Theron was born in Benoni, Transvaal Province, South Africa, the only child of Gerda Jacoba Aletta (born January 27, 1953) and Charles Jacobus Theron (died 1990) Her mother is of German descent and her father was of French and Dutch ancestry; Theron is directly descended from early Huguenot settlers, and Boer War figure Daniel Theron was her great-grandfather's brother."Theron" is an Occitan surname (originally spelled Théron) pronounced in Afrikaans as "Tronn", although she has said that the way it is pronounced in South Africa is "Thrown". She changed the pronunciation when she moved to the US.Although fluent in English, her first language is Afrikaans. She grew up on her parents' farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg. She attended Putfontein Primary School (Laerskool Putfontein). At the age of 13, Theron was sent to boarding school and began her studies at the National School of the Arts in Johannesburg.At the age of 16, Theron travelled to Milan on a one-year modeling contract, after winning a local competition. She went to New York with Pauline's Model Management. She decided to remain after her contract ended, attending the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer. A knee injury closed this career path when Theron was 19.Unable to dance, Theron flew to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket her mother bought her.During her early months there, she went to a bank to cash a cheque her mother had sent her to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron immediately started a shouting match with her. Afterwards, a talent agent in line behind her handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to some casting agents and also an acting school. She later fired him as her manager after he kept sending her scripts for films similar to Showgirls and Species.After eight months in the city, she was cast in her first film part, a non-speaking role in the direct-to-video film Children of the Corn III (1995). Her breakout role was a supporting but significant part in 2 Days in the Valley, but larger roles in widely released Hollywood films followed, and her career skyrocketed in the late 1990s with box office successes like The Devil's Advocate (1997), Mighty Joe Young (1998) and The Cider House Rules (1999). She was on the cover of the January 1999 issue of Vanity Fair as the "White Hot Venus".Theron at the premiere of North Country at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival.After appearing in a few notable films, Theron starred as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003). Film critic Roger Ebert called it "one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema".For this role, Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress at the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, as well as the SAG Award and the Golden Globe Award. She is the first African to win an Oscar for Best Actress.The Oscar win pushed her to The Hollywood Reporter's 2006 list of highest-paid actresses in Hollywood; earning $10,000,000 for both her subsequent films, North Country and Æon Flux, she ranked seventh, behind Halle Berry, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Renée Zellweger, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman.On September 30, 2005, Theron received her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the same year, she starred in the financially unsuccessful science fiction thriller Æon Flux.Theron received Best Actress Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for her lead performance in the drama North Country. Ms. magazine also honored her for this performance with a feature article in its Fall 2005 issue.In 2005, Theron portrayed Rita, Michael Bluth's (Jason Bateman) love interest, on the third season of Fox's critically-acclaimed television series Arrested Development. She also received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her role of Britt Ekland in the 2004 HBO movie The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.In 2008, Theron was named the Hasty Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year. That year she also starred with Will Smith in Hancock, a film that grossed $227.9M in the U.S.A. and $396.4M internationally,and in late 2008 she was asked to be a UN Messenger of Peace by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
On November 10, 2008, TV Guide reported that Theron will star in the film adaptation of The Danish Girl alongside Nicole Kidman. Theron will play Gerda Wegener, wife of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe (Kidman), the world's first known person to undergo sex reassignment surgery. In October 2009, Theron was cast to star in a sequel to the Mad Max films, titled Mad Max: Road Fury, which will commence filming at Broken Hill in New South Wales, Australia in late 2010.
On December 4, 2009, Theron co-presented the draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa, accompanied by several other celebrities of South African origin. During rehearsals she drew an Ireland ball instead of France as a joke at the expense of FIFA, referring to Thierry Henry's handball controversy in the play off match between France and Ireland. The stunt alarmed FIFA enough for it to fear she might do it again in front of a live global audience.
Theron still resides in her Los Angeles home, though her ex-boyfriend Stuart Townsend (with whom she starred in the 2004 film Head in the Clouds, as well as in the 2002 film Trapped and 2005's Æon Flux) has moved to their co-owned property in Malibu. The couple split up in January 2010.Theron became a naturalised citizen of the United States in May 2007.Theron signed with William Morris Endeavour in 2009 and is represented by CEO Ari Emanuel.