Aside from her continuing role as Storm in X-Men: The Last Stand, we haven’t seen much of Halle Berry lately on the big screen. Perhaps she wanted to lay low after a string of not-so-successful films, including Gothika and Catwoman. But Berry is back in business with her latest thriller Perfect Stranger.
Berry co-stars alongside Giovanni Ribisi and Bruce Willis as Rowena Price, an investigative reporter who learns that her friend's murder might be connected to powerful ad executive Harrison Hill (Willis) and has to go undercover with the help of her associate (Ribisi). The closer Rowena gets to finding the truth, the more we see how far people will go to protect it.
Hollywood.com talks with Ms. Berry about making the film, hitting her stride after working in the biz for 20 years—and shaving her head for her next film. She's totally serious.
Hollywood.com: What about Perfect Stranger appealed to you?
Halle Berry: Well, several things. One, it gave me a chance to challenge myself in a new way. This is a character which is essentially three characters in one character, which I have never done. And, as you know, the twist it takes at the end was a real challenge for me because it was someone I’ve never played before. To see if I could manipulate the audience into being with me on the journey. I also really wanted to work with [Perfect Stranger director] James Foley. He is a director I’ve admired for many, many years. One of his early movies, At Close Range with Sean Penn, is one of my all-time favorites. When he came onboard to direct, I was really excited.
HW: Apparently, James Foley had a unique way of showing his appreciation when a scene went well?
HB: [Laughs] Oh yeah. On the first day of shooting, you never know how it’s going to be on the set, new director, new cast. Everyone’s a little... [makes a nervous gesture]. After the first take, all I heard was, “OH, YESSSSS!” I’m looking around, “What the hell was that?” Anytime there was something good or he really liked, that was his way of saying you did good. It was great because he appreciated it and he let you know! It made for a great environment because when you feel validated that way—most actors are insecure and they think everything they do sucks—all you want to do is work harder and go farther.
HW: How did you prepare?
HB: I knew a little bit about journalism. I’ve spoken to enough of them over the years, so I can sort of understand THAT world. [Laughs] But the movie really wasn’t about being a journalist but about this woman who was trying to get her power in life. She had been, in many ways, battered and beat down and suppressed by the hand of a man. From her personal life as a kid to her professional life, having to write under a male pseudonym and was feeling sort of beat up by her male counterparts. So it was about getting her power back. The real challenge for me was to get in touch with that part of the human psyche and be really mindful to stay clear about who I was playing. Because we shoot the movies all out of order, many days we’d shoot all three versions of Rowena in one day. I was Catherine Pogue, Veronica, the real Ro and then the real, REAL Ro. It got to be a little trippy if I didn’t have an organized way of staying mindful of which character I was playing. Sometimes it would change, just like that, within the scene even.
HW: Do you think people expect more from you since you won your Oscar?
HB: You know, I don’t know. And I really try not to concern myself with it because I see that as career suicide. Expectations were pretty low of me before I won the Oscar. Maybe ignorance is bliss but I like to approach my career with no expectations from anybody except from myself.
HW: And do you approach roles the same way you did before?
HB: Absolutely. I like the freedom to take chances, to try things that interest me, that offer me a chance to try something different or to grow as an artist. Offer me a chance to have fun, make money. I mean, this is how I make a living. I don’t do this as a hobby. And sometimes because I get paid really well, I can go do movies for $2.00, like the one I just did Things We Lost in the Fire with Benicio Del Toro in which I get to play another great character. So, in the end, with that approach, it sort of balances itself out.
HW: Is there a role you’re hungry for now?
HB: Not particularly. I think I’m just hungry to keep working on my own terms. To keep making choices that are right for me, even if other people don’t get them. I think I’m hungry to stay relevant in the business as I get older and time goes on. I think that becomes a challenge because there are new people coming into the business all the time. So it becomes how do you sustain a career? I’ve been in the business for 20 years now, so how do you stay relevant and continue the work?
HW: Are good roles for women still difficult to find?
HB: I think yeah. I think good roles in general are hard to find, male or female. But especially for women, it’s very difficult. I would say women of color but it’s true for all women. I’ve discovered that instead of just sitting around and waiting for them to arrive at my door, that I have to go behind the scenes and shepherd these things along, produce things and get in behind the scenes.
HW: Would you consider a romantic comedy?
HB: I’m hoping. But that’s another struggle because people don’t see me that way. I’m producing one that I have to do myself called Nappily Ever After about women and what we all go through in dealing with our hair. And men will appreciate it because every man knows a woman who suffers. We define ourselves by our hair. If our hair is not right, then we are just not right in the world. And in this movie my character’s hair gets messed up and she has to shave her head bald. It’s about learning to love yourself for who you really are, not for your exterior self you spend so much time worrying about. I think it’s a really important movie for young women and men can sort of go along and relate to the journey because they see this happening to the women they know.
HW: Are you going to go Method with that?
HB: Totally! I cannot WAIT to shave my head. Because I have serious hair issues. I’m using this movie as therapy to really get in touch with what this is. It’s a real problem for women and it’ll be really fun to experience this on film and go through this journey.
HW: What would you say was your greatest achievement so far?
HB: The fact I’ve been able to work for the last 20 years. When I started there was no way for a woman like me. The roles were nil to none and the fact I’m still here and working after 20 years, I’m most proud of that. But there’s still much to accomplished and right now I feel like I’m just hitting my stride. When there’s nothing left to get from it and no more growth, I think I’ll switch careers.
HW: Do you perceive yourself as a role model?
HB: I think that I am only because people tell me that all the time, so I’m mindful of it. When I think about being a role model, I always think about a woman who is walking her own walk, going her own way and living by her own standards. I think that’s the best image I as a woman can present to another woman. I try to do that.
HW: How do you deal with criticism? For example, there’s people who say you won the Oscar simply because you got naked.
HB: I’m used to criticism and I accept all of it. I respect another person’s opinion. However, that kind of criticism doesn’t stick to me. I am not one that thinks from that narrow mind set. I know I didn’t win an Academy Award because I took my clothes off, and I won’t allow anyone to stick that to me. But it’s unfortunate for an accomplishment as big as that, not just for me, it was so much bigger than me, it was for everybody. And I was mindful of including everybody because it was bigger than me. It’s unfortunate for it to be degraded in that way, that we wouldn’t see the good in it but find the negative. At the end of the day, it’s a positive because that moment happened and today we have Jennifer Hudson [who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for Dreamgirls]. That started a steamrolling effect, forcing the industry to take a look at us. The cat was out of the bag. So to belittle that is a disgrace to how hard women work in film. I’m totally comfortable with my nudity. I find it hard to understand in this country, that we are OK with killing and shooting in movies but we’re not OK with the simple naked body. It’s a contradiction to me.
HW: What about constantly being in the public eye?
HB: I am really lucky. Most of the friends I have in my life are people that have known me since, you know, adolescent--15, 16, 17 years old. So I’ve got people in my life that ground me and keep me real, keep me in touch with who the real me is. They’re like, “I know who you really are, so don’t even go there!” So, I love having these people who keep me grounded as I walk through life and meet new people. Because I’m constantly in touch with who I am—and who I’m NOT.
HW: What advice would you give to a young actress coming up in the spotlight?
HB: Whew, we don’t have enough time. [Laughs] In their defense--because I’m part of this, too, only older and better able to deal with it—public scrutiny is something very difficult to deal with when you are not mature enough to deal with it. And what has happened now with this world of paparazzi following everybody EVERY where, you no longer have a sense of privacy, no private moments. Everything you do is up for public consumption. And it’s hard. I turned 40 this year and it’s hard for me to deal with it and put it into proper perspective. Think of a young girl, that’s barely 21, discovering who they are and how to operate in the world. So in their defense, they are growing up in front of the world and they are being judged for being human and making mistakes many women their age make, they just don’t have a camera following them around documenting everything they do. And so, my heart goes out. It’s hard trying to grow in the world as it is today and having someone follow you while you do it, got to be even harder.