ByKarly Rayner, writer at
Movie Pilot's celebrity savant
Karly Rayner

It's common knowledge that Charlize Theron is an incredibly accomplished actress with an Oscar under her belt, but not everybody knows that the 39-year-old actor credits her own traumatic childhood for her unique gift for portraying damaged individuals.

The Tragic Events of 21 June, 1991

Born in Benoni, South Africa in 1975, Charlize Theron was the only child of Gerda Jacoba Aletta and Charles Jacobus Theron. Her father, Charles, was an alcoholic who was verbally abusive and erratic at times, but nobody could have foreseen the violent events that took place when Charlize was just 15-years-old.

Charlize Theron as a school girl
Charlize Theron as a school girl

The shocking tragedy happened one evening when Charlize had just returned home from boarding school. An aunt called the family home to warn Charlize and her mother that her father and his brother were on their way to the house in a state of blind drunk agitation.

Although the phone call was not unusual to Charlize, she told ABC News that:

"Nature gives you instinct. And I knew something bad was going to happen."

When he arrived home, her father almost immediately opened fire in a drunken rage, first at the locked gate to the family compound and then through the kitchen door. Once Charles Theron gained entry to the home, he began hammering violently on Charlize's bedroom door, according to police statements he was screaming:

"Tonight I'm going to kill you both with the shotgun."
Charlize Theron with her mother and father
Charlize Theron with her mother and father

After those chilling words, Charlize's father fired a shot into his terrified daughter's bedroom door and Charlize's mother, Gerda, realized she had to do something.

The brave mother grabbed her own handgun and shot both of the men, Killing her husband and wounding his brother. The police statement from a young Charlize states that she asked "what happened?" and her mother simply answered "Charlize, I shot them, I shot them."

Fear of Firearms

Despite the fact that her Mother's handgun probably saved her life, Theron is very much anti-gun. Charlize believes that if there were no firearms in the property in the first place that the entire crisis could have been averted. She told ABC News that:

"The terrible thing is that everybody in South Africa has a gun … You know, but that's just the lifestyle there. And when those things are handy; terrible things happen. You shouldn't have those things around because when people get irrational and emotional and drunk, terrible things can happen."

An Unbreakable Mother/Daughter Bond

Charlize and her mother, Gerda
Charlize and her mother, Gerda

Although her own father was killed, Charlize doesn't blame her mother for her actions that night. She explained:

"I know what happened and I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing."

Charlize and Gerda remain incredibly close and Theron credits her mother with having the bravery, ambition and drive that inspired her to pursue a career in Hollywood. In a 2011 interview with Pierce Morgan, Charlize gushed:

"My mother is amazing, and I know all daughters or children will say this, it sounds very biased, but she is very unique. She's saved my life many times."

After the shooting Gerda did not face prosecution because the grand attorney general ruled that she had acted to defend herself and her teenage daughter.

Turning Tragedy into Talent

Charlize Theron in Dark Places
Charlize Theron in Dark Places

The devastating evening when her mother shot her father was obviously incredibly tough for Charlize to come to terms with, but she has acknowledged that it has helped to shape her as an actress.

In an interview by the French TV station TF1 about her role in the upcoming Gillian Flynn adaption,[Dark Places](movie:398421) Charlize Theron said that:

"There's definitely an acknowledgement on my part that I had an experience of, a very traumatic experience, an event, in my life and somehow it’s formed me. In the film, my character goes through this event when she’s 8 years old, and it really is examining what a trauma like that would do to a child, especially when she’s expected to speak about it and that’s definitely something that I can relate to, that’s definitely something that I’ve experienced in my life."

In a 2011 interview, Theron spoke out about how although the events of that night are the worst things to ever happen to her, they do not have control of her life. She told Piers Morgan:

"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. But really kind of guided me towards not being a victim and not going through my life feeling victimized. You know, I'm incredibly saddened by that night and saddened by the event ... [but] no, it doesn't haunt me. No, it doesn't haunt me at all. I'm completely at peace."

(Source: US Magazine via TF1, The Daily Mail, ABC and Wikipedia)


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