You've got to admit it, the skin is perfect. Not a blemish. The lips are formed into a curving bow. Her hair is lustrous, and the tiny mole on her neck is not painted in. Charlize Theron is a stunner. And here she is, wafting in to a hotel room with a sweeping view of Hyde Park in London, looking like sex on frictionless castors.
The lady (all five feet ten inches of her) is dressed in a thin summer blouse over a scarlet top, with cream slacks. In one hand she is carrying a cup full of very dark brown coffee (no-one in her entourage has seen fit to supply her with a saucer to go with the cup) and in the other there's a freshly opened pack of Marlboro full strength. And a box of matches. The entourage haven't supplied an ashtray, either. Mind you, it is one of the swanky hotel's non-smoking rooms. Ms Theron either doesn't know this or couldn't care. She lights up. And smiles. And when she smiles, the room gets appreciably that much brighter.
Ms. Theron is in town to bang the drum for her latest movie, Sweet November (2001), in which she plays a kooky San Francisco resident, Sara Deever who falls for a high-flying advertising executive, Nelson Moss (Keanu Reeves) in a big way, but in unusual circumstances - she persuades him to have a one-month trial relationship, just to put his pressurised life back into some sort of perspective. It works - and the pair find themselves falling in love.
Disaster strikes when it becomes clear that Sara is extremely unwell - and is finally diagnosed with Non-Hodginson's Lymphoma. Does this bind them together - or push them apart?
Audiences are going to have to wait and see what happens at the climax of this unlikely romance. It's only Charlize's eleventh film, and the eighth with her name over or around the title. But she is, by all accounts, a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.
South African born (she's a Leo, her birth date was August 7, 1975 ), she first started ballet classes at the age of four (her version) or six (her biography). This wasn't that easy, because her family farmed and ran a heavy haulage business in a small "dorp" called Benoni, not exactly the hub of civilisation.
But, then as now, Charlize was determined. In fact, she became someone whose career in dance was marked out as very promising indeed. Then came two tragedies, one after the other. The first was that he father, Charles, died in mysterious circumstances, when his impressionable daughter was halfway through her teens. Charlize has never ever talked about this event, wanting to keep her private life private. But the (alleged) story is that he was shot - by accident or design is unclear. Charlize, named after her father, wants this part of her life obscured.
Determined to dance her way out of this blight, she went professional in Johannesburg, and started to get prominent parts in the classics like Swan Lake and the Nutcracker Suite. And then, she says: "I began to realise what an incredible strain all those years of practice and dance had put on my legs and in particular, my knees. They were starting to give me trouble - and I was worried. ".
One night, the "worry" became reality. "I had a terrible knee injury - and I realised that I could never dance again. It was like - well - a thunderbolt. Imagine it. All I'd ever wanted to do was perform. It was my life. How was I going to fill that void? It was my way of getting into something to do with entertainment, which I loved."
Remember that back then, there had been very little TV in South Africa, so if you wanted to see performance, you went to concerts or the theatre. When I was a little girl, I guess there was one hour a day of TV at first. So the culture of other countries - from Europe or the USA, came from films or from visiting artistes. And for my world to collapse so soon, and so fast, made me feel devastated".
She pauses and says: "Actually, when I finally got to the States, turning on the TV there was incredible - about 678 channels for you to chose from! A bit different from home. And the news-stands, with all those magazines, instead of just three or four. I just. .. .. .. .. .freaked out!"
She picked herself up, and decided that modelling might be a way to earn some money. Entering a contest, she found herself offered a year's modelling contract in Italy. The catwalk life of Milan was not to her taste. "I was seen as someone beautiful - and dumb" she says. "The rule was that you shouldn't say a word".
Not saying a word is not Ms. Theron's style. "That money was what I call 'waitress cash', earning to make a living, to pay the bills and the rent and to eat. As simple as that. It was not for job satisfaction. "
Urged on by her mother to go and make something of herself - but nearly broke - Charlize flew off on a one-way ticket to California. There are some good yarns about how young performers are "discovered". Charlize has one of the best. She went into a bank one day, and tried to cash a cheque. It was refused - and the young lady threw "a minor tantrum". This was seen by - who else? - a movie talent scout. But a talent scout who also represented Rene Russo and John Hurt.
He cautiously approached the screaming, arm-waving tantrum-chucker, and gave her his card. His name was John Crosby, and Charlize admits that she thought that he was probably a con-man, pulling a fast one. Checking him out with friends, she discovered that he was indeed legitimate. Did she want a job? "What do you think?" She says, and went to work to shed her thick South African accent - her first language is Afrikaans, her second is English, and she additionally knows "about twenty or more" various African dialects from back home.
Another Marlboro. Another sip of the coffee - which must be as very best tepid by now. In fact, she drains it when it is cold.
Anyway, a quick resume of Charlize's career notes will tell you that she's worked with Woody Allen (Celebrity (1998)]), Johnny Depp (Astronaut's Wife, the (1999)) Ben Affleck (Reindeer Games (2000)) Robert De Niro (Men of Honor (2000)) and Robert Redford (Legend of Bagger Vance, the (2000)). Co-stars have also included Will Smith, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio. Oh, and Keanu Reeves once before - for Devil's Advocate, the (1997). "Which made it such a pleasure to be working opposite him again" she says. "Especially when we had a lot of big romantic scenes together."
Knowing Keanu was a bonus. There was no ice to break. We could share the intimacy very quickly. We could be brave and take a few more risks. " Yes, she says, working with all those prominent names made me freak out inside, but you have to get past it to do the work. You have to feel comfortable and relaxed, even if you are looking at Robert Redford or Robert De Niro across the set. Or Woody Allen. It's when you go home that you call all your friends and say Guess who I was talking to today! I'm the sort of actress whose trailer door is always open - I don't lock myself away and keep myself to myself. I tend to get very close to all the cast and crew, and it's great when you work with people again. It becomes like a circle of friends. I go into a state very close to mourning when the film is finally wrapped. "
Her trailer door was certainly open on the set of Sweet November (2001) for Liverpool-born co-star Jason Isaacs, who plays a neighbour with a secret - dressing in female clothing to relax. "Jason would NOT take advice" laughs Charlize, "I thought he looked great as a blonde, but he insisted on wearing a red wig. I thought that he looked perfect in skirts and a blouse, but he insisted on the full green sequinned number. I don't think that his girlfriend was that impressed, frankly!".
Charlize now lives in Los Angeles (in a two bedroomed apartment, apparently, with a cat and two cocker spaniels for company) and says "it's very much like South Africa in the weather and the climate", but she's thinking about going back home in the summer months, "where I can see friends and have a barbecue on the beach, whatever. I love going on safari into the bush. They seem to be quite proud of what I've achieved, back home. Which is very nice and very flattering."
"Growing up in the circumstances that I did has a heck of a lot to do with who and where I am today." She says she's still a South African citizen, but apparently she's applying for a USA passport too. "You don't get any further with that line of enquiry, either".
What is known is that she stirred up a lot of controversy when she recently took part in a campaign back home to raise the awareness of the incidence of rape in South Africa. Complaints came in that it was "anti men".
For some time, she was dating Stephen Jenkins, from the band Third Eye Blind - they met while she was on holiday in Hawaii - and she's been linked romantically with Craig Bieko (of Long Kiss Goodnight, the (1996)) but apart from that, you get a firm look when you try to go any further with that line of questioning.
"Personal stuff is WAY off limits". She does, she thinks, "buy into Sara's philosophy to a degree - although certainly don't set myself a limit of a month on a relationship! I think we've all had them though, relationships that have run their length at a month, or two or three - and then sometimes something more permanent might come of it."
"I did quite a lot of research on this movie, particularly with a doctor who had some Non-Hogdkinson's patients, and I talked to them a lot as I sat in on his meetings with them."
"One boy was only 19, and he told me something that really moved me. He said 'I'm lucky, because I have the knowledge to make every day count. I don't take things for granted'. Which opened my eyes, let me tell you. Yeah, it gave me a sense of my own place in the world. I discovered a sense of my own values, I guess, and I learned that I have the choice to make time for things that are important to me."
"I count myself very lucky - but I always have been a dreamer, and I try not to plan too much. If you do, I think that you set yourself up for disappointment. I focus on the immediate things in life. I think I've got my head screwed on. I'm not naive enough to think that I am the only five feet ten blonde going out for the parts I do - there are scores of other actresses doing precisely the same thing."
"But there are a lot of things in my background that make me different, and I guess I've thrived because of it." You can say that again. So, next? "I start shooting Curse of the Jade Scorpion, the (2001) with Woody Allen later in the year" she says, "and after that. .. .. .I dunno". Cigarette out. Discrete gesture from an aide. Miss Theron says "thankyou" and glides out of the room. As much of an ice-cool enigma as when she entered it.