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A day after getting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Oscar winner Halle Berry was still radiating with the glow of someone who knew that while that moment would remain forever wonderful, eventually her name would be pooped on by some stray dog or spit upon by one of the more eccentric locals.
“Yeah, someone reminded me as I kissed the star that crack heads and drug addicts would be all over this,” Berry said while giggling. “And I’m like did you have to remind me?”
Berry’s spontaneous and emotional gesture during that ceremony speaks volumes about where she’s been as an award-winning actress and producer, as well as where she’s headed as a middle-aged woman. Since becoming the first African-American woman to win a best actress Oscar in 2002 for “Monster’s Ball,” Berry has been spit on by her unfaithful ex-husband Eric Benet, whom she divorced in 2005 after only four years of marriage.
And she’s been pooped on, too, by critics who almost unanimously panned her post-Oscar efforts “Gothika” and “Catwoman.”
It’s enough to make anyone a bit insecure.
But now that she’s 40, Berry not only has a new a film — “Perfect Stranger,” which hits theaters Friday — but a new attitude as well.
“I would say a magical thing happened on when the big 40th birthday came,” said Berry, dressed in a little black mini dress and with four-inch black patent leather open-toe heels. “I felt like a light kind of just went off, and maybe that’s because I felt like at 40 I had the right to say and be who I wanted to be, say what I wanted to say and accept what I didn’t want to accept. Maybe it was just me that felt the shift, but I do think I’ve gotten wiser and learned lots of lessons.”
Getting wiser, letting go
Berry, kind and generous to a fault, has learned that the only person she can really count on 24/7 is herself. She’s learned that she shouldn’t ever relive her past in the press because some things — — might make for some awkward and distressing moments during press junkets. She’s learned the value of consistency. Berry, who is twice married and twice divorced, has said publicly that she’s through with marriage and apparently she means it.
And, perhaps the most important lesson she’s learned over the years is that she can’t get caught up in what people might think about her.
“Yeah, I’m getting there, slowly but surely,” Berry said wistfully. “It started when I turned 35, but at 40 it doesn’t matter what they say. Do they really care? Nobody goes home wondering what Halle Berry did and said.”
That might be true, but when you’re considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful women, tongues are gonna wag regardless. Throughout her career Berry’s looks have been her biggest asset and, at times, her biggest curse.
Emmy-winning casting director Robi Reed jumpstarted Berry’s feature film career by offering her a role in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” in 1991. Reed said she knew then that Berry was more than just a pretty face.
“Here’s the awesome thing about Halle,” Reed said. “In ‘Jungle Fever’ she played the role of Vivian, a crack head, opposite Sam Jackson. She could have easily asked to be considered for one of the other roles, but she wanted to do it and totally put herself into it and did a wonderful job. I knew then that she was going to be something special.”
‘She just blew us all away’In her younger days Berry would often deflect questions about her beauty getting in the way of her being taken seriously as an actress. And if you look at her career, with the exception of her Emmy-winning turn in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” Berry’s most celebrated performances have been in films in which she’s glammed down. That was the case in “Losing Isaiah,” her first meaty dramatic lead, and again in” Monster’s Ball.”
“Taking that role showed just how gutsy she is,” said her “Monster’s Ball” costar Billy Bob Thornton. “I had no idea at the time that she had that kind of performance in her. She just blew us all away with her performance and her willingness to play such an unglamorous character.
“But I’ll tell you one thing. She still looked good without an ounce of makeup on.”
Berry’s far more fetching in “Perfect Stranger,” a thriller in which she plays Rowena Price, an investigative reporter infiltrating an ad company in hopes of nailing the suspected killer (Bruce Willis) of a childhood friend. Director James Foley couldn’t stop singing Berry’s praises during the recent junket to promote the film.
“She was meant to play this part,” he said. “She has an incandescent beauty that radiates inside and out. No matter what she does, you don’t judge her. She’s 98 percent likeable. She knows she’s beautiful and takes it as a fact, but doesn’t define herself in that way.”
Sure enough Berry, the offspring of a white mother and an African-American father, is comfortable in that pretty skin.
“I think that also comes with being 40,” she said. “I’ve become really comfortable with my sexuality and I don’t make excuses for it anymore. It’s a part of being a woman and it’s what empowers us when we’re smart enough to know how to use it. The character of Ro certainly knew how to use it and I think I’ve been learning as I’ve gotten older. I’ve become comfortable with that side of who I am. In the beginning I used to have to downplay it because I wanted to be taken more seriously as a thespian and as an artist and as an actor, so I played crack heads to disguise myself.”
Golf, screenwriting — Halle does it allThe real Halle Berry is a drug-free Cleveland native who avoids the Hollywood scene like the Bird Flu. She’s the kind of person who makes everyone in the room feel like they matter. She’s a woman who loves shoes, her dogs, her “really cute boyfriend” model Gabriel Aubry, and golf, even though she hates the clothes.
“Can someone, somewhere come up with some really cute outfits that I can wear? I hate the clothes,” she said.
She’s also a talented writer who was editor of her high school newspaper and briefly studied journalism in college before heading off to Chicago to become a model. Berry has even completed a couple of screenplays that she hopes to produce some day if she “gets the courage.”
“One is a comedy,” Berry says. “I’ve realized I have to write one for myself because that’s the only way I’m going to get one! So, I wrote that. One is a thriller and the other one is only half done.”
And even though she’s had her share of PR mishaps—the dual divorces from Benet and first husband David Justice, that messy auto accident back in 2000 in which she fled the scene, and having to dodge all those stones thrown at her after “Catwoman,” Berry has always been able to bounce back with grace and dignity. She doesn’t shy away from the “hard” questions.
“I’m fair game,” Berry says. “People ask me the unthinkable questions and I’m constantly asked personal questions and things that I don’t really want to talk about but I know the name of the game so there have been certain times where I’m willing to disclose certain aspects of my personal life — especially those that I think might help someone else.”
Ready to shed her famed locksBerry thinks that one of her upcoming films, “Nappily Ever After,” might help women with self-esteem issues. Berry will play a character who decides to shave her head after her hair starts falling out.
“As a woman we define ourselves by our hair,” she said. “And I know I always have my whole life. If my hair’s not right, then I’m just not right. And many days I won’t leave the house if my hair’s not right. So, I’m going to shave my head on screen and hopefully that can help women who are also slaves to their hair find some freedom from that bondage.”
Berry’s “Perfect Stranger” costar Giovanni Ribisi thinks that bald will become even more beautiful when Berry sheds her locks. He applauds her “fearlessness.” But chances are there will be some folks who will be pooping on her decision to take it all off. Guess what? It doesn’t matter. Even though her work is often validated by the responses of her fans — many of whom she says loved “Catwoman” — she won’t be adversely affected if they diss her buzz cut.
“I know every time — good or for bad — that I give 100 percent of what I have to give in that moment,” Berry says emphatically. “I make choices based on what’s happening in my life at that moment. Sometimes it’s what I need to do for personal reasons, sometimes for the art of it. So, knowing that I made decisions for the right reason, I can live with that no matter what the outcome.”
Miki Turner is a freelance TV producer/writer in Los Angeles. She can be reached at .