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Playboy Interview: Halle Berry
  • April 08, 2000 : 06:04
  • comments

Playboy: Did she call you after saying those things?

Berry: I haven't spoken to her.

Playboy: Were you angry about it? Did it upset you?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: 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."

Berry: 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.

Playboy: How has the Oscar changed your life?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: It's also changed the caliber of your bank account: You reportedly make $20 million per movie now.

Berry: 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.

Playboy: 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?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: 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?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Your character was tortured, and you've said you love playing tortured souls. Why do you love it?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Do you still have a lot of pain?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Does a lot of that early pain stem from your biracial background?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Have you always identified with being black?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: You've said that you felt like an outsider in high school.

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Why? Was it racial?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: 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?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Isn't it hard to cry race when you seemed to have so much going for you?

Berry: 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."

Playboy: What was it like being raised by a single parent?

Berry: 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.

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

Berry: Right.

Playboy: Did that get reconciled, or did you always feel distance from her side of the family?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: How old were you when that happened?

Berry: Twenty-six.

Playboy: How did you feel about it?

Berry: I felt bitter growing up. I used to feel that maybe we weren't good enough for Grandma.

Playboy: What about your father's side?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: You were four when your parents separated. How often did you see your father after that?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Did you see the beatings?

Berry: Yes.

Playboy: And did you ever try to stop your father?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Was your sister ever resentful because you didn't get hit?

Berry: Probably. I'm sure she must have been. I would have. "Why am I getting it and she's not?"

Playboy: Why your sister and not you?

Berry: My sister was outspoken and rebellious. I was meek and shy. I'd just slip around, do nothing, not kick up too much dust.

Playboy: You lost your virginity at 17. Was it a good experience?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: He talked you into trying out for beauty pageants. Do you regret that?

Berry: 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.

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

Berry: Three years.

Playboy: What did you learn from being a model?

Berry: 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.

Playboy: 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.

Berry: 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.

Playboy: Later you found out you were diabetic.

Berry: I didn't know that until I moved to Los Angeles and was doing my first TV show, Living Dolls.

Playboy: Were you scared when you found out?

Berry: 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.

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