Actress Charlize Theron has proved her versatility as an actress with her Oscar-winning portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, a role which has amazed critics in the US.
Charlize Theron was a dancer and model before turning to acting
The 28-year-old gained 30lb and donned heavy make-up in order to play the notorious murderess - looking almost unrecognisable as a result.
It's all a far cry from her more mainstream roles in the likes of The Devil's Advocate, Mighty Joe Young and the 2003 remake of The Italian Job.
But it has established her as an actress who is not afraid to mix commercial movies with something a little more challenging - and is all the more remarkable given she has been acting for just five years.
Charlize Theron was born on 7 August 1975 in Benoni, South Africa, and grew up on a farm just outside the city.
An only child, her early life was also beset by family tragedy. Her parents' marriage was rocky, and when she was 15, her mother shot her father in self-defence, after he threatened to kill them both in a drunken rage.
Theron's mother was never charged, but as the actress recalls: "I think it took a long time to sink in, because you just don't think stuff like that will ever happen to you," she said. "You always think it happens to somebody else."
As a child, Theron studied ballet and after moving to New York, landed a job at the city's Joffrey Ballet company. She also worked as a model - but a knee injury brought her dancing career to a premature end.
Theron starred in 2003's remake of The Italian Job
Instead, she headed for Los Angeles to try to make it as an actress, despite having no money and nowhere to live.
Two weeks later she was discovered by an agent while attempting to get a bank on Hollywood Boulevard to cash her a cheque - and eight months after that she made her film debut in the dark comedy Two Days In The Valley.
Since then, her career has been uphill all the way, with films including Tom Hanks' directorial debut That Thing You Do!, The Astronaut's Wife alongside Johnny Depp, golfing drama The Legend Of Bagger Vance, and Oscar-winning The Cider House Rules.
She has also appeared in a pair of movies for Woody Allen, 1998's Celebrity and The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion in 2001.
Later in 2004 she will be seen as Britt Ekland in The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers, which stars Geoffrey Rush as the eccentric comedy actor.
Offscreen, she had a lengthy romance with Stephan Jenkins of the band Third Eye Blind, but is now dating Irish actor Stuart Townsend.