THE 48-YEAR-OLD ACADEMY AWARD -WINNING ACTRESS IS HELPING TO KICK HOLES THROUGH THE AGEISM WALL THAT SURROUNDS TINSELTOWN . WE ASK ABOUT HER CBS SCI-FI SHOW EXTANT, AND HOW A REAL-LIFE ROLE AS A NEW MOM ALSO REPRESENTS AN OTHERWORLDLY EXPERIENCE
By Susan Hornik and Matt Scanlon
The 16th-century explorer Ponce de León died before discovering his fabled fountain of youth (although he did likely discover Florida in the process of searching, so all was not lost), but there have been a few personalities in Hollywood who might have encountered the restorative spring. It was long joked that Dick Clark had access to a few drops; Dustin Hoffman, at 77, looks almost weirdly remarkable; and Gwyneth Paltrow likely still regularly gets carded, but the hands-down winner for the most bulletproof constitution goes to Halle Berry.
The former Bond girl, fashion model, and beauty queen, at 48, is still one of the most beautiful women in the world. Remarkably fit, she recently was photographed zip-lining in Maui with husband, Olivier Martinez, as part of their one-year anniversary celebration. And at The Emmy Awards ceremony for her CBS sci-fi television series, Extant, (in which she stars and executive produces), Berry looked as radiant as ever in a revealing Elle Saab gown—a look that was particularly stunning, given that she gave birth to her second child, a son named Maceo, just last October.
It’s small wonder, then, why Playboy named her among the “100 Sexiest Women of the Century,” People declared her one of the “50 Most Beautiful People in the World,” and Esquire placed her among the “Sexiest Woman Alive.” One of the highestpaid actresses in Hollywood—earning as much as $14 million per film—Berry has also been a long-standing Revlon spokeswoman, and has sought to market her remarkable looks in the form of a namesake cosmetics line—particularly its Wild Essence perfume. In the most recent promotional shots for the fragrance, Berry is seen in a plunging and arm- and leg-revealing black mini dress, set against a jungle background.
While Hollywood typically offers few roles for actresses her age, Berry remains busy, and has starred in no fewer than 48 film and television productions to date. Most recently, she reprised her role as Storm in Fox’s X Men: Days of Future Past (out on Bluray/ DVD next month). This is actually the fourth film in which Berry has played the character (though it’s the third installment of the X-Men series), and the most recent edition of the franchise continued its remarkable sales resilience, opening number one at the box office.
“It was good to be Storm again. She is one of those characters I have personally loved over the years,” Berry said. “I know fans love her, so it’s nice to come back and reprise. It’s sorta like a familiar friend. Someone who I’ve missed for a while. It’s good to put the white hair back on, if you can believe that.”
Seeing cast classmates (Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, et al.) was a happy circumstance for Berry, too.
“That’s been great…like old home week,” she laughed. “Normally, when you start a movie, you have all of that time where you are doing the introductions and getting to know people —‘Hi I am so and so.’ This was just big hugs and, ‘Good to see you again.’ We all picked up right where we left off, as if we had been sitting on a set last week, having conversation. That’s a good, good feeling to start there with people you know and trust.”
Asked about preferred choice of roles, however, Berry immediately referred to an ongoing, real-life, and recently reinvigorated one.
“I actually love being pregnant,” said Berry at an Extant press conference we attended. “I’m the happiest when I have been pregnant in my life… truly. So [for Berry’s character] to be pregnant again on a show right after giving birth didn’t scare me at all. I thought, ‘I’m going to ace that part of this series for sure!’” she quipped.
In the series, Halle’s character, Molly, is married to a robotics engineer, (ER’s Goran Visnjic) who has crafted a prototype android child called a “humanich” that Molly has trouble relating to.
“Molly struggles with that, and I struggled with whether a robot would evoke the same kinds of feelings from me,” Berry explained. “Would I really be able to love a machine? That is the type of question I ask myself—and Molly is asking herself in this show.”
In the same interview, the actress offered some stories about her 6-yearold daughter Nahla.
“[She] had a nightmare. She was dreaming, and in the middle of the night came into my bed on Mother’s Day, and…this is what I don’t think a robot would do,” Berry recounted. “First of all, I’m not sure if a robot can dream for real. So she comes into my bed and she’s saying, ‘Mommy, no. Mommy, no, no!’ I tap on her and say, ‘Honey, what is it? I think you are having a nightmare.’
She never opened her eyes but said, ‘Mommy, there’s two cupcakes. There’s a purple one and a pink one and you are eating the pink one, and you know I want it. Mommy no, no.’ I’m not so sure a robot would do that—[a moment like] that is one of the jewels of what motherhood is really all about.”
The veteran director Steven Spielberg is an Extant executive producer, which gave Berry added confidence in the production.
I was a big ET fan,” she explained. “That is my version of science fiction, which is why, when I heard that Steven was involved, I was excited, because that’s the kind of science fiction I really like. It has a lot of heart but is also sort of supernatural. That hooked me.”
Berry also spent time with astronaut consultants to prepare for the role. “[There] was a female astronaut who gave me some information about the psychology of going on a space mission and the training they have to go through. We took a trip to NASA, too, with Allen Coulter, the director of the pilot. We picked their brains there.” Zero-G jet flights helped Berry understand what weightlessness felt like.
“That was amazing, actually. Because there’s no gravity, you have no sense of being upside down. It was a very freeing experience; and I can understand why astronauts love to go up there and live in that experience. It’s as close to being a bird and having that kind of freedom I think one can ever get.”
Still, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I have to say by 15 flights going up and down and going through that, I did vomit,” she acknowledged. “My body was done dealing. But it wasn’t as bad as this one guy who started to get sick after the first flight. He had to be on this plane for an hour and half as we kept plummeting up and down and going in and out of zero-G. He was five shades of purple when we landed and was strapped to his seat in the back of the plane and just hurled the entire time! I felt so bad for him, but it got most of us in the end.”
Even in the midst of the science fiction setting and futuristic human–android interaction, the script remained grounded, the actress explained. “At the core, this is really a human story about people. The fact that she’s a scientist becomes a little bit irrelevant. It’s about a husband and wife trying to live together. It’s about a woman trying to be a mother and raise a child. It’s about trying to answer tough questions for herself and for her family. I also broke this down as I do with any other character—tried to find the heart of what’s making this woman tick and why she’s doing what she’s doing. What’s driving her, what does she care about… all of the things that go into creating any character, really.”
Berry was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the youngest daughter to Jerome and Judith Berry, an interracial couple. Halle along with her older sister, Heidi, spent the first few years of their childhood living in an inner-city neighborhood. In the early 1980s, she won a number of pageants, including Miss Teen Ohio and Miss Teen America, and was eventually awarded first runner-up in the 1985 Miss U.S.A. competition. She attended Cleveland’s Cuyahoga Community College, where she studied broadcast journalism, but decided to follow a career in entertainment. Berry moved to Chicago, then to New York City, where she found work as a catalog model. The aspiring actress began a career in television with a role on the sitcom Living Dolls (1989), followed by a year-long run on the CBS primetime drama Knot’s Landing in 1991.
Movie audiences first became aware of Berry in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. She went on to star opposite Warren Beatty in the socio-political comedy, Bulworth, as well as Losing Isaiah opposite Jessica Lange, Executive Decision, the live-action version of The Flintstones, The Last Boy Scout, Strictly Business, Boomerang (opposite Eddie Murphy) and Swordfish with John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. Her television credits include starring in the ABC mini-series Oprah Winfrey Presents: The Wedding, as well as the title role in Alex Haley’s mini-series Queen. The latter performance earned Berry her first NAA CP Image Award for Best Actress, as well as the Best Newcomer Award from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club. For her groundbreaking performance in Monster’s Ball, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, as well as the SAG Award and Berlin Silver Bear Award. She also received the Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and NAA CP Image Award for her nuanced performance in HBO’s telefilm, Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (which she also produced).
As for future work, at press time it was not known whether Extant was going to be renewed by CBS, but there are two additional movie roles either in production or awaiting the starting gun: The courtroom drama Tulia, in which she plays an attorney defending wrongly accused African-American men in Texas, and Miles and Me, a biopic of legendary jazz performer Miles Davis.