03/11/2004 at 12:00 AM EST
Those tears that "Monster" Best Actress winner Charlize Theron refused to shed onstage at the Oscars came rushing to the surface on Thursday in her native South Africa when she met the county's former president, Nelson Mandela, according to reports from Johannesburg.
"I love you so much," said Theron -- wearing a simple white dress for the occasion, with her hair tied back in a ponytail -- when she met the elder statesman at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in the capital city. She added that he has been an inspiration to people all over the world.
Mandela had some kind words of his own for the eye-catching 28-year-old, who ditched her good looks and added 30 lbs. to play real-life serial-killer prostitute Aileen Wuornos.
"She has put South Africa on the map," he told reporters. "Even those who were ignorant of South Africa, having seen her, they must know now that there is a country like South Africa."
He added that people such as Theron showed that the present South Africa is now a much different country than the one that suffered the scourge of apartheid.
Earlier this week, Theron, currently being described as South Africa's Golden Girl, met her nation's current president, Thabo Mbeki, who told her: "The whole country is very proud. Very well done, Charlize."
When they met, Theron, who grew up in the small South African town of Benoni, also received an ounce of gold ingrained in the rock in which it was formed. Its engraving read: "Presented to Charlize Theron, our South African star, by President Thabo Mbeki."
Later, the leader and the star huddled in private for a chat, said reports. Afterward, presidential spokesmen were tight-lipped about what the two had discussed.