Halle's No "Stranger" To Success

From day one the Oscar-winner's journey to the top has been paved with both paradise and pain

Oscar-winner Halle Berry, in her latest big-screen film role in "Perfect Stranger", opening on Friday in the United States and Canada.  (Photo: Sony Pictures)

By Omar P.L. Moore
The Popcorn Reel

April 10, 2007

Halle Berry has had a tough life.  Her mother, a white woman from England, and her father, a black man from the U.S., divorced when Halle, who was born in Cleveland, was just four years old.  She reportedly was born with a diabetic condition.  In the past the men she has had relationships with have turned on her in an abusive way.  She is partially deaf in her right ear due to a domestic violence episode in which a high-profile star hit her in the ear.  She has been married twice -- and each time both marriages ended in divorce after four years.  After her first marriage ended she suffered a deep depression which left her considering suicide.  In 2000, Berry got into an car accident -- a hit and run -- and she left the scene.  Injured and requiring stitches, she later had insult added to her injury when late-night television talk show host Jay Leno made jokes about the incident at her expense.  Leno later had an occasionally testy interview with her when she was a guest on his show.  They however, have become friends since then.

But at the same time despite all the heartache, life has been filled with triumphs and accomplishments for the 40-year-old former (and current) Revlon model, cheerleader, prom queen, honor society member, school newspaper editor and class president.  Her stunning beauty is almost unreal.  She looks like Dorothy Dandridge.  She has a distinguished acting resume, doing work that has cemented her place in Hollywood film history.  With almost 30 feature films under her belt (starting with her electrifying film debut as Vivian, the crack-addicted character in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever") and several noteworthy television roles (she won Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for outstanding actress in a television movie or mini-series for HBO's "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge" in 2000) Berry pushes on, whether it be in films like "B.A.P.S.", "Gothika" and "Catwoman" (for which she received a Razzie award for worst acting performance -- she accepted the award tongue-in-cheek in 2004) or in films like "Losing Isaiah" (in which she re-teamed with "Jungle Fever" star Samuel L. Jackson) and "Why Do Fools Fall In Love."

Throughout her early ordeals Halle Berry was beloved by many.  She continues to be beloved, even if she is often the butt of many jokes in the Hollywood film industry and the press.  While some may argue that her career is at a standstill of sorts, Berry continues to get roles that keep her firmly entrenched in the business.  In September, American audiences will see her alongside Benicio Del Toro in "Things We Lost In The Fire", a film that marks the American film directing debut of Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (whose Oscar-nominated film "After The Wedding" expands to other cities in America on April 20.)  Berry will reportedly play a teacher in the true story of a woman whose students push her to run for political office.  The film is tentatively titled "Class Act" (not to be equated with the "Class Act" comedy that starred hip-hop duo Kid 'N' Play in the early 1990's.)
Just last week Berry was overwhelmed to tears by the hundreds that had waited and shouted her name as her star was added to the Walk Of Fame in Hollywood.

Berry's Oscar triumph in 2002 for "Monster's Ball", when she became the only black woman in 74 years at the time (now 79 years) to win the best actress Oscar, drew plaudits from many and criticism from some within the black community, a few of whom asserted that the type of role Berry won for -- as a woman who explodes to life as a sexually licentious being in her complex relationship with Billy Bob Thornton's prison warden character -- a man who had executed Berry's character's husband (Sean "Diddy" Combs) -- was the only reason she won in the first place.  (Berry is set to star in the film "Tulia" within the next year or two, alongside Mr. Thornton.)

Halle Berry with Denzel Washington in 2002 backstage at the 74th Annual Academy Awards, with their best lead actor Academy Awards.  In seventy-nine years of Academy Awards shows it remains the only time that the top acting awards went to black actors.  (Photo: AMPAS)

This weekend, audiences in North America will get to see Halle Berry in a thriller opposite Bruce Willis as the Sony Pictures film "Perfect Stranger" opens on Friday, April 13.  That date may be unlucky for some, but Miss Berry, who for the better part of a year has been dating 31-year-old Canadian supermodel Gabriel Audry -- with whom she is both comfortable and very happy -- believes that the James Foley-directed drama which also stars Giovanni Ribisi, will be the kind of film audiences will appreciate.  The film in part focuses on people whose online, or virtual identities collide with their real-life, real-world identity.  For many, those elements will be instantly identifiable.  And as Berry describes in the film's production notes, themes of duality within human beings are naturally universal. "To a certain extent everybody lives a double life.  We're all complicated beings; we're different people all the time -- for example, a woman might act differently at work than she does at home.  We all hide something, even from our best friends.  This movie highlights that and takes it to the next level, showing what we're capable of when we're forced to come to terms with it."

In the film Berry plays Rowena Price, an investigative reporter whom tries to uncover the identity of the killer of her childhood friend.  The Oscar-winner actually plays three different roles in "Perfect Stranger", including as Katherine and Veronica.  Berry was the only choice to play the role, and "Perfect" producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas sings the actor's praises.  "We couldn't imagine anyone else in this role.  She loved what we wanted to do, where we wanted to take it.  Knowing that she was a character who was playing a character, she looked at scenes from every angle to make sure there were no loose ends.  We were blessed to have her as our partner.  You can't fully appreciate the complexity of Halle's performance . . . until you go back and watch the film a second time." 

The complexity of Berry's roles in "Losing Isaiah", as a jobless mother who is roiled in a custody battle with a wealthy woman (Jessica Lange) who longs to adopt, and her performance as Leticia Musgrove in "Monster's Ball", are often overlooked.  The physicality of both roles, especially in her award-winning "Monster's Ball" performance, is inescapable.  She has played other tough and physically-demanding roles, such as Josie Potenza in the little-seen "The Rich Man's Wife" opposite Christopher McDonald, and as Jinx, the bad-luck-good-luck Bond lady who knows how to take a few names in the smash worldwide action hit "Die Another Day" opposite Pierce Brosnan.  And it is easy to forget the three "X-Men" films where she plays Storm -- and in the last of the three shows the kinds of leadership qualities that put her in the light, the forefront, and the mind for another X-Men trip.

Berry admits that the tough roles are an intrigue for her. 

"I love playing tortured characters.  I don't know what that says about me, but I really love getting into the mind of someone who's a bit buffeted, a bit battered.  This character [Rowena in "Perfect Stranger"] is very vulnerable, but she's also very alive, and she finds her power little by little throughout the course of the movie.  That's something wonderful to play."

"Perfect Stranger" opens this Friday across North America. 

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