It was a succession of beyond-bad-luck stories for the stunning young South African. When Charlize was a 15-year-old farm girl, she watched her mother kill her abusive dad in self-defense. She moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in dance, but her knees blew out, pronto—and with them, her future as a ballerina. At 19, the neophyte actress was living in an L.A. dive, subsisting on stale rolls ripped off from restaurants. Final indignity: after begging mom for cash to stave off starvation, a Hollywood bank refused to cash her way-out-of-town $500 check. “You don’t understand—please,” she unsuccessfully begged the teller. So she freaked—a screaming, flailing temper tantrum in front of the lunchtime crowd. It was her biggest and most rapt audience to date.
Little did she know, it was also her first successful audition. Talent manager John Crosby, waiting to use an ATM, was captivated by the gorgeous, if high-strung, young woman. “If you’re interested, I’ll represent you,” he told her. As Theron later explained to Oprah, “If I hadn’t been in the bank that day, I honestly don’t think I’d be here right now.” A few months of acting classes later, she landed her first screen role. Ok, it was in Children of the Corn III, but still.