Interview : Halle Berry – Die Another Day

It has been quite the year for Halle Berry: First an Oscar, now back on top as a Bond girl. As she reveals to PAUL FISCHER, the beautiful Hollywood stat is savouring her post-Oscar success.

Halle Berry can’t believe the kind of year that she has had. Yet the beautifully-attired 34-year old star of the latest James Bond thriller, admits to having a hazy memory of the night that changed her life, that of Oscar night, when she became the first African-American actress to take home a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in last year’s Monster’s Ball. “Sadly enough, the biggest night of my professional life is very much a blur”, concedes the actress. “I’ve thought about it many times thinking: God, why couldn’t I have been more present but the reality is, I was just out of my head, in shock and over the moon with joy, happiness and pride. I was just talking and walking never realising where I was going or what I was saying.” But it remained a monumental event in Berry’s life, and possibly in Hollywood. Yet as to whether her Oscar win meant that this city of dreams was forever changed, Berry is adamant that nothing in Hollywood really changes. “To be honest with you, I don’t think that one moment in time changed an entire industry that has been racist from its conception”, Halle insists. “We live in a world that is racist and racism exists everywhere, so the Oscar didn’t really change anything. However, what it did do, was it inspired people. I know that to be true because in the last seven months, people have come up to me and written me countless letters saying stuff like: Because you’ve won, I can now continue to dream; I lost hope but it’s renewed now. So I think those inspired people will eventually force the change, because those same people before that night may have decided to drop out. I was certainly convinced that a Black woman would never win for Best Actress in my lifetime. However, I had to really push that thought out of my mind because if I’d really believed it, I wouldn’t get up every day and I WOULDN’T keep fighting, while now they know it’s possible and not just Black actresses, but Spanish and Asian actors as well.” It was not an easy road for the beautiful ex-model to traverse. While it took her years to attain the kind of respectability that she currently enjoys, she denies that her Oscar win has somehow given HER a sense of legitimacy, but rather, she insists that “PEOPLE find the legitimacy in me because of that. I think I’ve always felt proud of my work, not that it’s always been genius, but I felt proud of the risks, chances and the willingness to try new thing. After all pushing the envelope is what I think an artist should do, so I think the Oscar has made people respect me in a different way, which I feel from my peers and industry. It feels good to get that back.”

An Oscar winner she might be, but that didn’t deter Berry for taking the female lead in the latest Bond adventure Die Another Day. Directed by New Zealand’s Lee Tamahori, Berry plays Jinx, an equally quick-witted agent working with Pierce Brosnan’s 007 in his quest to unmask a traitor and to prevent a war of catastrophic consequence. Even had she been offered the part post-Oscar, Berry would gladly have accepted this gig in the 20th Bond movie, “because this character was written the way she was, empowered, strong, this much fun and this sure of herself.” Berry says she was also attracted to this particular ‘Bond girl’ “because she was “sure of her sexuality and knew how to use it, almost as a weapon. She is also intelligent and almost Bond’s equal in a way and they had a great partnership, so I thought: What better kind of Bond woman to be than someone who literally teams up with Bond and become an asset to him.” She smilingly concedes that she could identify with Jinx in some ways “because I think I could make a good partner.” Berry’s initial entrance as Jinx is a memorable one as she plays homage to Ursula Andress in Dr No. Looking ravishing in an orange bikini with a knife strapped to her bikini bottoms, Berry says “it was a little daunting doing that scene because Andress did it so well originally and that’s a piece of cinema that goes down in movie history as one of those beloved scenes. I was scared of it at first because I didn’t want to be compared to someone else in that way. But I finally just released that angst about that and just decided to do it my way, put the knife on and do the best I can,” she says laughingly. Now that Halle is entrenched in movie folklore and Bond history, the actress says “that it feels good to be a part of this franchise. After all, it’s the longest , living franchise in movie history, which I’m proud to be a part of.”

Bond films are never easy to shoot, and this one was no exception. Berry recalls a fight scene between herself and actress Rosamund Pike on an aeroplane rig as being the toughest to shoot “because the rig that we were on was a moving plane, and there was fire, smoke, wind, paper flying and we’d skip all over the floor, so it was very easy for us to lose our footing.” Surprisingly, there were no major injuries, and as for that much publicised report of an eye injury on set, Berry laughs that one off. “That was really nothing. It was funny that the press made out that I lost or eyeball or something. There was just a little debris from an explosion that hit me in the eye while we were in Cadiz and I had to go to the doctor because the insurance on movies requires you to even if you don’t really need to. So the press in Cadiz picked up on it and it was a train off and running.”

Berry is busily at work on another big Hollywood popcorn movie, X-Men 2, currently shooting in Canada. Tight lipped on the details of the film, Berry happily admits “that it’s going OK and we’re almost done.” Rumours are rife that Berry’s Storm has much more to do this time around, but the actress is not about to give anything away. “It’s just hard to talk about. Also, there are five new characters added so there are lots of stories to be told. I can tell you that you do find out a little bit more about Storm this time around and another side of her personality, but it’s still a big, ensemble cast with a lot going on.” While much has changed for Berry between the two films, she says that nothing much has changed as far as her returning to this set. “It’s been a bit like going back to old home week, in that we’re all friends, and the characters are all the same, except that I got a haircut for this. Other than that we put on those suits and we’re the same people.”

Having won her Oscar for a film whose budget can only be defined as being miniscule in comparison, Berry has no qualms about shifting from huge Hollywood blockbusters to more intimate, character-driven dramas. “What I like about my particular career is that I’ve been lucky enough to go in and out of both with relative ease”, Berry explains. “I love that part of my career and I don’t think I’d be happy just doing ‘the little movie’ or just the Bonds and X-Men of this world. I like the release of each one, the change from one to the other and that’s what keeps it fun, mixing it up and learning how far I can go in each medium.” While Berry may have struggled to get a film off the ground, these days, it appears that she is currently the hardest working actor in Hollywood. If one believes the trades, she is attached to at least seven projects [“I know it’s sickening.”] She actually has five films in active development, and admits that her Oscar win has had a lot to do with that. “Since then, I’ve never had five projects in development in my life and I really want to take advantage of this five minutes, because how long do I know how long it’s going to last so I want to get as many of my own ideas off the ground, and hopefully in the next couple of years these things will come to fruition.”

Intensely busy as she decides what to do next, Berry also has to find time to spend with her family. That particular juggling act of career and her personal life, is far from easy, she admits. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m taking the next three months off,” she says. “I think it IS time to prioritise and say: OK this has been a wonderful year but it’s taken me all over the place and away from my family. Now I’m going to take those three months and be with them, day in and day out. Then it’ll be time to go back to work again.” Berry says that her family remains supportive and understanding of her hectic work schedule. “They come to see ME when they can and during X-Men I fly home every weekend, so if you make it a priority, you can balance.” Married for two years to singer Eric Benet., Berry admits that she’s “pretty happy” at this point in her life and career. She says that “having a career and family” fulfils her and “makes me feel I have it all. I’ve always wanted a family life and children.” Currently enjoying the role of stepmother to Benet’s 10-year old daughter India, Berry adds that “the more settled I become in my family life and have more children, the happier I will become.” And Berry concedes that she and her husband “definitely want more children.” Life for this beautiful Oscar winner can’t get any better!

DIE ANOTHER DAY OPENS ON NOVEMBER 22.