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.
Playboy: Wasn't Jinx, your character in Die Another Day, originally written as a villain?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: Was the character changed because of your Oscar? There are rumors you might become the first female Bond.
Berry: They have asked me if I'd be interested in doing another one. Or to do a spin-off with the character Jinx.
Playboy: Jinx without James?
Berry: Yeah, just Jinx. We'll see.
Playboy: Who are your favorite Bond women?
Berry: My favorite -- and I'm happy to pay homage to her -- is Ursula Andress in Dr. No. It was the first one I saw.
Playboy: That was the first James Bond movie -- and Andress made it memorable when she emerged from the ocean in that bikini.
Berry: 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.
Playboy: Who is your favorite Bond?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: Is he as sexy as your Monster's Ball co-star Billy Bob Thornton?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: What is it about Billy Bob that women like? He isn't good-looking.
Berry: 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.
Playboy: 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?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: You appeared shocked when you won that Oscar. Do you remember the moment?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: Some observers thought that you wouldn't win because you were too young. What were you thinking?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: How did it feel when both you and Denzel won on the same night?
Berry: 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.
Playboy: 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?
Berry: No, and I can't even respond to that. It's so ridiculous. To sit in judgment of another person like that is insane.
Playboy: 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."
Berry: 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?
Playboy: 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."
Berry: 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.
Playboy: 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?
Berry: 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.