Charlize Theron

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Movie fans would be forgiven for assuming Charlize Theron is an all-American girl. Despite her perfectly honed West Coast accent, however, the Italian Job star originally hails from South Africa. And her success in Hollywood was made all the more remarkable by the fact that English wasn't her mother tongue.

Born on August 7, 1975, in the town of Benoni, Charlize originally spoke Afrikaans. Her heavy accent hindered the aspiring thespian when she first started out, and she admits fearing she'd never make it in Tinseltown.

It took long hours of practise and lots of American TV to iron out her native lilt, but today she sounds LA born and bred.

"At first I found it really hard using three different English accents: South African, faking the American, faking the accent required by the job," she says. "I decided to make it easier for myself and just do one. I haven't lost my culture, just my accent."

Charlize has come a long way since her childhood growing up on the family farm. It was a journey that has taken her through France and Italy where she worked as a model and New York, where she trained as a ballet dancer.

The road has not always been a smooth one, however, and the actress has had to overcome trauma and tragedy before finding happiness.

As a teenager she lost her father, a violent alcoholic, when her mother shot him in self-defence. "When you're 15 and your father suddenly dies, you realise life is very short," she says. "He was only 43. I know that if I die tomorrow I'll have at least tried everything I wanted to try. In some ways that's sad, but it's also been why I never give up."

In the year following her father's death Charlize won a modelling contest, launching her on her travels. After treading the catwalks of Milan and Paris, she found herself in New York, where she enrolled in the renowned Joffrey Ballet School.

Her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina were cut short, however, by knee injuries. It was then that she turned to her third choice of career: acting. Her breakthrough role came in 1997 when she played Keanu Reeves' wife in The Devil's Advocate. Since then the 5ft 9in beauty has been sitting pretty at the top of Hollywood's "most wanted" list, illustrated by her win of the Best Actress Oscar in 2004 for her role in Monster.

Fame also brought public scrutiny, and there's been no shortage of interest in Charlize's love life. After meeting Irish actor Stuart Townsend on the set of Trapped in 2002, the screen beauty became engaged and started looking to the future.

"Things like big films are no longer so important in my life and recently I have started thinking lots about having children," the actress revealed. "Stuart is an amazing man and I know he is the one. It would be a dream come true to have his children."

Sadly, though, it was not to be. The couple parted ways in early 2010. "They had become more like brother and sister than lovers. It was she who ended it," said a source.

Charlize went ahead with her dream of becoming a mother, adopting a son Jackson in 2012. In early 2014, she began dating Sean Penn, a friend of 18 years standing.
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