By Hilary Rowland W hen Charlize Theron walks into a room, people notice. At 5'10", stunningly gorgeous, blonde and elegant, she doesn't exactly blend in. But it's not her beauty that has been getting her attention recently. It's her choice of unique roles and her Oscar-winning acting ability. Charlize's warm and accepting personality shines through when you talk to her, and you feel instantly comfortable. She's come a long way from the farm in the town of Benoni in South Africa, where she grew up, to where she is now. It wasn't an easy journey for Charlize, who struggled to be taken seriously. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, the then dewy 18-year-old Charlize was approached by an experienced Hollywood director who asked her to read for a role in his latest film. "It was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night, at his house in Los Angeles, but I didn't know anything about the business, so I thought maybe that was the normal thing," Charlize recalls. "[When I arrived] he was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas. I thought, Maybe this is how he works. I go inside, and he's offering me a drink, and I'm thinking, My God, this acting stuff's very relaxed! When do we actually start working? It pretty soon became very clear to me what the situation was." With all the conviction of the strong, independent woman she has become, she says: "I knew how to deal with it: 'Not going to happen. Wrong girl, buddy.'" It's this professionalism and conviction of values that Charlize is now known for in Hollywood circles. Perhaps some of her conviction comes from her strict and often harsh upbringing. She is unafraid to tell us that her mother, who she is very close to, disciplined her harshly by hitting her with "whatever was around: a hairbrush, a shoe--the shoe was a big one", when she stepped out of line. "My mother disciplined me," she says. "It couldn't happen in America today, because she'd be put in jail, and to me that's a very sad thing, because I always deserved it. Never once did I go, 'God, this is so unfair.' Afterward, I would go up to her and apologize, because I knew that I had been wrong." Charlize's life got more difficult when she witnessed her mother shoot and kill her drunk and abusive father in self-defense, when she was just 15-years-old. Perhaps it is because of the trials she has had to endure from an early age, that she is able to convey such seemingly authentic sadness and desperation in her work. "I guess if I didn't have this job, I'd have to go to therapy. But I don't go to therapy--so I need this job! I don't really want to pay someone to tell them my problems. I would rather be paid to tell my problems!" she quips.