December 2001
It's Not A Comet, It's Halle's Ball

Interviewed by Wilson Morales

It's Not A Comet, It's Halle's Ball

If there was ever anyone making a 360-degree turn in his or her film career, it's Halle Berry. Within the last 3 years, she's gotten the respect from her peers by winning critical acclaim for her performance in "Dorothy Dandridge". For the first time in her career, she went topless in "Swordfish", and now in her biggest dramatic and most emotional role to date, Halle takes on a role that's close to heart and home. On the day she won the Best Actress award from the National Board of Review, Halle talked with about her experience in starring in "Monster's Ball".

WM: What did you have to do to get this role?

HB: When I first read the script, it was one of those scripts I couldn't put down. I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next. So I knew I was going to have to fight for it. My manager gave it to me, so I thought they (the producers) were interested in me; and so I called back my manager and him to tell them I said yes and that I'll do it for whatever the money is. He said there was a problem. They don't want me. So I finagled a meeting with the producer Lee Daniels and director Marc Foster and I read the script. I had written these ideas as to how I wanted to play the character. In that first meeting, I don't quite know how it went. I guess I did okay. Then I had another meeting and I just kept drilling them with why I thought the part could be for me. When I heard them say "But you're the face of Revlon", I told them I thought tragedy, devastation, and hard times affects everyone. "What does this woman look like? Please tell me." Is what I said to them. I've certainly had my share of ups and downs and my looks have not stopped any of those experiences from coming my way. When they really couldn't answer that, they started to take me seriously. It was just a matter of wearing them down and not accepting no. I wasn't going to give until they told me they casted someone else. Then I would have moved on.

WM: Why were you so passionate about this character?

HB: I don't know why, but I respond well to tortured characters. There's a place in me that can really relate to being the underdog. I'm always fighting to overcome the obstacle. I can really understand what's that about. I also loved her because although she was angry she was still very vulnerable. At the end of the day she prove to be very strong. I thought this would be a great character to play. She has an arc that I thought was so beautiful. By the time it was almost over she was almost emerging somebody new and that felt good.

WM: What do you think about the last scene?

HB: I thought it was risky. It was written like that, and I was happy the director had faith in that. I was happy he had faith in us as actors in the belief that hopefully we could pull that off. I thought it was wonderful I thought it was wonderful. In that moment at the end, there were no words to say. What could she really say that would have been of any value? It was a good decision to leave it as it is.

WM: How difficult was the sex scene?

HB: We didn't think of it as a sex scene. We approached it as two characters really getting what they needed. They needed that like they needed air to breathe. I viewed her as being celibate for the last eleven years while her husband has been in prison. Billy Bob's character was having meaningless sex with prostitutes. They both needed the human touch and we really tried to make it about that and not that fact that we're butt naked and it's a love scene, but more about a scene of substance. Once we could focus on that, we could let go of what we might be looking like or showing or not showing. We just tried to surface the characters and their needs in that moment and forget the rest.

WM: How did it feel since you had never done a scene like this before?

HB: I was having an out-of-body experience. I wasn't really there. I can watch it now and say "look at that girl", like it really doesn't seem like it's me. Maybe that's the only way I can deal with it or I could have got the courage to do it just by leaving myself for a little bit and service the need of the character.

WM: Were there any rehearsals for this film?

HB: There were no rehearsals. Billy (Bob Thornton) was in Cannes and he was away doing other things and wasn't available to rehearse. I literally met Billy two weeks before we started to shoot. We had a short lunch. The first time I saw him again was on the first day of shooting and on our very first scene together.

WM: What's it like working with Billy Bob Thornton?

HB: What I loved about Billy is that he's so good. He forced me everyday to come to the table and really work because he's good and so subtle in his work. We were lucky in a way that we had instant chemistry. I didn't know if I could do this kind of scene. Not only with Billy, but also with anybody else. The minute I met him, I said, "I get it". We have a good connection you don't get with every actor. He's very open, very giving. We talked a lot. He's really funny. He was very honest with me about who he is. That inspired me to be really honest with him. He protected me a lot. If something was going down that wasn't quite right, he'd protect me. I felt really safe and that allowed me to go places that I probably wouldn't have gone to.

WM: What was it like working with Sean "P.Diddy" Combs?

HB: He was very eager to learn. He knows that he's just starting out. He's conquered the music world and the fashion world, and I think he's very humble in knowing that acting is something new. He was open to everybody's advice. He worked really well with Marc (the director). I think Marc would tell you that. Billy told me how well they worked together. I have a lot of respect for him because he came down there without no entourage and he wasn't P.Diddy or Puff Daddy, but Sean Combs. He was really impressed with how serious he took it. He was friendly but really nervous and quiet. He was very focused on trying to do well and fit in.

WM: Why is this film strong for your race?

HB: Being a product of an interracial marriage, I've heard the stories and lived that my entire life. I've always wondered when the day will come when we see people as people because being black and growing up with a white mother, I've always seen people as people. This movie sort of explores that issue. That love is colorblind. Love is love. It also explores the issue that real racism is usually taught and based on nothing. I thought it would be great to be part of a movie about something I've always known.

WM: According to rumors, you're going to be the next Bond girl. Is that true?

HB: I don't know. The truth is I'm still trying to work out the date with X-Men and I'm really having a hard time working around my X-Men schedule. Because it's a sequel, they're in first position, so they have to approve every movie that I take that could possibly interfere with their start date. Trouble is, they don't really have a start date, so it's getting very gray because I really want to be able to go to work but at the same time I have to honor my contract with them. They're really trying hard to work it out with MGM. I hope it works out. If I'm in the Bond film, I would play his nemesis; and I will not be topless. I have a contract stating that.

WM: How important is it to see a black woman in these big films?

HB: Very important. Even with "Swordfish", some people think that it was frivolous, it had gratuitous sex, and that I didn't have to act. That anyone could have done it with his or her eyes closed. I've heard it all. What it says is that a black woman can be seen as sexy, as beautiful, as the femme fatale, and be just as smart. In "Monster's Ball", my character had a pretty high IQ; so she was just as smart and went toe-to-toe with the man. For me, that's one of those little steps that I've continuingly been trying to climb my entire career.

WM: What do you say to those who thought baring your breast was completely gratuitous?

HB: I agree. It was, but I did it because I wanted to and because I can. Luckily I did, because if I didn't, it never would have allowed me to do "Monster's Ball". I would have been inhibited and too worried as to what I look like and what people will think. It totally liberated me and freed me of worrying about that part of what to do. It allowed me to use my body as an instrument and not think of it as MY BODY. It's an instrument now and that feels good.

WM: How excited are you about winning the National Board of Review award?

HB: When I wanted to do the movie, I never thought award. I thought about playing a character that shows I can do other things besides Swordfish and X-Men. Let me have a part that I can shed my skin in. When I got the part, that was the win for me. I thought I finally convinced somebody to give me a chance at something. I really won months ago. When this award came about, I never expected it. I thought this was a little movie not a lot of people will probably see. I figured I'd have the tape reel to show people next time they say no, but I can say, "I did this". The award is wonderful.