It takes confidence for any woman—even an ex-model equipped with indisputable leading-lady looks—to gain 30 pounds and modify herself with prosthetics to appear on 50-foot-high movie screens worldwide. But that’s just what actress Charlize Theron did to play Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Oscar-winning Monster. “There’s no way I could have understood that character without having an emotional connection to her appearance,” Theron says. In her current project, Diablo Cody’s Young Adult, which hit theaters December 16, she plays a fiction writer with a penchant for alcohol and ex-boyfriends, and a nervous hair-pulling habit that leaves her with bald spots. Not exactly a glamorous role either, but Theron, 36, isn’t concerned with looking pretty. “My job is to be a blank canvas and embody the character that I’m playing.” Of course it helps that, off duty, said canvas is anything but blank; for seven years Theron has played herself in the très chic Dior J’Adore fragrance campaign—a role she feels connects her to every woman. “Perfume is a little piece of couture,” she says. “I love being a part of something that makes women feel sexy.”
Extensions are popular in Hollywood, but you’ve always worn your hair shorter. Why do you keep it that way?
I’ve never really had hair for myself. My style is always for playing a character, so I’m personally not superattached to any look. If I’m not working, I prefer something that’s easy to care for and doesn’t require a lot of styling—I’m not fussy! I try to be extra gentle on my hair since it endures a lot on set. My longtime stylist Enzo Angileri turned me on to hair oils for deep conditioning, so I’ll do a treatment when I have a little bit of free time.
What about your signature blond?
Even my color is usually in a state of whatever my next character is. For the Dior J’Adore campaigns, however, I always go superblond, which I love. It’s how I looked when the campaign started, and we’ve stayed loyal to it for the past seven years. It just feels right for J’Adore, which is all about glamour.
It’s been seven years? But you look exactly the same!
I’m a massive believer in sunblock. Massive. I wear sunblock in the winter, when it’s rainy and gray out—all the time. And not just SPF 15; I wear 50. Five-zero! It’s a huge part of my moisturizing routine.
Your dermatologists must be so proud.
The importance of sunscreen has been instilled in me from a very young age through my mom, who is aging so well. She’s helped me make peace with the little flaws I have. It’s really inspiring to watch her age gracefully.
How do you keep your skin HD-ready while traveling so much?
I play around with different moisturizers—I like to change up my skin care. Right now I love Dior L’Or de Vie, La Crème. It’s very hydrating. I also keep cleansing really simple. I’ve stuck with Cetaphil for years now; it’s very gentle.
What is your red-carpet approach?
I don’t think of myself as a trendsetter. I’ve always been more casual and effortless. I try to keep my red-carpet look classic. My makeup artist, Shane Paish, usually does some sort of smoky eye by lining my upper and lower lash line with waterproof liner and coating my lashes with tons of mascara. I’m lucky enough to have worked with the same crew who create a cohesive look with my hair, makeup, and styling.
In an iconic J’Adore TV commercial, you strut down a hallway while taking it all off—from jewelry to gown. Where does that confidence come from?
I’ve practiced yoga for many years, and it gives me energy and makes me feel really great. A few years ago, I also picked up cycling, which is better on my knees than running. I’ve learned you’re not ever going to have any real success unless you find something that you can really implement into your lifestyle and really love.
The South Africa native prefers soft, beige shades of lip color, favoring Dior Addict Lipstick in Miss Dior; Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is Theron’s drugstore go-to; makeup artist and friend Shane Paish uses Dior Bronze Original Tan in Spicy Tan to warm up Theron’s fair complexion; a few spritzes of Dior J’Adore perfume “makes you feel like you’re wearing something expensive,” she says; her anti-aging secret: daily slatherings of La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50; Kérastase Reflection Bain Chroma Riche keeps Theron’s blond strands shiny; “I always have the great La Mer lip balm close by,” Theron says of her suitcase, purse, and clutch staple.