Story & Cover Image by Todd Williams for Steed Media Service
Story Images by Hiltron Bailey for Steed Media Service
She’s had to answer tough ones before: Questions about her most famous (and most controversial) role in 2002’s Monster’s Ball; questions about her ethnic identity; questions about her love life. But on this day, as she sits on the 11th floor of the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, Berry has a brand-new subject for the media to fawn over. Just a few short weeks prior, the iconic beauty announced that she was three months pregnant with model Gabriel Aubrey’s child. The entertainment world has been abuzz ever since. The question regarding the rigors of being a first-time mother-to-be is asked before any inquiries are made about Berry’s latest film, the gripping drama Things We Lost In the Fire. The throng of reporters waits in a brief awkward silence to gauge her reaction. “There’s no bad,” says Berry, smiling graciously. “There’s nothing bad — including the morning sickness, the vomiting and [sweating].” The hills and valleys of Berry’s personal life have been well chronicled in the press, so it’s no surprise that the Oscar winner would be jubilant at even the most prickly aspects of expectant motherhood.
But of course, she knew these questions were inevitable. She announced her pregnancy on the television show “Extra” in September, and followed it up with an appearance on “Oprah,” an appearance that was intended to promote her film, but morphed into a Q & A with the ubiquitous talk show host about her upcoming bundle o’ joy. The Oprah interview had the potential to be nerve-racking for the star, but she welcomed the opportunity to squelch any potential rumors that the tabloids had already begun spinning.
“It always seems to happen that my personal life eclipses my career and I hate that that happens. But it seems to be my lot,” says Berry with a sigh. “You go on Oprah’s show and it’s like talking to Barbara Walters — you’re going to have to answer stuff that you might really not want to talk about. So I knew that would happen and it’s scary because I’m not really one to talk personally all [of] the time, but she was really great — she didn’t push too hard.”
Halle Berry knows a thing or two about pushing. She didn’t become the most recognized black actress in the world by waiting for handouts. The Cleveland native fought her way out of obscurity in Ohio and clawed her way to the top in Hollywood, with the public scrutinizing every move along the way. When she happened upon the script for … Fire, she instantly fell in love with the story and knew that the character of Audrey was one that she had to play. “I got the script before [director] Suzanne [Bier]. I don’t even remember how. My manager gave it to me and I said, ‘Wow, I’ve got to play this part and I don’t care who else is in it, I’ve got to do it,’ ” she explains. But even this award-winning actress found it difficult to find a studio willing to back the project. “We put in some calls and the response was, ‘We don’t know, we don’t know, once we get a director in place, maybe we’ll know something more and you can meet with the director.’ ”
Berry took the opportunity to meet with Bier after she had been tapped to direct, and viewed some of the British director’s previous work. “When I heard she was [directing] I rushed to see her movies and [afterwards] I really knew that I wanted to work with her.” The ladies got together over coffee, and Berry admitted one very important concern about playing the role of Audrey. “When I walked in, my first question to her was, ‘do you care that I’m black and this wasn’t written for a black woman in any way,’ ” recollects Berry. “Her response was, ‘To hell with what color you are — I don’t care what color you are, it’s not relevant; just tell me why you like this character — tell me about Audrey.’ ”
Berry had no problem explaining what she loved about the project. “What I loved about [the story] was, I connected with all the characters — there was something that touched me. I haven’t lived this woman’s story in any way, shape or form,” she says, before adding, “but I have lived what many of us have — and that’s going through the valleys of life and coming through on the other side ,and realizing that somehow we’ll be better. Life is different having had the experience, but life can be better.”
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The film, which also stars Oscar winner Benecio Del Toro, David Duchovny and Alison Lohman, tackles the weighty subjects of loss, addiction and grief. Portraying a mother of a 10-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy, Berry was constantly observing her young co-stars, perhaps pondering her own child-rearing years ahead. “The beauty of children is [that] they’re so honest and organic,” says Berry, smiling wistfully. “These kids weren’t actor-kids who had stage moms, they were really just … kids. They had such vivid imaginations and right away accepted that ‘this is my mom’ and ‘this is my dad.’ ”
Berry was drawn in by the precocious youngsters’ innocence in how they approached the experience. “Many days I would watch the kids and think ‘Wow, I’m really getting an acting lesson here,’ they just say the words in the moment, it’s just the simplicity.” She adds with a sarcastic chuckle, “The boy’s name is Micah Berry — I thought for sure I was going to have to dispel rumors that he was my son!” In most contexts, that comment would be an obvious exaggeration for comic effect, but when you’re Halle Berry, outlandish stories being fabricated by the media aren’t outside of the realm of possibility.
Not that Berry hasn’t occasionally given the media fodder for the front page: her 2000 hit-and-run fiasco was bizarre to say the least, (even though, today, she would fit right in with this generation of wild celebutantes with questionable driving habits), and her two, muchpublicized divorces were steeped in drama stemming from the alleged abuse by one (baseball star David Justice), and the sexual indiscretions of the other (R&B singer Eric Benet). She once said that her divorce from Justice was so painful that she considered taking her own life, and Benet’s betrayal deeply hurt her. The couple had been so close that Berry was planning to adopt Benet’s young daughter. Since meeting the French-Canadian Aubrey, Berry appears to be content.
“I’m really happy in my personal life — which is a novelty to me. You know, I’m not the girl that has the best relationships,” she told More.com after six months with Aubrey. Peace can be a rare commodity when you’re Halle Berry. Her personal and professional choices can sometimes be head-scratchingly confounding, (B.A.P.S.). She constantly seems to have to prove herself, even after winning her little gold man — perhaps even more so now. But, the sometimes mean-spirited criticisms she’s heard over the years have left the starlet undaunted. “Honestly, you don’t think about it really. It would drive me nuts to think about it,” she says. “[I just hope] that a movie is received well and people go see [it] and are affected by it. I think that’s our job. The rest is just icing and there’s no way to predict where that will go.”
Berry’s complexities translate well to screen, and gives her a unique edge when playing characters that are as layered and conflicted as she can be. “One [major aspect] of playing Audrey was not worrying about being sympathetic,” she explains. “As an actor, [it] can be suicide if you worry too much about how you’re coming off. It’s most important to be honest and truthful in being the character — to not sugarcoat the harshness.”
Earlier in her career, the harshness of a character could sometimes spill over into her life. “It wasn’t always the case, but I’ve learned how to leave work at work and not have it affect [my] real life,” she says. “[I] just lie down and leave it there. When you start to develop your technique more, you don’t have to live it to be it. And I’ve learned how to do that.” Art still can find a way to affect life — and vice versa. Screen star Mark Wahlberg recently revealed that since having children, he regrets having starred in the acclaimed 1998 film, Boogie Nights. In the film, Wahlberg played a 1970s porn star in a role that is considered to be his major film breakthrough. Berry, who famously disrobed in the film Swordfish and took part in an intensely graphic sex scene in Monster’s Ball, can understand why an actor would feel that way, but she doesn’t foresee a similar change of heart about her past work. “I [don’t believe] that I will personally feel like ‘God, I wish I hadn’t done Monster’s Ball or Swordfish — with all of its gratuitous nudity — because I have children,’ ” reveals Berry. “[But] I don’t know yet. I’ll find out.”