No one could accuse actress Charlize Theron of following the crowd.

Take, for example, the case of her elder child, seven-year-old Jackson, who was adopted as a baby and introduced to the world as a boy.

For years now, rumours have swirled that Charlize has, in fact, been raising Jackson as a girl.

As photographs have appeared of the child wearing skirts and dresses and with long, braided hair, Hollywood gossips have wondered what on earth Jackson's mother thought she was doing.


But when asked about it on a sunny morning in Beverly Hills, Charlize is matter-of-fact.

Not only is she raising Jackson as a girl — in fact, she says, Jackson is every bit as much a girl as her three-year-old sister, August.

"Yes, I thought she was a boy, too," Charlize agrees, briskly. "Until she looked at me when she was three years old and said: 'I am not a boy!"

"So there you go! I have two beautiful daughters who, just like any parent, I want to protect and I want to see thrive.

"They were born who they are and exactly where in the world both of them get to find themselves as they grow up, and who they want to be, is not for me to decide.

"My job as a parent is to celebrate them and to love them and to make sure that they have everything they need in order to be what they want to be.

"And I will do everything in my power for my kids to have that right and to be protected within that."

She laughs: "You can blame my mom for the fact I don't know any better! You know, I grew up in a country where people lived with half-truths and lies and whispers and nobody said anything outright, and I was raised very specifically not to be like that.


"I was taught by my mom that you have to speak up; you have to be able to know that, when this life is over, you'll have lived the truth you're comfortable with, and that nothing negative can come from that."

The drama of Charlize's early years is well-documented. The tough life on a remote farm outside Johannesburg, South Africa, tormented by an alcoholic and abusive father who would regularly and viciously beat Charlize's mother, Gerda.

Then the last tragic day when Charlize was 15 and her father, Charles, who ran a construction business, returned home in a rage, carrying a gun and threatening to kill both Charlize and Gerda.

Instead, in front of Charlize's eyes, in what was later ruled an act of self-defence, Gerda shot him dead.

Small wonder, then, that Charlize has grown up with more on her mind than conformity, or that her mother remains her role model heroine.

"I think that having a very close relationship to at least one parent is a real blessing," she says. "Growing up as a young girl, I had this great representation in front of me of what you could be as a woman.


"In everything she did in life, my mom did what she had to do and there were no two ways about it. When she got up at six in the morning to milk the cows, she didn't cry about it: she just did it.

"When my father passed away and, all of a sudden, we had a huge debt of money that we owed, and every bank was after her, she took care of it. It didn't happen overnight — it took her five years — but she did do it."

Charlize Theron and Jackson Theron, 2015 in New York City. Photo / Getty Images
Charlize Theron and Jackson Theron, 2015 in New York City. Photo / Getty Images

After her father's death, her mother took over his construction firm. Charlize recalls: "The greatest gift my mom ever gave me was the sight of her putting on her heels and her power suit and going into a board meeting with eight guys and just running the show.

"I'd just look at her with my mouth open. I was thinking: 'All right. I want to be like that, too!'

"I never had any fears about being a woman. It wasn't until I was out on my own and in my early 20s that I even realised that women are not respected in every field."

In her latest film role, for rom-com Long Shot, Charlize plays Charlotte Field, U.S. secretary of state and hotly tipped to be the first ever female president.


But Field hires hapless journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) to help punch up her speeches, unaware that he's had a crush on her since she babysat him when they were children together.

While Charlotte is capable, self-assured and secure at the top of her profession, and Freddie is none of these things, the road to romance is not a traditional one.

As Freddie's best friend points out, scathingly: "It's Pretty Woman — but she's Richard Gere and you're Julia Roberts!"

Charlize, who also co-produced the film, says she was careful to make Charlotte not just a powerful woman, but an occasionally goofy one, too, as capable of exchanging silly jokes and falling in love as she is of ruling a meeting.

"I wanted her to be a person to whom other women could relate. To be a real modern woman, who, the way I see it, is not a hard woman. I think a modern woman is someone who wants to be appreciated and respected for being feminine, but also doesn't want to be made to feel like she is not capable of her full potential.

"I think the utmost romantic notion of a movie such as this is the idea you can be strong and capable and all of that and still have a man fall in love with you and be OK with it."


If Charlotte is the modern romantic heroine, she adds, then Flarsky is every bit as much the contemporary hero. "Seth's character is very much representative of a modern man," says Charlize. "Because I do think we're moving into a new generation where men are changing their fear of being . . ."

She frowns, momentarily forgetting the word "emasculated". "What's the word? De-masculinised? You know, I can't even think of the word I'm after because I think that we should throw it out of the dictionary.

"But there has been this attitude for too long that if you are a man who is with a woman who is strong, or is whatever other adjectives you want to throw in there, then somehow it diminishes your manhood. I think that is changing and that we're living in a time when to be a strong woman is more celebrated."

Though a celebrated beauty for many years now, Charlize nevertheless admits that, in her personal life, she has seen her fair share of romantic disappointment.

"I didn't have boyfriends or anything like that in school, but I definitely had crushes," she says.

"I had one crush on a hot guy — well, what you would consider a hot guy — and he never paid me any attention. He totally ignored me.


"It was the first time I'd had my heart broken and I remember listening over and over again to my tape of It Must Have Been Love — I have definitely shed many tears on my pillow to that song — until my mom said: 'I wish that tape would burn out'."

"But then I started hanging out with the 'nerds' and, when I was with them, I got attention. I think it created an attraction, because I'm still attracted to nerds."

Adoption was always Charlize's plan, and Jackson came into her life a couple of years after her eight-year relationship with Irish actor Stuart Townsend ended in 2010.

When Jackson was a baby, Charlize told me: "I've always wanted to have kids and I've always known that I would adopt at least one.

"Even if I'd been in a relationship or had had kids of my own, I'd always known this was a route I was going to go [down].

"Adopting is not something you take lightly, any more than going through pregnancy is. It's not like you wake up one morning, think: 'Hmm, I think I'll adopt,' and, by 4pm the same day, you have a baby!


"There's a lot of time and effort — both practical and emotional — that goes into it. But it's worth it for the little slice of heaven on toast who is Jackson."

Charlize is single now, having split four years ago from actor Sean Penn (they began dating in 2013, got engaged in late 2014 and parted ways in June 2015).

"Right now, I don't go into dates jumping that far ahead and thinking: 'Huh, can I marry this guy and is he going to be good with my kids and is my mom going to like him?'

"I tend to treat it very much like: 'Let's see if you are a good friend and see where this goes'."

Being a successful, strong and independent woman, can make lasting relationships harder, she says.

"Not recently, but certainly in my life, I have definitely felt like I have had to over-compromise and make myself smaller than I needed to in order to be comfortable within a relationship. Whether it was my career or my physical stature or my professional stature as an actor or a businesswoman — all of that stuff I have felt like I had to hold back.


"And then I grew up and I said: 'F*** that!' Because when you realise you are not living to your full potential for your relationship's sake, you start resenting the other person and that's just horrible.

"I would rather be single than resenting somebody for not letting me be who I know I am."

She still has the striking looks that first won her a modelling contract aged 16, even if, as she says, they can be a curse as much as a blessing.

"I know it's a cliched thing to say," she adds, quickly. "I get upset myself when pretty women talk about it, like, please, you're gorgeous, stop.

"But the truth is, I have a very complicated relationship with my beauty because, when I was younger, it was almost everything that stood in the way of the thing I really wanted.

"It's only in the past ten years that I have actually come to peace with the way I look and not felt when I walked into the room that I always had to prove I was something more than that."


Certainly, she has come a long way from the first audition she was invited to when she first arrived in Hollywood, wide-eyed at 19.

"It was to play what I was told was some kind of extra role, and I was told to go to the director's house at 9pm on the Saturday.

"It was literally my first audition and I was thinking: 'Well, I don't know, maybe this is how they do things in Hollywood.'

"So I showed up and the director opened the door and he was wearing his pyjamas, just like Hugh Hefner!

"I think I stayed ten minutes and then said: 'OK, I think I shall be seeing myself out now.'

"This director had obviously forgotten about that because he offered me a real film part a few years later!


"Now that was a great meeting I had with him the second time around. I had to wait ten years for it, but . . . it was so worth it."