Tattooed, titillating, and tasty as hell, 22-year-old newcomer Charlize Theron burns up the screen in 'The Devil's Advocate' (1997)

By Chris Nashawaty
October 21, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

Maybe it’s the beer talking, but at 4 p.m. in a seedy downtown Manhattan bar, actress Charlize Theron doesn’t seem to have a care in the world.

With an Amstel Light in one hand and (despite a nasty bout of bronchitis) the most recent in an endless stream of smoldering Marlboro Reds in the other, the 22-year-old rising star is talking trash to one of the regulars who’s just scratched the cue ball, flirtatiously egging him on like some sort of jukebox-joint jezebel.

What do you call that shot, man?” With her buttery blond hair, cheekbones as seductively ripe as in-season nectarines, and icy blue eyes that make her look like Thor’s Norse mistress, Theron sticks out in this sleazy dive like an overly caffeinated mariachi band.

But hell, standing out is nothing unusual for a woman with a couple of tattoos (a flower on the foot, a fish on the ankle), a Harley, and the swear-heavy vocabulary of a randy stevedore. In fact, she’s about to get everyone else’s attention,too. Simply put, Charlize Theron (pronounced shar-LEECE THER-run) is the best thing in The Devil’s Advocate, the new satanic legal thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Theron plays the naive middle-class Florida wife of Reeves, a hotshot attorney who’s unwittingly drafted by the snaky Pacino to join his New York law firm. Turns out Pacino is, you guessed it, Old Scratch, Beelzebub himself. It’s not a glamorous or sexy role like her debut as Helga, the slinky hitwoman in last year’s 2 Days in the Valley. In fact, Theron had to sport a straight-from-the-trailer-park perm wig, muster a Gainesville twang, and spend most of the film with puffy red eyes from crying as she spirals toward a Lucifer-inspired breakdown. But sandwiched between Reeves and Pacino (who’s in full-on hooo-aahh! Scent of a Woman mode), she waltzes away from the film as an unexpected acting revelation.

The folks at the pool table are enjoying Theron’s reckless barroom abandon too much to object. Then again, who could? After all, she’s celebrating because tomorrow she’s due on the set of Woody Allen’s new movie. Add a starring role alongside Bill Paxton in Disney’s big-budget remake of the 1949 gorilla flick Mighty Joe Young, which has already wrapped and hits theaters next summer. And, as gravy, the lead opposite Johnny Depp in New Line’s The Astronaut’s Wife, which she’ll start after Allen’s film. As Paxton says, ”This tiger kitten’s gonna move up fast.”

It ain’t exactly like being on the farm back in Benoni, South Africa, where her father also owned a road-construction company. ”I grew up surrounded by animals,” she says with only a hint of the Afrikaans accent she’s done her damnedest to shake. ”I was milking cows before school at six in the morning and making butter; I can do all that s—.” Her ticket out of South Africa was modeling, which allowed her to see Europe when she was 16. ”I modeled enough to pay the rent, but I became emptier and emptier,” she says. ”It was my equivalent of an actress’ waitressing job.” The modeling led her to New York, where she took classes at the Joffrey Ballet — until her knee blew out. Then, after a three-month modeling stint in Miami, she bought the proverbial one-way ticket to Hollywood.

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