Halle Berry – Everything You Wanted to Know

                    August 1998  By Philip Berk

It was one of those made in Hollywood romances. She was a beautiful actress; he was a handsome baseball star. Shades of Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio.

They met, fell in love, were married, she worked on his self image, encouraged him to be more appreciative of his fans. They shared a box at the world series with team owner Ted Turner and his equally famous wife, Jane Fonda.

And then it all fizzled. Ugly rumors, wife battering, philandering, which ended in divorce proceedings with both sides asking for alimony. Justice demanded details of her past relationships, and she got a restraining order against him after he tried to pick up his belongings from their Hollywood Hills home. 

The divorce was finalized a year ago.

When I interviewed her three years ago, they were still very much in love.

How did they meet? I asked her.

“Through a friend of his who’s a journalist. We dated a year before we got married, and we’ve been married for two years.”

Were they planning a family?

“Not at the moment,” she told me. “Maybe some day. It’s a big responsibility. Right now quite honestly I’m far too selfish to have a child. To be a good parent you have to offer selfless love. That child has to come before everything. And right now, David’s playing baseball, and I have a job that I take very seriously. I truly believe being a mother is the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life so when that day comes, I want to be ready.” 

Being a mother was the most important thing in her mother’s life.

“My mother was a single white mother raising a black child. She knew how important it was to instill a sense of pride about my culture, my history, and where I came from. She knew I wouldn’t get that in school, so she dug out books that had black faces in it., which back then in the sixties were hard to get hold of. She provided me with images I could look up to, ones that I could be proud of. She helped me trace my family tree.She bought me little black dolls that were pretty that I could play with.”

Where was her father at the time?

“He was an alcoholic who had left us when I was six.” 

Did her mother discuss racism?”

“She told me, ‘You’re half black and half white, but when you look in the mirror, what do you see? What all America will see, a little black girl. And you’ll be discriminated against for no other reason but the color of your skin.’ She taught me not to take it personally and not to become small minded like some people who judge you simply by the color of your skin.”

When Halle visits South Africa next March, she’ll be accompanied by her mother.

At her press conference for her latest movie Why Do Fools fall in Love, I ask her if she’s excited at the prospect?

 “I really am,” she replies. “I have always wanted to go there, and my mother is dying to go, so I’m planning it as a family visit, even though it’s in connection with Revlon.”

The one thing Halle never talks about is he divorce,  but inadvertently both she and her costar Vivica A. Fox allude to it at the press conference for the movie in which they play the wives of entertainer Frankie Lymon who had no idea there was another Mrs. Lyman. Actually there were three.

“When you go through a string of bad guys,” Fox told me, “and especially when you choose a certain type of man who did not do us right, which Halle can testify to, you become cautious. I hate to say it, but athletes because they have so many women going after them, when they come at you, you act like, ‘Wow he likes me!.’ I don’t know if it’s their demeanor, or if they’re so used to people admiring them, but they think they should keep you down. We’ve both learned lessons with athletes. We don’t do them. We stay away.” 

When asked if she could she see herself falling  for someone like Frankie Lymon, she jumped right in.

“I already have before. Oh yeah, I’ve been a fool, I think most people have been a fool for love. I don’t think it’s anything new. We’ve all been in love, wished we weren’t, but we are, so what do we do? You just got to work it out, and many times you get hurt in the process. Hopefully your house doesn’t get burned down like Zola’s did in the movie, but things happen. It’s just a human experience that a lot of people can relate to.” 

For the time being Halle is unattached and cheerfully so. She attended the Academy Awards ceremony by herself.

In person she is as beautiful as ever, despite the short hairdo, but in the movie she wears flowing wigs.

Did that take some getting used to?  

“I nearly always wear wigs so I’m accustomed to it. It’s actually better. It saves your hair from getting beat up. I’ve always had really short hair.  It’s only recently I’ve grown it out.”

At the moment she’s realizing a lifelong dream, the dream of every African American actress, to play the legendary Dorothy Dandridge, who was nominated for an Oscar for Carmen Jones and played Bess in Porgy and Bess. Despite the acclaim and  fame, she was dead at 40, a victim of drug overdose.

Will it be an unvarnished look at her life?

“It will be truthful, but we are definitely going to put a positive spin on her life. We’re going to celebrate and recognize her contributions. It won’t dwell on how she died and the tragedy of her life. There will be musical numbers. And we’ll deal with her personal relationships and her internal struggle, being a black woman in an industry and town that didn’t know what to do with her.”

Two other actresses, Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson — and years ago Diahann Carroll — have tried to get this project off the ground.

How did she succeed where others have failed?

“I think my passion for the project is unmatched. I’ve been relentless. I’ve kept going and going. Hopefully the others will make theirs, although I’m not sure this industry can support three movies on the life of Dorothy Dandridge.”

Dandridge had a tough time finding roles. Are things any better for Black women today?

“It’s gotten better — we can now go to the same hotels, we can eat in the same restaurants, we are no longer enslaved — but we are still victims of racism. There’s still a big difference between black and white.”

Is that true in her case?

“Absolutely, it’s still slim pickings. Its hard for me to be in a movie with Mel Gibson, whereas Meg Ryan can do it very easily. It’s hard for me because Hollywood is still  worried that the public won’t accept that. But hopefully it’s changing. We’re taking little steps. If I didn’t think so, I don’t think I’d be able to wake up in the morning. I’d feel defeated every day. Someday we’ll see a colorblind society.”

Things were much tougher for Dorothy, weren’t they?

“That’s largely the reason she didn’t survive. It was just too hard. Hopefully I’ll pass the baton to the next generation the way Dorothy passed it onto me, and the next Halle will take it as far as she can, and then maybe sometime in the future we’ll see a real change. I feel a great responsibility not to drop the baton, to stay strong, to stay focussed and keep moving forward. 

“When I look at Dorothy’s life, and see the progress I’ve made, I think she would be proud of that. I think it’s important to go back and pay homage to people like her who didn’t get her due. There are many others and hopefully we’ll start making those stories. They may not be money projects, but then your work shouldn’t only be about  money but how artistically rich a project can be.”

When did she first discover Dorothy?

“I was about eighteen or nineteen when I saw her in Carmen Jones on television, and what struck me was, Why didn’t I know who she was?  The answer was obvious. We don’t learn about Black people in school. That’s when the passion started.”

Who else has inspired her?

“Of course, my mom. And my fifth grade teacher, who is still one of my best friends, was a big role model for me. Diahann Carroll, the first black woman to have a television show, and that was a big deal. In it she played a nurse, and my mother was a nurse. Oprah is a big one for me today.”

Having been a contestant many times, what does does she think of beauty pageants?

“They were right for me. I learned a lot from them, and I never felt exploited in the least. I knew what they were all about. They gave me self-confidence, I learned how to talk to people. Most importantly, it taught me how to be a good winner and a good loser. I won three pageants in a row and then I lost three in a row, which made me realize that if you changed the judges on any given day, the outcome might be different. I use that in my acting career. Just because I got Losing Isaiah over a lot of other actresses, didn’t make me a better actress. It just meant I was right for that part. And when Angela Bassett got What’s Love Got to Do With It , it didn’t mean she was better. She was just right for that part. So I’ve learned not to make comparisons.”

In other words, she’s not competitive?

“To be in this business, you have to  be, to a degree. If you’re not, you’re eaten up alive. But I’m not competitive to the point that I’m insecure. I don’t compare myself with others. For me we’re at different stages in our careers, we have different goals, different ambitions. I can’t look at what I’m doing as being in competition with anyone else. I’m in competition with myself. When I audition I compete against myself. Nobody else.”

Has she ever been a victim of prejudice?

“Not recently, but I remember one incident when I was shopping in a store and somebody started following me around because I was the only black person in the store and they assumed I was going to shoplift.”

What about that other prejudice: because she’s beautiful, people assume she can’t act?

“It used to be really important for me to prove that I could, so I’d take the crack addicted mother roles or the nice girl next door. I did that for the first five years of my career to prove I was an actress. Now that I’m older I accept who I am. I see me differently. I don’t know if others do, but I no longer have to prove anything. My films show that I’ve worked hard, and if I never get recognized for being the actress I think I am, it’s okay, because I’m not the only one that never got the recognition they deserved. My life is good, I’ve been blessed, and I really can’t complain.”


October 2012 By Philip Berk

Halle Berry’s life lately has been spiraling out of control. Last month she was the focus of a notorious brawl involving her current paramour Olivier Martinez and her ex, Gabriel Aubrey, the father of her daughter Nahla.

Her current movie Cloud Atlas polarized audiences: for some it’s the film of the year, for others a baffling three hour puzzle.

And if that wasn’t enough she’s just had the dubious distinction of being named the worst dressed celebrity at the Golden Globes.

A reversal of fortune for Hollywood’s foremost African American actress.

At her press conference for Cloud Atlas she is surprisingly sanguine.

Q: The movie spans three different time periods in which you play different characters. Which was your favorite period?

A: it’s really hard for me to choose a favorite  because all the time-spans made up the journey for the one soul I was representing in the movie. To choose a favorite time isn’t something I can really do. But I loved being in all those times. I loved being in the early 1800s and then all the way to 3000 years from now. 

Q: What does the movie mean for you?

A:  I think this movie is about the notion that we are all connected, from womb to the tomb, and every act we do, whether it be of kindness or cruelty reverberates for years and for generations on. It also presents the notion of reincarnation and the deeper meaning of why we’re here as individuals.”

Q: The movie is also about enduring love, so where are you in your personal journey?

A: I’m a hopeless romantic. So I don’t think I’m going to stop searching until I get it right, but I also believe in reincarnation and maybe I’m destined in this lifetime is to keep searching. Will I find it completely? How would I really know until it’s over, how is it all going to end? But if I don’t find it completely in this life, I’ll probably be back.

Q: What exactly are you looking for?

A: You know, love that’s lasting. I mean, I’ve had great love in my life; It all hasn’t been tragic. You guys have heard about the tragic ones but the ones that aren’t so tragic don’t seem to stir up as much interest. I’ve had some great loves in my life. And I’m constantly in pursuit of that. And I have my daughter, the love of my life. She arrived four years ago, and that feels really good.”

Working with Wachowskis, once two brothers but now brother and sister — younger brother Larry is now Lana —  what is their work process like? Do they alternate directing from day to day, or do they work jointly as one unit?

A: My experience was they really do direct jointly. They have a really wonderful respectful relationship. They never got angry. They never raised their voices. There was no arguing. There was no disagreeing, at least in front of us. Whenever they did that, and I’m sure they had to with a script of this magnitude, it was at some other time, some other place, far from where the actors were. And what I loved about them, is that they have one voice. Lana would sometimes start a sentence and Andy would chime and finish it as if it was one cohesive thought. They were always very clear, always on the same page, and worked really well together. Sometimes if Lana had an idea, Andy would quietly let her express it but then he would contribute to it at the end. Andy would sometimes give her a note, and Lana would then say  “Yeah, that’s right. I agree with that.” It was totally cordial. 

Q: How has motherhood  — it’s been four years now — changed you, and how important is having a father figure in your daughter’s life?

A: I think all kids need their parents. I didn’t have a father in my life because my father chose to be absent most of the time. I truly believe it’s very important that children  have both of their parents in their life. Nahla has a father, luckily… Have I changed. Of course. As a woman, when you have a child it’s such a rite of passage to carry a baby, birth a baby, and then become a mother. It’s something that I’m learning about every day. There’s no perfect mother, and I don’t strive to be one. I just strive to be the best I can be on any given day in any given situation and make decisions and choices that I think are in her best interest. And I’m learning how to do that without regret. That’s empowering, and I know that Nahla’s also learning by my example.  And what I’ve learned from this movie is that everything we do, everything we say and everything we don’t do and  don’t say affects our children and affects others around us. I’m very cognizant of that, more so than ever before.”

Q: Any plan to have another child?

A: My daughter asks me for one every day, and I don’t have the heart to tell her it just might not show up. But we’re going to eternally wait for that, I kind of have a feeling.”

Q: You have talked about moving to France (where Olivier is a citizen) does that mean marriage?

A:  It’s not quite decided at this moment.

Q: Two days into the shoot, you broke your foot. Can you talk about that experience?

A: It was real downer. So whenever you see me running in the movie, that was before I broke my foot. I did a lot of running in the first two days. Luckily as the gods would have it, it all lined up. So whenever I was supposed to run or walk, everything got changed around for my character, and I was now sitting or standing or…If I had to be walking, I had a removable cast, so my foot would get taped up within an inch of its life, where no blood flow would go to it. I had to walk and just sort of grin and bear the pain. And then every morning and every night I had massages. and I had x-rays and I just kind of had to manage it. But then when the movie was over, four months after I broke it, I went to see a doctor here in LA and he said the foot was as broken as the day I broke it. So I had to go in a cast for ten weeks to heal it properly when I got done with the movie. Luckily, it’s healed fine.

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