. In 2018, she did it again in Jason Reitman’s Tully, putting on another 50 pounds to play the role of a young mother: “I had to live with that weight for almost two years. At 40, it’s harder to lose weight than at 20!” she told ELLE France in 2018. In 2019, she starred in and co-produced the drama Bombshell, for which she has been nominated for yet another Oscar. Soon, the actress will play Lady Lesso, the dean of Evil in the fairytale School for Good and Evil, based on the eponymous novels by Soman Chainani and directed by Paul Feig for Netflix (to be released in 2022).
Now, at 48, Theron’s greatest role in life is off-screen. A mother, she is raising her two adopted children, Jackson, 9 years old, and August, 6 years old, on her own with a beautiful open mind. In 2019, she confided in Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show about her eldest being transgender. “My daughter’s story is her own, and one day, if she wants, she can tell her story… it’s important for the world to know that I would want the right pronoun used for her.” She now has two daughters.
Dammit! It’s 9:25. Her agent lets us know discreetly on the Zoom chat that the time will soon be up… Time is not on my side, but very much on hers!
You are an actress, a producer, a UN ambassador, an activist through your own charity and a mother of two… you confessed to having some difficulties balancing your private and professional life. Have you found the perfect balance yet?
I don’t think perfection is ever going to be reached! I’ve made peace with that. [Laughs.] I wish. I mean the balance is a very tricky thing as a single parent, no matter what job you have, but especially when you have a job that makes you travel. But that’s always evolving as my kids are getting a little older. They’re not just little kids that don’t even have an awareness of where they’re going. They’re at an age now where they have interests and things to do after school!
And what was your experience like during the pandemic, the lockdowns and everything?
I was in Los Angeles, and in retrospect now looking back, we had a really good isolation process. I was with the people I love the most, my children and my mom. There was an acknowledgement and understanding that this was time that I would never normally have with my family and so in that regard I really enjoyed it.
Was the role of teacher your hardest one yet?
I wasn’t a fan of home-schooling, but I was aware that it was something I wasn’t good at! But aside from that, I think it would be very interesting to ask my children to recount that period of time. I remember how the AIDS epidemic affected me in South Africa when I was not even my oldest daughter’s age. For us, [adults] it feels more like an isolated case. Hopefully, we don’t have more of this. But if we’re not careful we might!
Are you nervous about going back on set after two years away?
For the past two years, I’ve just been working in pre-production with our company, and that has been exciting. I’m now enthusiastic to go back to work but I’m also hyper vigilant on how I go about that. This is a very real virus that is not over, right. So, I think having a little bit of fear is smart.
The film release schedule has been turned upside down by the pandemic. What are your upcoming movies?
I have The Addams Family 2 which is out on October 1st (as the voice of Morticia Adams) and then in post-production, The School of Good and Evil for Netflix and a couple of things that are secrets as of right now. I’m not really talking about them, but it will be really exciting when they come out. That’s all I’m going to say! [Laughs.]
You have acted in 55 films and 6 series in just 26 years. And you’ve received 18 nominations and have won 3 awards. What are you most proud of?
I would say… my longevity. For every actor that’s probably the most important thing. I always knew that I really liked this job and I really wanted to try and do it for as long as I possibly could. As an actor, your biggest fear is always that with this constant great new turn out of talent that somehow people will forget about you. When I was younger, just the idea of supporting myself, solely from acting without a second job to pay the bills, was such a dream! It’s a tricky thing to achieve in this business. I feel proud of the things that I said “no” to. And I feel proud of the things that I said “yes” to, it was all in order to build a long career.
What is your relationship with time?
Time is precious. It’s the one thing you can’t buy more of. We’re all going to get what we’re going to get and it’s therefore the most precious thing that we have. And also, just not knowing when our time will be done, or what we get to share and leave behind as a legacy or time spent with our kids. I really do think it is the most valuable thing on the face of this earth. So, I cherish it. I don’t take it for granted. When I was younger, I was in a rush because I didn’t know how much time I had. And now in my older age, I really feel the value of slowing down and really acknowledging the time that I have with my children, with people that I love and the time that I have to do things that really matter to me, to not waste it!
You are a member of the new Breitling Squad, alongside Misty Copeland and Yao Chen for the new Chronomat watch. Is it important, for you, to belong to a community?
Yes. It’s part of the human condition to want to feel like you have a community. You can also belong to many different communities. Maybe the importance of that is there’s a benefit for us humans in having multiple interests. Community really encourages that through support and acceptance. So, in that sense, I do think it is important. People who might not feel like they have a community may find it very lonely.
How did this collaboration with Breitling start?
I was approached when we did the first campaign. Adam Driver and Brad Pitt had already signed on. And I’m just a massive fan of both of them. I really liked the concept of the campaign. There was something about Adam, Brad and me, and what Peter Lindbergh had thought about conceptually, that to me felt like it had a real, sincere quality to it. This company has been making watches since 1884 and have created something that felt very much in line with the times.
What do you like the most about the Chronomat watch by Breitling?
We don’t live in a time where we have to wear watches so, Breitling is incredibly smart. There is an understanding that consumers don’t have to wear this watch, so instead they ask: “Why don’t we design something that they would want to put on their arm?” That’s how I feel about the watch. There’s a modern quality to the design, not to mention the great technical aspects of the watch. It’s classic, it’s modern. It doesn’t dictate how your day should go or what you should wear.
You are a true activist and fight for several causes, including inclusivity, diversity, LGBTQIA+ community. You even created your own foundation, Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, in 2007. What prompted you to found it?
I was born and raised in South Africa. I went through my young teenage years being very much affected by the AIDS epidemic that really brought my country to its knees, and in many regards, is still bringing my country to its knees. I saw a lot of people who died from AIDS unnecessarily, there was so little to be known. The emergency of the AIDS epidemic was so tremendous in the late ’80s and ’90s that by the time we came to the 2000s we had a huge support in ARVs for people who were already positive. But what I realized was that there was a real gap and need in prevention. South Africa, in particular, was a country that lost an entire generation of parents. We had a young generation growing up, if they were lucky, with one parent or a grandparent, and the old traditions, really got in the way of modern medicine and just understanding how this virus was contracted and spreading. There really weren’t many organizations focusing on that prevention care so that’s why I wanted to start a foundation.
And what are its current projects?
The focus of CTAOP has really changed in the last 15 years. Initially, its aim was to fill that void of prevention care but when you start working in this field you come to realize really quickly that trying to stop AIDS is not an insular case. You have to look at it holistically. You have to understand that there are so many other drivers that really influence a community, which can lead to a higher risk of becoming HIV positive. So, we look at education and community engagement, namely at higher education, really finding those students who do not have the access to it. We are truly searching for the leaders of our future, which is important for Africa and also globally. We are definitely an organization that focuses on young people and their futures.
In the wake of the worldwide pandemic, did you anticipate that the situation would get worse?
It opened another can of worms. As we were checking in with all of our organizations that we support, the biggest thing that came back to us was gender-based violence. Women and young girls are the ones who suffer the most and fall through the cracks. We really believe that there’s a lot of hope for women if we can give them access and a seat at the table. What was life-saving for some of us, staying home, was really a death sentence to a lot of people who were living with abusers. I really truly talk about this all the time. So yes, COVID made everything really hard, but it also brought communities together. We were all in this together. It made it easier to reach out and meant people really wanted to support organizations like CTAOP.
After a long and busy day like yours, how do you unwind?
Well, sometimes my day goes on until I literally just get in bed and go to sleep. Having children, there’s not a lot of alone time to sit and ponder your thoughts. And I sometimes fall asleep right next to one of my daughters. It’s that kind of exhaustion. Otherwise, I love to connect with my friends over dinner or have a glass of wine. That is incredibly relaxing. It gives me great joy!
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