WARNING: This article (and pages it links to) contains information about domestic violence and physical violence, which may be difficult for survivors.
In the hope that she might help others in similar situations feel less alone, Charlize Theron is bravely opening up about the night her mother killed her father in self-defense. The Bombshell star spoke with Terry Gross on NPR Monday about the harrowing moment in 1991 when her mom, Gerda Maritz, took action to save not only her life but also the life of then-15-year-old Theron at their family’s home in South Africa.
Theron recounted the traumatic turn of events on “Fresh Air,” explaining to Gross that her father — a longtime alcoholic — came home on the night in question inebriated beyond logic, angry and brandishing a weapon. “My father was so drunk that he shouldn’t have been able to walk when he came into the house with a gun,” she said. “My mom and I were in my bedroom leaning against the door, because he was trying to push through the door. So both of us were leaning against the door from the inside to have him not be able to push through.”
Theron continued, “He took a step back and just shot through the door three times. None of those bullets ever hit us, which is just a miracle. But in self-defense, she ended the threat.”
Prior to that night, Theron noted, her family was in a “pretty hopeless situation” with her father. “My father was a very sick man. My father was an alcoholic all my life. I only knew him one way, and that was as an alcoholic,” she shared. “Our family was just kind of stuck in it. And the day-to-day unpredictability of living with an addict is the thing that you sit with and have kind of embedded in your body for the rest of your life, more than just this one event of what happened one night.”
The insidious nature of her father’s addiction and resulting behavior is something that has “scarred” her and her mother for life. “Of course, I wish what happened that night would have never happened. It’s unfortunately what happens when you don’t get to the root of these issues.”
Which I part of the reason why, as much as Theron undoubtedly would prefer to never re-live that moment, that she shares it. As she suggested to Gross, she pulls it out into the light to chase away the darkness that might still be haunting other victims of domestic violence (as well as those stuck in toxic cycles of addiction).
“This family violence, this kind of violence that happens within the family, is something that I share with a lot of people. I’m not ashamed to talk about it, because I do think that the more we talk about these things, the more we realize we are not alone in any of it,” Theron emphasized. “I think, for me, it’s just always been that this story really is about growing up with addicts and what that does to a person.”