A former teenage beauty queen, Halle Berry traded a successful modeling career for acting in the late 1980s. After high school, this youngest daughter of a black father and white mother, entered the Miss Teen Ohio Pageant and won, representing the state at the Miss Teen All-American Pageant. An over-achiever since she was a child, Berry attempted to add another crown as Miss Ohio in the Miss USA competition but placed as first runner-up. After finishing in the top five at the Miss World pageant, she moved into modeling, working first in the Chicago area and later in NYC. By 1989, Berry had begun the transition to performing when she was appropriately cast as a teenage model in the short-lived ABC sitcom “Living Dolls”. Guest work in other comedy series followed before she was able to convince Spike Lee she could handle the demanding role of a crack addict in his “Jungle Fever” (1991).
Delivering a harrowing performance in that film, Berry proved she was more than just a beauty. Finding roles that challenged her abilities, however, proved more daunting. She was cast as a femme fatale in “Strictly Business” and Damon Wayans’ stripper girlfriend in “The Last Boy Scout” (both 1991) before portraying a career woman who falls for Eddie Murphy in “Boomerang” (1992) and a headstrong post-Civil War woman in the titular role of “Queen”, a CBS miniseries, based on the book by Alex Haley. Berry then landed the role of a sultry secretary in the live-action “The Flintstones” (1994), winning the part after Sharon Stone rejected it. As a former drug addict struggling to regain custody of her son in “Losing Isaiah” (1995), the actress showed she could handle more serious fare, holding her own opposite powerhouse co-star Jessica Lange. Her hard-as-nails flight attendant was one of the few high points of the otherwise run-of-the-mill “Executive Decision” (1996), and she once again broke racial barriers as the spouse who finds herself framed for murder in “The Rich Man’s Wife” (also 1996). Berry looked lovely but seemed miscast in the lead of the TV miniseries “The Wedding” (ABC, 1998), set in the upper middle class black milieu of Martha’s Vineyard in the 1950s. She fared better as an intelligent woman raised by activists who gives an older politician (Warren Beatty) a new lease on life in “Bulworth” and as the singer Zola Taylor, one of the three wives of pop singer Frankie Lymon, in the unfortunately overlooked biopic “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” (both 1998).
In 1999, Berry was able to realize her life-long dream of portraying the singer-actress who broke racial barriers by becoming the first black woman to nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award in the HBO biopic “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge”. Although both Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston had expressed a desire to play Dandridge in a film biography, Berry got there first, not only delivering a career-enhancing performance that netted her several awards, including an Emmy, but also serving as one of the producers of the project as well. The following year, she took sci-fi fans by “Storm” playing a beautiful mutant in Bryan Singer’s big-screen version of the Marvel comic “X-Men”. Her success was overshadowed a bit when she was involved in a car accident and left the scene to go to the hospital for treatment, leading to stories in the tabloid media. The actress pleaded no contest and settled a civil lawsuit out of court.
In 2001, Berry was reduced to being nothing more than decorative in the unspectacular thriller “Swordfish”, a fact made all the more clear when she appeared topless for the first time in her career. The gratuitous scene did little for the film’s plot, but it generated copy (including unfounded rumors that she got a $500,000 bonus to do the scene) and helped keep her in the spotlight. Later that same year, she delivered a brutally honest and moving performance as a struggling waitress coping with a husband on death row and an overweight child in “Monster’s Ball”. Downplaying her looks and tearing into a rare dramatic role that challenged her, Berry won critical plaudits for her work, which included a three-minute-long love scene with co-star Billy Bob Thornton. Her performance generated buzz, yielded some prizes from groups like the National Board of Review and the Screen Actors Guild. In March, she made history by becoming the first black woman ever to earn a Best Actress Academy Award.
Enjoying her newfound prominence in the industry, Berry accepted the role of Jinx in the 20th James Bond feature, “Die Another Day” (2002) opposite Pierce Brosnan’s Agent 007. As the first A-list, Oscar-winning Bond girl in a generation, Berry was trumpeted in the role from the moment she began filming to the day the movie was released; she even gamely paid homage to the series’ roots by appearing in a tangerine bikini reminiscent of Ursula Andress’ in “Dr. No.” And while Berry’s performance was not necessarily Oscar-bait, she did display a strong chemistry with Brosnan as his equal in both espionage and in bed, and a spunk that inspired MGM to make plans to launch a spin-off film starring her character. After completing that role, she segued to “X2” (2003), the sequel to “X-Men” in which she reprised her role as Storm, a part which was expanded somewhat to suit her award-winning status. Nevertheless, rumors of friction between her and director Bryan Singer circulated and Berry did not participate in the massive press push for the blockbuster, putting her role in future sequels in question. Later that year she starred in the horror thriller “Gothika” (2003), playing Miranda Gray, a doctor in a mental institute who becomes incarcerated in her own hospital after seemingly becoming possessed and murdering her husband. Berry provided a convincing and relatable presence in the stylish and atmospheric but otherwise clichéd and implausible film.
After weathering yet another public split with a spouse—this time her husband, singer Eric Benet, with the split blamed on his sex addiction and serial infidelity (Berry publicly vowed on “Oprah” to never marry again—the actress took on the role of Batman’s popular comic book villainess/paramour “Catwoman” for the 2004 film that departed from the original Selina Kyle character and cast Berry as Patience Phillips, a shy, repressed woman whose death earns her feline powers from a mystical cat so that she may avenge herself. Although Berry’s spectacular body—showcased in flesh-friendly skintight leather outfits—and her appropriately cat-like attitude at the whip-wielding Catwoman were appreciated, the film was otherwise a dismal loser all around, including Berry’s inauthentic portrayal of meek Patience.
Surprisingly Berry’s next genuinely impressive performance was for television when she appeared in the Oprah Winfrey-produced ABC telepic “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (2005), an adaptation of the popular Zora Neale Hurston novel in which Berry played Janie Crawford, a iconoclastic, free-spirited woman whose unconventional mores regarding relationships upset her 1920s contemporaries in her small community. Meanwhile, she lent her voice to Cappy one of the many mechanical beings to inhabit the animated feature, “Robots” (2005). She next revived Storm for the third installment of the series, “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), directed by Brett Ratner. This time, the mutants face a peculiar choice after a cure for mutations is found: retain their uniqueness and remain isolated from society or give up their strange powers and become human. Meanwhile, Berry began shooting “Perfect Stranger” in early 2006, a crime thriller about a woman who goes undercover on the Internet to investigate a friend’s murder.
- Bio of Halle Berry courtesy Yahoo! Movies
News, Notes and Reviews
While promoting X-Men 3 at the Cannes International Film Festival, actress Halle Berry addressed the subtleties of racism in Hollywood with Australian Entertainment News
In the article Berry expresses her ‘extreme passion’ about the film’s message, saying, “I am not complaining but there is a little thing called racism that this movie X-Men speaks about that, honestly, people like me still suffer from on some level.”
Berry went on to say that if she were to audition for the role of a middle-class, middle-aged mother, producers may assume her husband would also have to be African American. Her children would also have to be black, which she said some producers would fear may change the dynamics of the story.
“I am not implying that Hollywood is racist, but racism is so subtle that people sometimes won’t even realize…”
“I still face that; I still struggle with that in Hollywood today.”
Despite winning an Oscar, Berry indicated that she still has to fight to gain acceptance…