Halle Berry: on her roles, her regrets and her real-life nightmare.
Halle is curled up on the sofa in the living room of the exquisite new L.A. home she shares with her husband, Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice, recalling the day her manager called and read her the story that provoked the kind of widespread disgust that rarely unites Hollywood anymore.
"I was worried," she confesses, "but not for myself. My concern was David. I thought, 'What is he going to think? How is this going to affect him?'"
She needn't have worried, as she found out the moment she heard her husband's voice. "David called me in Africa where I was shooting Solomon and Sheba and I will never forget it," she says. "He said, 'Baby, don't even worry. This guy can't touch you.' He was so supportive, so loving. He didn't question me about it. He didn't say is this or that true? All that mattered was that I was okay. He said, 'Halle, this man is really sad. I don't want you worrying.' From that day on, it never bothered me."
In fact, Halle seems today neither harmed nor hardened by the whole ugly ordeal, not the dentist's lurid allegations nor the lawsuit he filed against her - and lost - claiming she owed him $80,000.
Though her legal fees exceeded $50,000, Halle refused to settle the suit, which the court dismissed in October saying the dentist did not prove any of his claims that any money he may have given the actress when they dated was, in fact, a loan. "I work hard for my money and I can't think of a better way to spend it than to protect my character," says Halle adamantly, refusing to settle for less, refusing to settle out of court.
Today, with the legal nightmare behind her, the 26-year-old actress is getting some much-needed rest. After months of exhaustive moviemaking, months during which she teetered on the verge of giving in to some very intense emotions which she had to excavate in order to portray the role, she is happy to have some time to relax and cool out.
As she prepares for a whirlwind publicity tour for her upcoming films - Solomon and Sheba for Showtime and Losing Isaiah for Paramount - Halle says she and David are enjoying precious time together, splitting their days between their home in Atlanta ("That's where we're spending Christmas") and their home in L.A. ("We're flying back New Year's so we can spend our anniversary driving up the coast - Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco").
It will be a much-needed holiday. To say that the filming of either movie was tough on Halle would be an understatement. Losing Isaiah was particularly hard on her because she identified with her character's desolation, a soul once lost in crack addiction now trying to find herself again in the fight to win back the baby she abandoned.
"To evoke the kind of emotion I needed for this part, I had to dig up my own pain and relive the things that have hurt me so deeply in my life," she recalls. "That was a very vulnerable place to be. There were days I felt like I was right on the edge of sanity and insanity."
To be sure, Halle's life contains enough anguish for any actress to draw on as motivation - her abandonment as a child by her father ("He was an alcoholic who abused my mother"); her confusion over her racial identity ("When you're an interracial child, children can be cruel"); years of mentally and physically abusive relationships with men she let use her because she was so desperate to be loved ("I had to hit rock bottom before I stopped it. My nickname used to be Boo-Boo because I'd ask my friend, 'Who do these guys think I am, Boo-Boo The Fool?'"); and, finally, the frightening way she learned she was a diabetic ("I collapsed on a TV set and went into a coma").
Losing Isaiah was also the cause of the most excruciating physical pain she has ever known. For her screen test, Paramount chose a heartrending scene in which the actress had to cry hysterically. "And they made me do it over and over - at least 50 times," she says.
By the 51st take, "my eyes felt as if someone was sticking knives in them," recalls Halle, whose manager rushed her to the doctor's office where she was told three things: 1) her cornea was scratched, 2) painkilling drops weren't an option because they could damage her eyes permanently, and 3) for the next two days she would be in agony.
"The doctor told me there was no pain greater than the one I was going to endure that I could live to talk about," she recalls. "He was right."
When she finished Losing Isaiah, Halle flew to Morocco against the advice of industry insiders, where she spent three months shooting Solomon and Sheba for Showtime. "So many people told me, `You can't do TV if you expect to be a movie actress,"' she explains. "I said, `Listen, the same rules that apply to Julia Roberts don't apply to me. Black actresses don't have the same choices as White actresses."'
But it wasn't just her desire to work that made Halle accept the TV role. She had another far more compelling reason. "The Queen of Sheba was Ethiopian," she says, "yet this is the first time a person of color has ever played the lead in a major biblical production. The way I see it, when Gina Lollobrigida did the movie the first time, it was an injustice."
She stops, stares out at the palm trees surrounding her backyard pool and sighs. Halle is well aware that talking about racism in Hollywood ("On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 12") is dangerous business. But she doesn't see it as a choice. She sees it as an obligation - to her people, her profession, but most of all to herself, the child of a Black father and a White mother.
In the struggle between her Black and White selves, Halle has chosen Black. And with that choice, she has accepted the responsibility it brings.
"I've taken a lot of heat from my own people for saying it was time for us to do something other than Boyz 'N the Hood," she says, "but I think I've been misunderstood. I'm not downing us for making those stories; they need to be told. We need to tell the full range of our stories, not just the ones about violence and poverty and pain. We need movies that show Black folks in all their dimensions, movies that portray us as the loving, complex, multifaceted people we are."
That kind of thinking had a lot to do with why Halle left the now infamous Whoopi Goldberg Friars Club roast "as soon as I got the gist of what was going on."
"I couldn't laugh; I didn't find it funny," she says of the collection of racial "jokes" that shocked a shockproof community. "And as a Black woman who struggles with racism every day, who has White men tell me to my face they won't see me for a role because I'm Black, I couldn't find it in myself to sit there and pretend to find it funny."
She pauses, stares out across the room, a look of doubt clouding her flawlessly beautiful face. "I didn't want to speak out about it because the last thing I want to do is tear down another Black woman," she finally says quietly. "But I can't ignore how it made me feel. Just as I respect Whoopi as a Black woman, I have to respect myself as a Black woman. And that means standing up for what I believe to be right. That night, I said what's right for me is to get the hell out of here."
And back home to David, whom she wed two years ago in the wee hours of New Year's morning and whom she calls "my soulmate, my rock, my prince on a white horse." Not that marriage has been all romance and bliss. On the contrary, says Halle: "It's an everyday job. I've learned if you want it to work, you have to respect it. And that means it has to come first, before everything else in your life."
Hers does. Which is why she has made this promise to David: "No nude scenes," she says. "That's important to him and I have to respect his feelings because I know there is no way I could watch him do the things I do on film. I couldn't stand to see him kissing somebody else. So, if all I have to do is say, `Okay, I won't take off my top,' that seems like a small price to pay for all the love and support he gives me."
It's the kind of love and support, says Halle, that sometimes takes her breath away. Like the letter he wrote her not long ago. "Like a lot of men, David can sometimes not be really open with his feelings," she confides. "But one day he handed me this love letter and the part of himself he opened up in it was so special to me because I know how hard it is for him to be vulnerable. He was so real, so vulnerable, in expressing what our marriage means to him that, after I read it, all I wanted to do was be superwife."
Which, she acknowledges, is no small challenge when you are newlywed and constantly separated. Ironically, says Halle, at times she has felt that her most intimate connection to David is the times they were apart.
"It sounds funny but there's a certain closeness you get when you're separated," says Halle, who had a $4,500 phone bill the first month she spent in Africa. "You're forced to rely on your trust and your ability to communicate because all you have is the telephone. You can't get distracted with bodies and sex. You have to deal with each other intellectually and emotionally. And when you do come together, it's just so sweet."
It doesn't get much sweeter than last New Year's Day, their first anniversary. "We were on St. Bart's and we had our own little villa with our own private pool," she reminisces. "We were outside swimming naked and there was such a sense of joy and accomplishment because we were more in love than the day we got married."
Professionally, her life is equally full. She has formed her own production company, has a deal to star in a Disney-funded movie, Eden Close, based on Anita Shreve's novel of the same name, and is said to be the favorite to star as Dorothy Dandridge when and if a film of her life is made.
"I can honestly say I'm happy with my life," she muses, "and there were so many days when I wondered if I'd ever be able to say that."
With those days far behind her, is there anything at all she would change? "I wouldn't care so much about what other people think of me," Halle answers, reflecting on the growth her trial by media fire accelerated and intensified. "I'd just concentrate on who I am, what I stand for, what I'm about. I'm not there yet, but I'm on my way."
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|Author:||Randolph, Laura B.|
|Article Type:||Cover Story|
|Date:||Dec 1, 1994|
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