Charlize Theron might look like an angel as she sits serenely in a white blouse, her short blonde hair swept in soft waves and her face glowing youthfully with minimal makeup. But what comes out of her mouth is less angelic.
"That's bullsh**!" she erupts with a laugh.
The South African actress laces our chat with expletives as she tells of her raunchy new SethMacFarlane comedy western, A Million Ways To Die In the West, in which she plays a woman with a foul mouth. At the suggestion that men are cruder than women, Theron says proudly: "Trust me, I had a couple of moments with Seth on this film where he was like, 'Whaaat did you say?' So I think women are way more crude than guys!"
In the film, writer-director MacFarlane (Family Guy, Ted) also stars as Albert, a cowardly farmer living in the wild west of Arizona, 1882, who falls for a mysterious new woman in town (Theron), who gives him courage and shooting lessons when he's challenged to a duel by a notorious gunfighter (Liam Neeson). Theron, 38, is known for having a great sense of humour as well as a potty mouth but in this film - which includes a memorable scene in which she and Albert talk straight-faced about her vagina being his favorite place to visit - she finally reveals her bawdy side on screen
"It's the first time I saw it for myself on screen, too," she says. "It's the closest thing in some moments I've seen to me, and I thought, 'Shit, I've done a horrible job here because I can totally see me!' "
Charlize Theron takes aim in A Million Ways To Die In the West.
Theron is better known for her dark roles, most memorably winning a 2004 Oscar for portraying gay serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the indie film Monster, so the star of other films including North Country, The Road and Prometheus was particularly enthusiastic about showing her comedy skills.
"This movie was my comeback movie where I realised I really love what I do," she says. "I always wanted to explore comedy but I don't think if this came to me 10 years ago that I would have been able to do with it what I did. So I guess everything comes at the right time."
Raised on a farm outside of Johannesburg, Theron was an isolated tomboy who has said her pet goat Bok was "like my best friend" until she was sent off to an arts-oriented boarding school in Johannesburg. In 1991, when the 15-year-old was home on a school break, her long-abusive father returned home drunk and threatened to kill them both. After firing bullets through the door and narrowly missing his daughter, her mother Gerda grabbed a gun and shot him dead in what judges later ruled was self-defence.
Charlize Theron in North Country.
Theron has never spoken publicly about what she witnessed and for years covered it up by saying he died in a car accident, until the media uncovered the real story. "I have now come to terms with it and have been able to move on," she told the Daily Mail in 2009. "This was so long ago in my life, my emotions and the pain are not stuck in this one event."
Theron's piercing blue eyes narrow with ambivalence at mention of her strength. "I feel like I was always in circumstances that encouraged me to be nothing but strong, so I don't know if I can take ownership of that," she says. "I think we are somewhat a product of our environment and that's a huge part of survival as a girl, having a parent saying: 'don't let anyone take advantage of you'."
Looking at Theron, it's hard to believe she will be 40 next year, but the long-time House of Dior spokesmodel seems to embrace her coming milestone without fear. "Like most women, some days you look in the mirror and it's harder than other days when you are a little bit more brave about it. But I had a great example in a mother who is doing it very gracefully and I think just secretly flips age off," she says with a smile. "There's a part of her that has just looked age in the eye and said, 'f--k you', so she's a tremendous role model."
After Theron's nine-year relationship with Irish actor Stuart (Queen of the Damned) Townsend ended in 2010, she opted to become a single parent, adopting her son Jackson in 2012. "I feel very fulfilled," she says, lighting up when she hears his name. "I am also part of a generation that knows that perfect parenting is not necessarily true, so who cares if it's a single mother, a mother and a mother, a single father, or a mother and a father?" she adds a little defensively. "When love is involved and when it is at its purest form and it's unconditional, that's really what parenting is."
Paparazzi have been busy following her romance with actor Sean Penn since the couple first stepped out together in February, but Theron is uncharacteristically restrained when asked about him and a rumour they may be adopting a child together from Haiti. "I think I've always known that I want to have more kids if I am fortunate enough," she says carefully. "But you know I'm not always good at talking about this stuff because there's something for me to go home to that's sacred."
But as she begins talking about her passion for activism, the United Nations Messenger of Peace can't help herself: "I guess you're attracted to people who have the same interests and can have a conversation about the same things, and so this man you keep bringing up has been a friend of mine for 18 years and it was that thing that made us friends to begin with.
"I'm incredibly happy right now and feel incredibly blessed. I'd be a disgrace to humanity if I said I had anything to complain about."
Seven things you didn't know about Charlize Theron
1. At 16, Theron won a local modelling contest that earned her a year-long contract modelling throughout Europe.
2. Theron was a prime ballet dancer who trained with the Joffrey Ballet in New York before an injury ended her dance career.
3. Theron was devastated when she narrowly lost out on two major roles: starring in Moulin Rouge, which earned Nicole Kidman an Oscar nomination, and Showgirls, which earned Elizabeth Berkley ridicule.
4. Theron admits she suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and can't relax until she checks every closet, locker and drawer wherever she stays. "I sometimes lie in bed and go, 'I think I saw something in the closet that shouldn't be there!'" she once said.
5. Theron was raised only speaking Afrikaans at home with her mother Gerda and taught herself English watching American TV shows and listening to American music so she could lose her South African accent.
6. In classic Hollywood style, Theron was discovered by a talent manager in 1994 when he was in line at a Los Angeles bank and spotted her throwing a tantrum over the teller's refusal to cash her check.
7. Theron watched the mermaid comedy Splash when she was nine years old and has said she instantly fell in love with Tom Hanks. Eleven years later, she had a small role in Hanks' directorial debut, That Thing You Do!
A Million Ways To Die In the West opens on May 29
- FFX Aus