Brand-new interview with Hollywood superstar Halle Berry, who has just landed a huge deal with Netflix for her directorial debut ‘Bruised’. Halle Berry has been celebrating signing a multi-million dollar deal with the streaming giant for her directorial debut feature ‘Bruised’. The Hollywood superstar premiered the movie – which she also stars in at the Toronto International Film Festival [TIFF] 2020. The film follows the story of an MMA fighter no longer in their prime looking for redemption.
Based on a screenplay written by Michelle Rosenfarb, the movie also stars UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, who Halle trained with to prepare for the role. Halle took part in a virtual chat as part of TIFF where she spoke about her excitement over the great reaction she has had to her first outing as a director.
She also took a look back on her glittering career to date and spoke about her journey from model to Oscar winner. Halle also revealed she finds meditation helpful as she navigates her way through life and that her kids keep her grounded. Let’s learn more about this beauty…
Beverly Hills Magazine: First of all, congratulations on making your directorial debut with ‘Bruised’. What was it about this film that made you invest so deeply in it as an actor and director?
Halle Berry: Well when I first read this script, over three or four years ago now, it wasn’t written for someone like me. It was written for a 25-year-old white, Irish Catholic girl. So I knew ‘as written’ could not be me. But what I loved about the story was it was a classic fight film, which throughout history people love to root for the underdog, they love a good fight film.
I loved the fracture and brokenness of this character and I love to see a film that’s about redemption. I want to see the human spirit soar, I want to see someone rise about obstacles and still be standing at the end of the day. And I think that’s what most people relate to, because we all struggle in that way at some point in our life. We’re all struggling to survive and get it right and show up for ourselves and for our family.
So there were so many things about it that felt like what I instinctively knew but my job now was to figure out how I could convince the producers who had the rights to this movie, how I could convince them that they should let me re-imagine it for a middle-aged black woman [laughs] and how I could play this fighter and how I could tell this story. That was a journey.
And once they told me after I sort of came up with my pitch and how I would rearrange it and how I would reshape the world and the characters and the neighborhood I would set it in. Then when they agreed, ‘Ok we will rearrange the whole story and let you star in it, in this world that you have created – now we have to get a director.’
And so they charged me with going out and finding someone who would embrace this vision and who I thought could actually bring it to life. And so I diligently did that and I spoke to accomplished directors, first-time directors, the gamut and after that process, I finally realized that while I respected all of them, some of them didn’t understand it and didn’t relate to the material and some did relate but they didn’t see it quite the way I saw it.
And I realized through the prodding of a very close friend of mine, Elaine Goldsmith Thomas, one night I was talking to her and I just said, ‘Nobody understands what’s in my head.’ And she said, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’ And I thought, ‘Me?’ I mean I’d been thinking about directing and I was in the process of writing a short and I wanted to but I thought, ‘This is too big of a role, I can’t first-time direct and star in this big role, this is crazy.’ And she said, ‘Sure you can, of course, you can, nobody understands it as you do, no-one loves it as you do.’
Beverly Hills Magazine: It’s good to have friends like that.
Halle Berry: Yeah, we need friends like that. It’s like, ‘Yes you can, yes you can, reach higher, believe in yourself, of course, you can.’ And I slept on it overnight and I woke up in the morning thinking, ‘Yes I can!’ I knew that I was going to work harder than I’d ever worked in my entire life on a character and the last thing I wanted was for all of that work to be for naught and to mistakenly fall into the hands of a visionary that didn’t quite see it how I saw it.
And what a disaster, what a let on, what a failure that would feel like to me. And once I embraced that concept, I then had to go to the producers and I had to pitch myself as now the director. And to my surprise, they said, ‘Yes’ and there I was, off to the races.
Beverly Hills Magazine: And you have struck a massive deal with Netflix to stream this film – How does it feel?
Halle Berry: [laughs] You know I’m blown away. And I’m so grateful to the festival [TIFF] because when Cameron [Bailey] first saw the movie he reached out right away and said how proud he was and he invited us to show it at the festival. And I think it was that buzz that got people interested, which then led us to Netflix and I can’t stress enough the importance of festivals and especially this festival. And I’m just very grateful that Cameron saw that.
Our movie is a work in progress, we took a shot at submitting it to the festival but we still have work to do on it. So to get it bought at this early stage is a thrill. It’s a thrill!
Beverly Hills Magazine: What was the transition like from acting to being a director for the first time? Were you nervous?
Halle Berry: I’ll tell you this. I was scared sh-tless. Of course! Anybody that tells you, any director will tell you that they’re scared going in. And if they don’t say that they’re not telling you the truth. Every director I have talked to that I’ve ever known tells you. And I think having fear and having worry is healthy. If you’re not having some sense of worry then I don’t think you really care, I don’t think you care about doing your best.
And as an actor, I always feel that way. I always have a healthy amount of fear and wanting to do my best and hoping that I’m going to find it. Sometimes it’s elusive so you just hope that you can tap into that creativity to put out what you’re feeling inside.
So yeah, while I’ve worked on movies for 30 years, I hadn’t been behind the camera before, I didn’t get to make all the decisions. I didn’t have to choose all the actors. I didn’t have to make all the decisions that a director makes, but I trusted that I would be able to do that and I would fall back on my 30 years of being in the business and being on movie sets.
But the easiest part was I think was working with actors. Because being an actor, I know the language, I know what to say, I know how to communicate with actors and being an actor, I’ve had some directors completely not know how to talk to actors and they almost derail performances. I’ve seen it happen. And it’s happened to me many times. So I was very comfortable speaking with actors. I love actors, I love acting and I loved being a part of watching them create their characters and help them where I could and help shape what they were doing. It was the most exciting and exhilarating part for me, for sure.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Is it true you broke your ribs making this? And you kept filming with the injury?
Halle Berry: [laughs] I did. I was like, ‘Nah, we’ve gotta keep going, we can’t stop.’
Beverly Hills Magazine: Let’s go back to the beginning, in 1986 you were the first African American in the miss world competition, and then you decided to move into acting. What were you looking for in the acting world that you couldn’t find in modeling?
Halle Berry: I think I was looking for a voice. I was looking to find an outlet where I could express what I had to say, explore what I had to say. And initially, it truly wasn’t what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a journalist. That’s what I thought I would do. And I thought I would travel the world and report on world news, that’s what I thought I would do.
So acting sort of happened as I like to say many things in my life, a sort of ‘let the universe set forth’ sometimes what I should be doing.
And it happened with my directorial debut and it happened when I started. I sort of take the cues around me and I don’t always follow the path that I had set for myself but I follow the path that is sometimes set before me. And that has served me really well in my life.
Beverly Hills Magazine: It’s interesting you say you wanted to travel the world and you got to do that but in a different way?
Halle Berry: Right.
Beverly Hills Magazine: One of your breakthrough television roles was on ‘Living Dolls’ as a teen model and your breakthrough film role was a woman with a drug addiction in spike lee’s ‘Jungle Fever’ – a big difference in roles. Can you break down what happened between that first tv gig and your first feature film role?
Halle Berry: Well, my first real acting gig was very close to where I was at that time. I was modeling at that time. It wasn’t a big stretch for me. I always felt like I was a token on that show. I never really had much to do. I didn’t have a real character or part to play. So while I was grateful for that opportunity, the creative side of me felt like I was missing something.
So I knew early on that in order to be taken seriously as an actor I would have to shed this physical self and sort of put on display my acting skill and the things that I’d been working on and the things that I knew lived inside of me and the contribution that I knew I could make. So when the film opportunity came along with Spike and ‘Jungle Fever’, initially they wanted me to read for the part of his beautiful wife, which of course I was honored to do and honored to go and meet Spike.
But when I read the script, I immediately thought to myself that this is a great part that I really want to be the crack up. That sounds like the part that I can sink my teeth into, I can start to shed this physical self that had sort of been defining me at that time and to show a different side of who I was. And luckily for me, you know, Spike will forever be my special person because Spike gave me a chance to do that.
I can’t say he saw it right away, but eventually, he was able to see that I could play that other kind of character and I could actually bring some life. And he also realized that you know, what does one look like who is affected by crack? It doesn’t discriminate. Crack affects whoever it’s going to affect. So it was a good opportunity to sort of bring light to that as well.
Beverly Hills Magazine: How did your strategy of going against taking on ‘pretty girl’ roles shift how you were perceived in the industry but also how did it shift the way you understood your own potential?
Halle Berry: Well I have always known that I am more than the shell that I walk around in. I had a lot of, not unlike most young girls, but I had hardship growing up. I grew up in an environment where I didn’t always feel like I fit in. So I knew that I was full of substance and full of stories to tell. And I knew that I had to somehow find a way to sort of getting other people outside of seeing me only as of the shell that I’m walking around in.
So my film debut in Spike’s movie playing that character really set my career off in a good direction. Not to say that I didn’t play roles that played into my physical self after that, but I felt from that moment on that I could be seen as more than just a pretty face, more than a model turned actor. I felt like I showed something different about myself and about my artistry and my talent that people took notice of.
Beverly Hills Magazine: You were a part of some really iconic movies in what was like a golden age for black actors and creators in films like comedies like ‘Boomerang’ to biopics like ‘Why do fools fall in love?’ what was it like to be a part of that moment? Which sort of went away and is now back again?
Halle Berry: Yeah, I remember having a feeling when we shot ‘Boomerang’ that we were slightly before our time. You know, I don’t think at that time the industry was really ready for a movie like that. And to see black people in that way. I think now you look back at it and you think, ‘Oh of course. But we were slightly ahead of our time. And I knew that we were a part of pushing the envelope forward, that we were a part of making a way out of no way or finding a new way to tell our stories and to represent ourselves. And it did feel really powerful at that time. And I knew that it would matter more one day than it did that day. If you know what I mean.
Beverly Hills Magazine: You’re on social media so you might have seen this but ‘b*a*p*s’ has a cult following? Those iconic outfits? It wasn’t necessarily appreciated by those who wrote the reviews at the time but there is a whole audience that grew up with that movie that loves it?
Halle Berry: Again I think this kind of movies to the general public, like you, said people who might be reviewing them, they didn’t understand the culture enough to know how relevant those movies were and now they do and that’s why to this day people come up to me all the time and I know what they’re going to say when they say, ‘You know what my favorite movie is?’ I almost always know that it’s going to be ‘B*A*P*S’. Almost always. And I know why. I really understand the feel-good nature of that kind of filmmaking and that kind of film. So I get it.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Let’s talk about ‘Monster’s ball’ – what attracted you to this role and challenging story?
Halle Berry: You know I’m always most drawn to characters that are fractured and broken, who are fighting to survive, sort of the underdog or the misunderstood character. The dark horse character in the race. I’m always drawn to that and I think it probably speaks to in many ways some of my own brokenness and my own life experience.
I think every time I get to act in those kinds of roles I get to have a cathartic experience and I get to have some healing from my own self and I get to share parts of myself that are hidden, that maybe I don’t always present them so forwardly. So it’s a great chance for me to dive in there and do some work and I’m always attracted.
So when Leticia Musgrove came along, right away, I read characters like this and go, ‘Yes, me please’. I know exactly where the pain and the torture of this character lives. It’s just something I innately know. And I fought really hard for that movie because again, someone said, I think Lee Daniels at the time who I love dearly, said, ‘No she can’t play that, no she doesn’t look like that character.’ He really didn’t get it. But Marc Forster the director really fought hard for me and believed again, like Spike, ‘What does one look like who is in this position who is suffering? Who has been marginalized in this way? What do they look like really? ‘So I’m really fortunate that I got a chance to bring that character to life.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Do you re-watch movies you’ve been in?
Halle Berry: No never. Only one time before the press junket because we have to talk about it, so we have to know what’s in the movie and then I watch it at the premiere and then never again. I never go back and watch them. That’s the hardest thing to do and I had to discover actually how hard that is with my directorial debut. I had to watch myself over and over and over. That’s been one of the hardest aspects of this actually.
Beverly Hills Magazine: ‘Monster’s ball’ was obviously a huge success but there is some talk now about there being a ‘white saviour’ angle to the film that doesn’t sit so well today. Has your perspective of the movie changed at all?
Halle Berry: No, I don’t think so. I think I stand behind everything I ever said about it. I felt that was a very important story to tell, I thought it was a character that I very much related to and I never looked at Billy Bob [Thornton], honestly in that story, as the ‘White Saviour’.
I looked at it as these two characters needing love like they needed the air to breathe and being a product of a black father and a white mother, living in a world of both, I really understand what it’s like just to love just for love’s sake. And in that movie, those two characters just needed to be loved and where that love came from I think was obsolete. It was more about getting what they needed as human beings – and I still stand behind that today.
That’s always how I saw those two characters. It wasn’t about black and white, it was about love and need. And we don’t always know where we will find that. I’ve always been an advocate for not putting limits or boundaries around where and how you find love. Love is love and we can’t always dictate where we find that or where that comes from. But one thing I know for sure is we all have the need and we all search love out. It’s part of being human. It’s part of what makes us feel alive, and helps us to grow and evolve.
Beverly Hills Magazine: You won an Oscar for your performance in ‘Monster’s ball’ – can you talk about that moment?
Halle Berry: First of all, it was a moment that I only know what happened because I watched the playback. It was one of these out-of-body experiences that I had. I had really no real belief that I would win.
At that time, the Golden Globe was the precursor for the Oscar and I didn’t win the Golden Globe so then I realized, ‘Well I’m surely not going to win but I’m going to have a great time and be so proud that I’m there.’ So when my name got called, I really didn’t have a speech. I didn’t know what I was going to say and sort of my subconscious took over and I said what was on my heart.
Because of that I do feel like that moment mattered. So many people have come up to me over the years and they have told me how that moment shifted their thinking about what they could achieve, what they aspire to do, or what they believed they could do. They were touched by that moment. That is the value that I know is real. The heartbreak that I’ve spoken of that I think I have is because I really thought that that night meant that very soon after that other women of color, black women, would stand beside me. So now it’s been 20 years and no-one has and so it makes every time when Oscar time comes around, I get very reflective and I think, ‘Well maybe this year, maybe this year.’
And it has become heart-breaking that no one else has stood there. I think arguably there could have been other women who deserve to have been there that haven’t been there and it’s just heartbreaking. I would have hoped that in 20 years there would have been others that would be beside me.
Beverly Hills Magazine: How did winning the Oscar change things for you in your career and personally?
Halle Berry: Yeah, I mean awards are funny, I’ve learned, and I’ve talked to people who also have these statues. It certainly brings cache to your name, it brings credibility to your talent, and more people I think to know who you are, you know, so it’s great.
But at the same time, there’s an expectation that sits down on you when you start gathering these awards and sometimes it becomes an expectation that is hard for you to maneuver around. The truth is we don’t know what performances will garner awards. I know I’ve never gone into any film or character thinking, ‘This is a role that’s going to get me an award.’ I’ve never once thought that. So once you win an award, there’s no formula to ensure that one, you win another award, or that you get material worthy of another award. It’s not always within our control.
So the unfair expectation is once you win one, that you should continue to do that as if somehow you controlled the first time you won it – because you really didn’t.
As an artist, all you do is you choose a material that speaks to you for whatever reason, you show up and you do your very best, and then its up to God. Timing is left to so many other variables. So I’ve always been one who while I’m so grateful for that award and it changed my life in so many ways, I’ve tried really hard not to let that award define me. And I’ve tried really hard to stay as hungry as an actor as I always was.
I’ve tried hard to still take risks and chances because playing Leticia Musgrove was a risk. Many people said it would end my career and then I got the highest award of the industry. So I always wanted to keep those ideals intact that got me there. I had to be brave and fearless and make my own choices. I chose characters and roles that spoke to me even if others didn’t agree. I’ve had to live and die with my own decisions. That’s hard to do once you win the highest award of your industry.
Beverly Hills Magazine: So many more eyes are watching right?
Halle Berry: Yeah, and there is a lot more judgment and people questioning, ‘Why are you doing this?’ So you don’t have the freedom that you had before you start garnering awards. That’s kind of been my struggle with it, but I’ve tried really hard to stay true to myself. To still try to play characters that interest me, that force me to grow, that are different. I never want to play the same kind of character twice, get typecast. And sometimes that’s hard.
There hasn’t always been material to support the choices that I want to make either. So after that award I still had feelings of, ‘I’m still trying to forge a way out of no way’. I can’t say it got any easier after that award because it really didn’t.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Out of all your films, which one left the greatest impression on you and why?
Halle Berry: I get asked this question a lot and the truth is, I look at all of my films like children. Every single one of them has left an impression. Even the films that seem like they’ve been failures or they weren’t the films that people most talk about. I’ve learned something really valuable on every film set that I’ve walked on. I’ve learned something valuable from every character that I’ve brought to life. I’ve learned something from every director that I’ve worked with. So every experience to me has had great value.
So to choose what was more valuable than the next is like saying, ‘Which kid do I love more? My daughter or my son?’ Not possible. I love them the same. And all of my films have brought me something really wonderful that was a part of my growth and my evolution as an artist. Most importantly, as a woman. So I can’t answer that by just saying one. They’ve all been a part of my journey, and I think they’ve all been really necessary.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Do you feel like things have opened up more for black women and the roles that are out there?
Halle Berry: You know, I do feel like it’s changing. 20 years ago we were in a much different place than we are today – for sure. I struggled to find roles that inspired me, that allowed me to showcase my talent in any way, or to play wide ranges of what I knew I could play.
Today, 20 years later, I do see that things have changed. I mean look at the landscape, look at television, our best movies now I think are on TV and it’s full of color and it’s full of wonderful roles for women today that didn’t exist 20 years ago. So I know that things are changing. I’m really proud to be a part of the evolution, because I’m still here. I’ve got a good bit of my career hopefully still ahead of me to be a part of this sort of new frontier. It’s really exciting.
Beverly Hills Magazine: What advice do you have for other young women and women of color who are interested in entering the industry, who don’t want to just be typecasted or token?
Halle Berry: I’d say don’t allow yourself to be typecast and don’t operate as a token – say no. You have the right to say no. I would say create your own stories, write, direct, produce, create it for yourself. That’s certainly did this time around with ‘Bruised’ and a few other projects that I produced. So create, create, create. That is the power.
Additionally, imagine your own stories and don’t be denied, even if others don’t believe in the strength of your story, you believe in the strength of your story. And be relentless in your pursuit. Don’t take no, be the hardest working person in the room. And I believe with that philosophy you’re going to get to the other side of any obstacle that’s standing in your way.
Beverly Hills Magazine: You launched your own production company in 2014 -what inspired you to take creative control?
Halle Berry: You know, a desire to tell more stories about not only women but women of color. And realizing that if we don’t do that for ourselves chances are it wasn’t going to happen. I’m so inspired now to see so many women of color, black women, writing, producing, directing, telling our own stories from our own guise, our own lands, daring to do so. I’m also inspired by those who aren’t of color who are supporting those of color and helping them realize these opportunities and supporting them along the way. So it’s starting to feel better, it’s starting to feel better.
Beverly Hills Magazine: And now you can add directing to your list of talents?
Halle Berry: I feel like, jumping back to what I said earlier, when I first started my career, I can’t say that this is what I set out to do at this time to rewrite, star in and direct my first film. But it’s what was laid out in front of me, it’s what presented itself to me and what I’ve been able to do throughout my career I think is acknowledge the opportunity in the moment and go towards that – fearlessly towards that.
That’s what happened here. While directing was swirling around in my mind and I had projects I was thinking of, this happened to be what got presented and I happen to say ‘yes’ to it and I’m so so glad that I did.
Beverly Hills Magazine: What have you learned from other directors during your career?
Halle Berry: Well one lesson I learned, I learned this from Warren Beatty when I did ‘Bulworth’ with him, he also directed and starred in that movie. And I remember him talking about back then, as a director, your job is to not micromanage. It is to hire the people that you respect, that you believe hold your vision, and let them go do their jobs.
You know, be a benevolent leader, you have to trust in the people that you hire. I also learned and probably this is something that I’ve learned just from watching some of the best directors. You really get more out of people by leading with kindness and grace and appreciating everyone’s hard work. And by doing that, you create a group of people that will walk over hot coals for you and for your film. I think that’s the environment that I hope I created on ‘Bruised’, because I knew how important it was that everyone felt appreciated and valued and heard. They all got to put their artistry forth and that their creativity which was also going to be a part of this project.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Finally, with all you achieved throughout your career, how do you stay grounded, focused, and motivated?
Halle Berry: Well, I’m a big meditator, that’s always been very helpful in my life. It’s given me a chance to sort of check-in with myself and it’s redirected my path when I’ve felt like I’ve been going on a path that I haven’t wanted to be on. Meditation always brings me back to myself and helps me get clarity and helps me make some really tough decisions that I’ve had to make in my life.
And the last 12 years it’s been, my children. Since I became a mom, I guess there’s nothing more grounding than having children and being a mother. That’s kept me very centered, it’s kept me clear about what’s important in life and what’s not important in life. They’ve forced me to be the best version of myself, because I know they’re always watching. I’m always mindful of the ‘me’ that I’m allowing them to see, so I’ve become a better person as a result.
Beverly Hills Magazine: Well, we are so very honored to learn more about you and we wish you endless success in love, business, and family. God bless you.
Halle Berry: Thank you so much.