This story appears in the January 2003 issue of Playboy. Subscribe

Controversies and problems have dogged Halle Berry all her life. Her maternal grandparents shunned her family because her mother married an African American. She was elected prom queen but then was accused of stuffing the ballot box. When she was 22 she was told she had diabetes, but she mistakenly injected herself with insulin for years when other treatment options were available. Her marriage to baseball player David Justice in 1992 lasted four years and ended in public misery. In 2000 she was arrested for leaving the scene of an accident and was dubbed “Hit-and-Run Halle” by the press. After she married musician Eric Benét in 2001, he found himself in a tabloid as a sex addict seeking treatment. And when she received an Oscar for Best Actress last year for Monster’s Ball (becoming the first black woman to win), actress Angela Bassett said she wouldn’t take a role where she had to be a prostitute on film.

Controversies aside, she has fierce determination and a sense of where she’s going, and she has really great breasts.

Those breasts made their first public appearance in Swordfish, and their second in Monster’s Ball when she ripped open her blouse and told Billy Bob Thornton to take her. He did, and Berry took home an Oscar for the role.

Now Berry is rumored to be a member of the $20 million-per-film club. For the 36-year-old Berry, that might heal a lot of old wounds.

Born on August 14, 1966, Berry grew up in both Cleveland’s inner city and its suburbs, often confused about her identity and never quite fitting in. Her abusive, alcoholic father beat her older sister and mother and left the family when she was four. Her mother urged her to be an achiever to overcome racism. Berry became the president of her high school class, editor of the school newspaper, a cheerleader, a member of the honor society and, when she was 17, Miss Teen Ohio. That beauty pageant led to others – Berry placed prominently in the Miss Teen All-American, Miss USA and Miss World competitions. She went to Chicago to try modeling and study acting and later moved to New York, where she landed a role on the TV series Living Dolls. Her career was launched when Spike Lee cast her as a drug addict in Jungle Fever. In 1991 she played a femme fatale in the movie Strictly Business and an exotic dancer in The Last Boy Scout. She also worked on the TV show Knots Landing. In 1992 she starred opposite Eddie Murphy in the romantic comedy Boomerang.

A variety of films, both serious and silly, followed: The Flintstones, Losing Isaiah with Jessica Lange, Executive Decision, Race the Sun, Girl 6 and Baps. In 1998 she returned to TV for a miniseries, The Wedding. Then came the political satire Bulworth, with Warren Beatty. She played her idol in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and won a Golden Globe for Best Actress. In 2000 she worked with Hugh Jackman when she played the character Storm in X-Men. Berry appeared opposite John Travolta and Jackman again in the 2001 crime thriller Swordfish. In Die Another Day, the current James Bond film, she holds her own opposite Pierce Brosnan.

playboy sent Contributing Editor Lawrence Grobel to Vancouver, where Berry was finishing X-Men 2.

Wasn’t Jinx, your character in Die Another Day, originally written as a villain?
When I was hired she was. But she has changed – she’s not the villain anymore. In the beginning, Bond doesn’t know what she’s doing – he sees she’s carrying a gun and sneaking around, shooting at the same people he’s shooting at. He puts two and two together and realizes that they’re fighting for the same cause. She does for the U.S. what he does for England. She becomes Bond’s partner midway through the movie.

Was the character changed because of your Oscar? There are rumors you might become the first female Bond.
They have asked me if I’d be interested in doing another one. Or to do a spin-off with the character Jinx.

Jinx without James?
Yeah, just Jinx. We’ll see.

Who are your favorite Bond women?
My favorite – and I’m happy to pay homage to her – is Ursula Andress in Dr. No. It was the first one I saw.

That was the first James Bond movie – and Andress made it memorable when she emerged from the ocean in that bikini.
In this movie I get to bring that scene to life again. It’s pretty cool. Halfway through shooting it I thought, this is probably going to be career suicide. There’s no way I can win at this.

Who is your favorite Bond?
Until I saw Pierce’s first one, Goldeneye, I liked Sean Connery better than anyone else. But Goldeneye was an innovative, edgy Bond movie – one of the better ones. I gave a lot of that credit to Pierce. He brought something new and had huge shoes to fill. He has redefined Bond for himself.

Is he as sexy as your Monster’s Ball co-star Billy Bob Thornton?
Billy Bob is wild sexy; Pierce is another kind of sexy. He’s more put-together sexy. He’s got rugged good looks. With Billy Bob, you never know what he’s going to do or say – he’s unpredictable.

What is it about Billy Bob that women like? He isn’t good-looking.
There is something really open about him. He’s open about who he is, with all of his quirks and shortcomings. He’s funny. And he’s dangerous. Most women will say that can be sexy. He’s not predictable. We only had 21 days together, and each day was a surprise.

Angelina Jolie said she would beat up any woman who made eyes at her man. Was this a hint that their relationship was in trouble? I didn’t sense that. He was still wearing her blood, saying how much he loved and adored her every day, letting me hear the songs he wrote about her. I saw no signs. I was as shocked as anybody when I heard what was going on.

You appeared shocked when you won that Oscar. Do you remember the moment?
I probably had an out-of-body experience. Had I not seen the tape later, I wouldn’t remember even walking up there. I do remember looking at Russell Crowe, and him saying to me, “Breathe, mate.” Then I saw Denzel, and he had a light on his head. He was the only person I saw, for some reason.

Some observers thought that you wouldn’t win because you were too young. What were you thinking?
I thought Sissy Spacek was going to win. Diane Keaton was the first person to reach out and tell me she thought I’d done a great job, and that meant so much. Diane Keaton wrote me a letter. She told me she didn’t know if the Oscar brings out the best in anybody, so don’t feel defeated if you don’t win, just keep on your path.

How did it feel when both you and Denzel won on the same night?
As it was unfolding I felt a part of history. I never thought that would happen. After I won I thought, Oh God, Denzel’s not going to win. And I thought he would win before I would win. He’s done so many wonderful pieces over the years, it had to be his time. And it wouldn’t be both of us. That night we were standing there with our Oscars, and I said to him, “Now, Denzel? Am I worthy?” I’ve been wanting to work with him for so many years, it’s almost like a joke. He looked at me and laughed, like, “OK, kid, sure, uh-huh.” But I’ll keep trying.

Writer Ann Coulter wasn’t impressed by your win. She wrote: “It’s interesting that Berry makes such a big deal about being black. She was raised by her white mother who was beaten and abandoned by her black father. Clearly, Berry has calculated that it is more advantageous for her acting career to identify with the man who abandoned her rather than the woman who raised her.” Are you that calculating?
No, and I can’t even respond to that. It’s so ridiculous. To sit in judgment of another person like that is insane.

Before that night I even questioned whether it was really possible to achieve something like that in my lifetime. Nobody had ever done it, so why should I think it would be me?

You called your award a victory “for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened.” But Coulter claimed: “Yes, at long last, the ‘glass ceiling’ has been broken. Large-breasted, slightly cocoa women with idealized Caucasian features finally have a chance in Hollywood.”
She’s bitter. Poor woman. I know my win has made a difference. I wasn’t seeing that night with rose-colored glasses on, as in: Now that I’ve won it’s going to start to happen. But what that night did, and I know it’s true because hundreds of women of color – Indian, Asian, Spanish, black, actresses, medical students – have come up to me and said, “Because of that night I now have hope and the belief that if I work hard enough it can happen for me.” Before that night I even questioned whether it was really possible to achieve something like that in my lifetime. Nobody had ever done it, so why should I think it would be me?

If Coulter is bitter, how about Angela Bassett? I’m sure you’ve heard what she said, that she turned down Monster’s Ball because she didn’t want to play a prostitute on-screen. She said it was “such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.”
I don’t know what that’s about. She was at my party the night before. According to Lions Gate and Lee Daniels, who produced it, she was never offered Monster’s Ball.

She said she also wants an Oscar, but “it has to be for something I can sleep with at night.” How have you been sleeping lately?
I’m sleeping so wonderfully, looking at that baby every night before I go to bed. It’s such a personal choice, what we do as artists. I’m in a different place than she is, and that’s OK. We’re different people. It’s an individual journey. I’m proud of it. I sleep well at night.

Did she call you after saying those things?
I haven’t spoken to her.

Were you angry about it? Did it upset you?
It made me a little sad that she feels that way. I respect her opinion. But it’s sad that it’s become such a negative. I thought it was such a positive time for all of us, but maybe not everybody sees it that way. Maybe she didn’t like that I mentioned her name in my acceptance speech. But I was coming from a pure place of wanting to recognize those who I thought should have been there before me, or the ones I hope will get there.

Bassett wasn’t alone. Felicia Henderson, executive producer of Soul Food, said: “So many want to stand up and applaud Halle. But others say, 'Isn’t it sad that she had to be the sexual object of a white man?’ It shows that it’s a man’s world, with sexism and racism.”
It’s amazing that people want to make it about color, especially black people. We say we want to be viewed as equal and not let our color be an issue, yet we’re the first ones to say something about our color and our differences. I’ve never seen life through those eyes. I identify with being black because that’s how people identify me, because I don’t look very white. But as I go through life, I see people as people. I never thought it would be degrading to the black race or to myself to appear in a love scene with a white man. It’s acting, it’s art, it’s what it’s all about. To me Monster’s Ball was true; it could very well happen. I related to the character and the story. I grew up with a white mother, so it was normal to me. If it isn’t for someone else, I’m sorry.

How has the Oscar changed your life?
Professionally, I’m feeling for the first time that I’m just a woman, and that “black” isn’t preceding me. That feels great, and even if it’s fleeting, I’m in the moment. I’m being viewed as an actress who is worthy of a certain caliber of roles. It’s such a sense of accomplishment – that it happened to me, that I’d be the one to make this statement, to be chosen.

It’s also changed the caliber of your bank account: You reportedly make $20 million per movie now.
Hasn’t happened yet, but it might. It’s amazing. And that doesn’t happen to everybody who wins an Oscar, so I count my blessings. It’s put me on a whole other level in the industry.

In Monster’s Ball you and Billy Bob play two people who would never be together if you didn’t have the commonality of pain. Did you relate to that character?
Yes, very much, which is why I wanted to play her. To me she was real, she was human. She had a lot of the same insecurities I have and have had in my life. I didn’t judge her. I never saw her as a prostitute or any of the ways some people have tried to describe her. I saw her as a woman who was struggling, who was dealing with the cards that were dealt her in the best way she could. And who was going to win. I always knew she was going to win.

That controversial sex scene you shot with Thornton – didn’t the director promise you final cut on that scene, so if you went too far you could ask for a different edit?
When I read the script I knew that I had to do it. It was such an integral part of the movie, more than just a sex scene. I just hoped we could translate that onto the screen, the way we both saw it. But when they said I could have final cut, that certainly made me a lot freer to try things.

Your character was tortured, and you’ve said you love playing tortured souls. Why do you love it?
Because I’m tortured! I’m one of those tortured souls. I’m always interested in going to the depths of someone’s pain. I relate to pain. It’s a cathartic place for me to go, and through that I get to work out a lot of the pain in my own life.

Do you still have a lot of pain?
I think I must. I’m still trying to work it out. It doesn’t keep me from living a happy life, but going way back to my childhood, there’s a lot of pain that I’ve struggled to work through. Through my art I’m finding new ways to deal with it, process it, purge it, discard it, understand it.

Does a lot of that early pain stem from your biracial background?
I grew up in an inner-city black neighborhood. I was half-and-half, and that seemed to be an issue. Then when my mom moved up to the white suburbs, being black was a big issue.

For me to sit here and say, ‘I feel white,’ somebody would try to commit me. It’s not a choice you make.

Have you always identified with being black?
Yes. It’s not a choice you make. For me to sit here and say, “I feel white,” somebody would try to commit me. When people see me, nobody ever thinks I’m white. No person in my whole life has ever thought that I was white.

You’ve said that you felt like an outsider in high school.
Yes. And I tried really hard to fit in. So I was in every club, the president of my class, editor of the newspaper, in the honor society. I popped my wad at school all day trying to be Miss Everything.

Why? Was it racial?
I never felt equal. I thought that if I made the honor society they would know I was as smart as they were; if I ran the paper I’d control what’s in the paper and make it diverse; if I were a cheerleader I was going to be the captain.

The high school prom queen gig was a bitter experience – you were accused of stuffing ballots and wound up flipping a coin for the title. Why didn’t you just tell them to shove it?
I was too young to be that mature. I knew I hadn’t done what they said, and I wasn’t going to allow anybody to accuse me of something I didn’t do. If I walked away, in my mind, at the age of 16, that would have been conceding to some of the things they were saying, and they might think there was some truth to it.

Isn’t it hard to cry race when you seemed to have so much going for you?
It’s not crying race, it was because I felt like such an outsider that I was inspired to do all those things. I had to do those things in order to feel equal. Never superior. That just leveled me out. If I didn’t do all that stuff I would have felt inferior. Those things gave me a sense of worth and value in high school. I felt sometimes being black made me less; I was starting to buy into that philosophy. So when I could get the whole student body to vote for me for president, or I could be the head cheerleader, or control the newspaper, in my 14-, 15-, 16-year-old mind, I felt power. My mother told me, “Being a black woman, when you grow up, you’re going to have to be good at everything. So do it all.”

What was it like being raised by a single parent?
It was tough, and not just financially. She also had the social issues of being a white woman with little black kids. She felt discrimination. Her family disowned her for a while. She got a lot of the looks, sneers, stares and little comments.

When her family disowned her, that meant they didn’t want to see you either.

Did that get reconciled, or did you always feel distance from her side of the family?
I always felt distance. But when my grandmother was dying, she changed. It often happens when people are at the end of their lives – they start to see life as it really should have been. She was very remorseful.

How old were you when that happened? Twenty-six.

How did you feel about it?
I felt bitter growing up. I used to feel that maybe we weren’t good enough for Grandma.

What about your father’s side?
I was a little closer to my grandparents on my father’s side, but even there I felt really angry over the years, probably still do. My sister and I, we were black. And my father’s parents had a lot of animosity toward my mother – she was “that white this, that white that.” I felt a lot of pain for my mother.

You were four when your parents separated. How often did you see your father after that?
My father came back for a year in 1976, when I was 10. It was my mother’s attempt to reconcile because she felt we needed a father. It was the worst year of our lives. I’d been praying for my father, and when I got him I just wanted him to leave. My mother would cry; they would fight. It was scary. He was still an alcoholic. He almost killed our dog. He threw her against the dining room wall and she fell on the floor and didn’t get up right away – that’s an image that’s stayed in my mind. My father would beat my mother, beat my sister. But he never did that to me. So I had a lot of guilt and shame.

Did you see the beatings?

And did you ever try to stop your father?
No, and that is why I have a lot of guilt, because I would run. I never did a thing. When my sister would be in the room with the door shut, she’d be getting it with a belt. I would just freeze and be more afraid that it would happen to me than being able to help her. I grew up with a lot of guilt about that.

Was your sister ever resentful because you didn’t get hit?
Probably. I’m sure she must have been. I would have. “Why am I getting it and she’s not?”

Why your sister and not you?
My sister was outspoken and rebellious. I was meek and shy. I’d just slip around, do nothing, not kick up too much dust.

You lost your virginity at 17. Was it a good experience?
For me it was time. I don’t regret it one bit. It was with my first boyfriend – he calls himself “the original boyfriend.” That lasted until I was 20.

He talked you into trying out for beauty pageants. Do you regret that? Yes, in many ways, because it perpetuated my physical self a lot more than I ever wanted to. But it was also very significant in a way, because I gained a lot of confidence in myself. That confidence has served me throughout my life. So I got something meaningful out of it. But most of what the pageant was about was superficial.

It was the beauty pageants that led to modeling, then to commercials. How long did you model?
Three years.

What did you learn from being a model?
That I hated it and didn’t want to do it. There had to be a better way to make a buck! It was the most boring work I ever did. Not being able to have a say, being a human coat hanger. I didn’t feel good about that.

When you went to Chicago to become a model, you lived with a roommate who skipped out of her share of the rent, leaving you with a $1300 bill. You’ve said that was a turning point in your life, making you realize you were on your own.
Yes, and also I fell out with my mom. I didn’t speak to my mom for almost a year and a half. She got married and I wasn’t there. What happened was, I was really broke, I had zero dollars, and I called my mother, who didn’t want me to go to Chicago in the first place. She drove me, but she cried the whole way. When I hit rock bottom and my roommate left, I called my mom and asked her for a loan and she said no. My pride hadn’t allowed me to ask her until that point. It hurt. A year and a half later I realized that was the best thing she could have done for me, because I’ve been totally independent since then. I’ve never asked anybody for a dime.

Later you found out you were diabetic.
I didn’t know that until I moved to Los Angeles and was doing my first TV show, Living Dolls.

Were you scared when you found out?
I thought that I was going to die. When they said, “You have diabetes,” knowing nothing about it, I heard “cancer.” I was thinking, I’m 22, I’m just getting started. I was really afraid. But quickly got educated about what it was. went through a tumultuous time. I got on insulin right away when I shouldn’t have, so I was a slave to the shots, and to eating and trying to work. Later, I found a better way to manage it.

When you finally landed your first movie, it was as an addict in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. Did you finally feel like a serious actor?
I don’t know how seriously anybody took me, but it got me away from that beauty pageant model stigma, because that’s all I had done up until then. My first acting job was playing a model on television. So the movie gave me a chance to show a different side of myself. It also proved the kind of chances I was willing to take.

For Jungle Fever you interviewed real-life addicts and you didn’t bathe for 10 days prior to filming. For The Last Boy Scout you danced at a strip club in Hollywood. How important is it for you to do research?
If I’m playing a character that lives a life that I have no basis to relate to, then I have to go do something. When I did Jungle Fever, I’d never seen crack, a crack pipe or a crack addict. Once I got that part I went to a real crack den with an undercover policeman.

Do you plan to get out of the business before your face drops?
Yeah, that’s why I’m not worried about anybody feeling sorry for me when my face drops. I’ll be the first one to say, “Thank you, it’s been a nice life.” I wouldn’t want the pressure to compete. I will go find something else to do.

Would you ever consider surgery to keep your face from dropping?
No, I’m dead set against that.

Do you ever worry about your boobs sagging?
They sag now [laughs].

A lot of people credit the success of Swordfish to your boobs.
I don’t know what that says about the movie if that was the highlight, but I felt good doing it. I took all the comments, both good and bad, with a grain of salt. I faced my fears, I grew.

Didn’t your husband, Eric, encourage you to do the topless scene?
Yes. He saw me struggling with it and he asked me why. He could see that my concern was with what other people would think. He said, “Look at every sculpture and painting in our house, which you have chosen. They’re all of the naked form. You obviously dig it, so what’s your problem?” I said, “I guess I’m worried what people think about me. They don’t expect me to do this.” And he said, “Why are you living for the expectations of other people? Live for yourself. Do you want to do it?” It was that simple. But he helped me realize I was being stifled by it.

Eventually you said there was no explanation for appearing topless, you did it because you wanted to.
It was liberating to do it, have it come out and not care what people thought about it. Yeah, it was gratuitous, but so what? I wanted to do it, and guess what? I’m allowed to. I think my presence in that movie helped the box office.

You turned down the role in Speed that made Sandra Bullock’s career. Do you regret it?
The film you saw was not the script I read. That bus never left the parking lot. I was too green to know that what’s on the page today isn’t going to be on the page tomorrow. Also, I had just gotten married and was feeling the pressure to be a wife and not to be away for three months.

I’ve known lots of women who have proposed. Women have biological clocks, we have certain goals and dreams for ourselves, and sometimes we have to present that to the men.

You took the initiative and proposed to your first husband, David Justice. In retrospect, is it better when the man proposes?
I don’t think so. That would be such a blanket statement. Every situation is different. I joked about it, saying the next time I was going to wait to be asked. But in all seriousness, it depends. I’ve known lots of women who have proposed to their husbands – men who were dragging their feet, afraid of it. Women have biological clocks, we have certain goals and dreams for ourselves, and sometimes we have to present that to the men in our relationships.

Did you worry when you were proposing to Justice that you might get rejected?
No. I kind of knew he wanted to; it didn’t come out of the blue. My attitude was, If we’re going to do this, let’s just do it. What are we waiting for?

Did you find that a lot of men were intimidated by your looks?
I’ve lived most of my life dateless, or if I liked someone I had to let him know, because he wouldn’t approach me otherwise. I got used to that. I became a little more aggressive.

Do women want men to be dominant in a relationship?
Not dominant, but women want men to be strong and know where they are going. When I thought about becoming a wife, I wanted very much to have a husband that I could honor and respect and follow. But I want a man who knows where he’s going. I don’t want anybody to dictate where I have to go; I want to willingly be able to follow when it’s appropriate.

You were once in an abusive relationship. Did you feel you were reliving your childhood?
Yes, because I saw it as a kid, and I swore it would never happen to me. And when it did, I took off running as far as I could go. It’s very shocking. You never expect anybody to haul off and punch you.

You have vowed never to disclose the name of the person who hit you in your ear and caused you to lose 80 percent of your hearing. Why would you want to protect someone who did that to you?
It’s not really protecting that person. I have never been one to kiss and tell, or say something that would hurt someone else when it doesn’t matter. Whenever I tell my story, what matters is that it happened to me. Who actually did it is not at all important.

You don’t wear a hearing aid – can you hear everything around you?
Yes. Over the years it’s gotten better. I don’t think I need to wear one.

You’ve said that David cheated on you – with prostitutes, strippers, every twinkie walking by with a skirt.“ Why would someone cheat on Halle Berry?
I’m trying to understand it, too. [Embarrassed laughter] The sad part is, when that happens you think, What’s wrong with me? I’ve learned that it’s not about me. You have to ask that person, "What is going on with you that keeps you from staying committed? If you don’t want to be committed, just leave. Why do the dance and play the game and tell the lies and live the deceit?”

Is it easier now for you to leave when you know something’s wrong?
Yeah. I didn’t do that in marriage the first time because I took those vows really seriously and I thought you just had to work it out. I thought I’d marry once and be married for life, ready to deal with the ups and downs. I’m realistic, I know that’s what marriage is – there’s no perfect marriage, it’s not a fantasy, it’s real. People are human, they make mistakes. They have desires, and they have to confront them. It’s hard. I was always willing to fight the good fight, but it takes two people.

You’ve admitted to having temper tantrums.
I have had a couple, but it takes a lot. The reason my tantrums are so out of control is that I take a lot, take a lot. When I’m pushed I’m not one to have little outbursts along the way. When it gets to a certain point, all hell breaks loose. I’m working at trying to let it out along the way instead of letting it build up.

So, after being married to a professional ballplayer, how keen are you about sports?
I won’t even go there, what I’m going to say about sports. [Laughs] Since that divorce I haven’t watched one professional sporting event. The good thing about Eric, and the reason I knew he was meant to be my husband, is that when I met him he knew nothing about sports. We watch no sports.

You have said Eric Benét loves you with all your flaws and inconsistencies and double standards. What are they?
I’m really driven, and that can be a turnoff to some people. I’m impatient. What’s good for me isn’t necessarily good for somebody else. But that’s part of my controlling personality. I know what I’m going to do, but I never know what the next person is going to do, and that comes from the general mistrust I have had since I was a kid, of being abandoned, being left – I always assume somebody’s going to do that. I’ve fought really hard to control situations to ensure that that doesn’t happen. But I now realize there’s no way to do that.

You’re stepmom to Eric’s daughter. Do you plan to have children?
I hope so. I hope I won’t miss it.

The National Enquirer reported that you’ve been having problems with your marriage and that your husband, Eric, was treated for sex addiction. Any truth to that?
What’s going on in my personal life is so new that I’m not in a position to talk about it at this time. I’m not sure what’s going on.

Is your marriage in trouble?
I don’t think I’m in trouble. I don’t feel trouble right now. I feel this is the hard day you talk about when you stand there and take those vows – the good and the bad. Well, this might be that not-so-good day. But trouble? I think this is what marriage is.

Is part of the problem that you’ve been away shooting Die Another Day and the X-Men sequel?
No. It’s marriage. I’m one who is down for the long haul in marriage, and I’ve always had a realistic view of it. Especially in my first marriage, where I knew that nothing’s perfect. We’re at a time in our marriage where I really want to be married. Not everything will be perfect, and that’s really what I’m dealing with. It’s so new for me, I don’t think it’s right to talk about it anymore.

You’ve said you’re not what you appear to be. What is it you think you appear to be?
People think I’m more fragile than I am. They think I’m weak, but I’m not. They think, Oh, I’ve got to help her, she’s a fragile damsel in distress. That’s not me at all. Or they think I’m just a Barbie doll, and that’s not me either.

You pled no contest to leaving the scene of a car collision in West Hollywood. Was that plea fair, or was it something your lawyers advised you to do?
It was fair – it was what I wanted to do. Clearly I had enough money to have fought it until the cows came home, but that wasn’t what I was interested in doing. I always took responsibility for being there. I went to the hospital and reported it myself. But I didn’t drive off intentionally. I never would do that. I wasn’t trying to hide or escape something. With my head injury, I did something I can’t explain. I blacked out.

Do you remember it?
No, and I’ve been told I probably never will.

Didn’t you talk to a doctor about it?
Yes. A lot of them told me I was lucky I didn’t black out longer than I did. Sometimes people get that kind of head injury and lose two or three days. But I still grapple with it. I can’t explain it, and I want to be able to do that. To understand it for myself. It’s disconcerting.

Were there any drugs or alcohol involved in that accident?

What kinds of injuries did you and the other person suffer?
I had 23 stitches in my head. She had a broken wrist.

You were found guilty of leaving the scene, and you accepted the sentence – three years of probation and a $13,500 fine. But in retrospect, you are not happy about it, are you?
I believe in karma, so I felt if that’s what the judge gave me, I was ready and willing to do it, because I want to be right with the world. I obviously did something you shouldn’t do – you should not drive away. I felt the need to take responsibility. I couldn’t say I was guilty, because I didn’t do it on purpose, but I could say I did it, so I pled what the court wanted me to plead.

You’ve said the car accident was “the start of me being released from that need to be liked.” Was that the positive that came out of it?
That was the positive, and the catalyst for all these great things that have happened in my career, because I let that go. Just like I can say I don’t care what the critics say, or what Angela Bassett has to say. I don’t care what anybody has to say, because I’m now on a solo journey, realizing that’s what life is really about. Not judging myself through the eyes of other people anymore. And the accident was the start of that.

Which of your films are you most disappointed with?
I was disappointed that more people didn’t see Losing Isaiah. I don’t think I’ve ever been that heartbroken over a box-office failure of a movie. I put a lot of hard work into that.

Did you learn anything from working with Jessica Lange?
What I learned from Jessica was that you have to respect everybody’s way of working. She didn’t want to talk to me or know me. She didn’t want to have anything to do with me, because she wanted to use that for her character. I was disappointed, because I was hoping to pick her brain – she started off in modeling, too. But I didn’t get to do that.

In X-Men 2 you revisit your cartoon character, Storm. How is this movie different from the original?
It was different shooting it, because we did it before, so it was more like old home week. A lot of new characters were integrated into the old script.

Was it any more of an acting challenge for you?
No, it’s still a cartoon to me. It’s really about the special effects. They’ve done the best they can at making a story out of it, but for me it’s pretty much a lot of action. If you liked the first one, you’re going to love the second.

Did you do your own stunts?
Yes. Storm actually flies. They put me in a harness, attached it to a wire, and I flew over water.

Six years ago you were mugged in the parking garage of the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.
That was pretty scary. I was walking out with all my bags, and a guy came out of nowhere. He stuck something in my back, I don’t know what it was, but I assumed it could have hurt me. He asked me for all the things in my purse. I was ready to strip down, to give up everything. I would have been butt-naked if that was what was needed. He took everything I had and then left.

It’s been reported that you buy G-strings from Victoria’s Secret and then tea-stain them to match your skin tone. How do the tabloids get these details?
I don’t know. I have never done that. You know where they get it from? One of the two stylists I work with might do that. And when they buy them, maybe they tell somebody that they tea-stain them. All I know is when I get them, they’re the color of my skin. How they do it, I don’t know.

You’ve had a remarkable ascent in a short time. Do you feel satisfied?
No. The minute I’m satisfied, I die. The minute I stop wanting something else, or setting a new goal, that’s when I’m done.